Here’s an update that he skipped: Just hours before “Cuomo Prime Time” aired, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a news conference to address his state’s nursing-home scandal. Under his leadership, the state has shown a staggering lack of transparency regarding the extent of coronavirus-related deaths in New York nursing homes. “We should have provided more information faster,” said Cuomo in the press briefing, which addressed an undercount of nursing-home deaths in the state.
That story — the hottest on the covid beat on Monday — didn’t make the cut on “Cuomo Prime Time.” Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise: Chris Cuomo and Andrew Cuomo are brothers, and journalists can’t reliably cover their brothers.
Except that Chris Cuomo did cover his brother, famously, during the early months of the pandemic. As the coronavirus spread around the country, Andrew Cuomo turned in more than 10 appearances on “Cuomo Prime Time.” The heartwarming moments stick out: In May, Chris Cuomo presented a gigantic test swab to joke about the governor’s televised coronavirus test. They laughed about their parents quite a bit, too. At the end of one appearance, Chris Cuomo thanked his brother for coming on the air. “Mom told me I had to,” replied the governor. The TV host rolled his eyes.
During one point in the proceedings, Chris apologized for interrupting Andrew, prompting this give-and-take:
C. CUOMO: Governor, I'm sorry to — I'm sorry to interrupt you.A. CUOMO: … Well then don’t. Then don’t. If you’re sorry—C. CUOMO: I know. But I — I have to take —A. CUOMO: — about interrupting me …C. CUOMO: — I know. But you —A. CUOMO: — don’t interrupt me. Okay.C. CUOMO: — you have a little bit of Pop’s gift where you just —A. CUOMO: All right, I'm just saying.C. CUOMO: — kind of keep going.
The act drew adoration from all over entertainment media. These stories were just part of the media plume that elevated Andrew Cuomo to national stardom, including an International Emmy Founders Award. In between the family banter, the Cuomos engaged in serious pandemic talk — about personal protective equipment, ventilators, a much-feared breakdown of the health-care system, the competency of the federal response, transmission, the particular predicament of New York City and so on. The host was becoming an expert on the topic — in part because he contracted the virus himself and recovered.
All that chatter might have given CNN viewers the impression that Chris Cuomo was acting as a newsman when talking to Andrew Cuomo. In late June, the host explained to his brother the journalistic rationale for breaking with industry ethics. “Me having you on the show is an unusual thing. We’ve never really done it. But this was an unusual time,” said Chris Cuomo, who then proceeded to praise the governor’s work on coronavirus. “I’m wowed by what you did. And, more importantly, I’m wowed by how you did it,” said Chris Cuomo, while acknowledging that he could never be objective about the governor’s work.
But in “unusual times,” principles of journalism merit even more rigorous adherence, not an expedient suspension. Those “unusual times,” after all, include the past few weeks, during which Andrew Cuomo’s management of covid-19 all of a sudden doesn’t look so wow-worthy. In a late January report, New York Attorney General Letitia James found that a “larger number of nursing home residents died from COVID-19 than [New York State Department of Health] data reflected.” According to the Associated Press, the tally of covid-19 deaths of New York long-term care residents has jumped to nearly 15,000 from 8,500 in recent weeks, after the state’s underreporting was corrected. The data scandal comes on top of scrutiny of Cuomo’s administration last year for forcing nursing homes to take patients hospitalized with coronavirus.
To what extent has “Cuomo Prime Time” covered the undercount scandal in recent weeks? Not one bit. The host has plowed through plenty of worthy topics: coronavirus vaccines and variants, QAnon and conspiracy theories, the Capitol riot and impeachment, and more. But the absence of coverage of the nursing-home scandal contrasts sharply with other CNN precincts, which have stayed on top of the story. On Sunday’s “State of the Union,” for example, host Jake Tapper ripped away, “So Governor Cuomo, who has declined to appear on this show despite dozens of requests over the past year, including this past week, made a bad decision that may have cost lives. And then his administration hid that data from the public.”
Not that the work of Cuomo’s colleagues absolves him. “Cuomo Prime Time,” after all, brands itself as a locus of chest-beating integrity and righteousness. Yet the asymmetrical coverage of his brother — over-the-top praise when the governor is up; silence when he’s down — is indistinct from the model that CNN (quite rightly) accused conservative media outlets, including Fox News, of following vis-à-vis the Trump administration.
We asked CNN about all of this. A network spokesperson passed along this statement:
The early months of the pandemic crisis were an extraordinary time. We felt that Chris speaking with his brother about the challenges of what millions of American families were struggling with was of significant human interest. As a result, we made an exception to a rule that we have had in place since 2013 which prevents Chris from interviewing and covering his brother, and that rule remains in place today. CNN has covered the news surrounding Governor Cuomo extensively.
The CNN statement is an expression of the problem itself: You can’t nullify a rule when your star anchor’s brother is flying high, only to invoke it during times of scandal. You just can’t.
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