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'Setbacks and success' in Andrew Cuomo's life

In this image from video, Gov. Andrew M.

In this image from video, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks about sexual harassment allegations against him by three women. Credit: AP

The troubles of Andrew M. Cuomo, the 63-year-old Democratic governor of New York, could be the plot of a novel or an epic miniseries: the main character becomes a national hero amid a crisis only to suffer a swift, humiliating fall from grace. While we have yet to see the finale, some lessons — in particular, about political favoritism in a polarized age — are clear.

Last spring, Cuomo became the face of "Blue America’s" response to the COVID-19 pandemic: a no-nonsense, competent, take-charge leader who did not minimize the disaster and was doing his best to handle it — while then-President Donald Trump blustered about having the problem under control and blamed his enemies for hyping it.

Cuomo’s cable TV briefings won an Emmy (probably the one honor Trump had craved most). His book on COVID-19 "leadership lessons" was a best-seller. There was even a brief media fad of smitten fans, including TV host Ellen DeGeneres, calling themselves "cuomosexual."

Dissent came mostly from the right. In May, The Daily Caller, a pro-Trump website, assailed Cuomo for his order (later rescinded) requiring long-term care facilities to admit coronavirus-infected patients from hospitals. The website also noted that New York had started undercounting COVID-19 deaths linked to such facilities, omitting people who got sick in long-term care but died in a hospital. Hardly anyone outside the right-wing media bubble paid attention.

Now, the story is all over mainstream media. A scathing January report from New York State Attorney General Letitia James concluded the Cuomo administration undercounted deaths in long-term care by as much as 50%. Cuomo has tried to blame the report, improbably, on machinations by Trump stooges. Meanwhile, a senior aide was recorded explaining during a video conference with state Democrats that the undercount was due to fears that the high numbers would be "used against us" by the Trump administration.

Cuomo’s woes are now compounded by sexual harassment accusations. One former staffer says he kissed her on the lips and invited her to play strip poker. Another, who first complained to supervisors months ago, claims he queried her about her sex life including her openness to sex with an older man — presumably himself — and made creepy comments about her past sexual assault. (A third woman, not a state employee, reports an unwanted kiss on the cheek at a wedding.)

Cuomo has apologized, including during a Wednesday news conference, while insisting that he did nothing inappropriate and that his banter to add "levity" to the office climate may have been misread as flirtation. We would do well to keep an open mind; mutual banter has been misreported as one-sided harassment in a number of #MeToo scandals. But as with many progressive male politicians, Cuomo’s defense is ironic given that his past rhetoric about believing survivors has often disregarded the presumption of innocence.

Speaking of ironies: Cuomo’s previous book, published in 2014, was titled "All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life." Perhaps he will survive his current setbacks, too. But whatever happens, it’s not too early to say that his image as the anti-Trump contributed to the free ride he got until recently from most of the media. That his younger brother Chris Cuomo, a CNN talk show host, was allowed to have him on for sibling lovefests masquerading as interviews is an embarrassment to the network — and a boon to right-wing media-bashers who deride mainstream journalism as a Democratic propaganda machine.

Most journalists strive to be fair. But the pro-Democratic bias does exist, exacerbated by Republican Party awfulness in the Trump era.

And so, in this case, the right-wing bubble was better informed than mainstream news audiences. Such is the ugly but inescapable truth.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason Magazine.

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