Live by the press conference, die by the press conference. Last year, as the pandemic ravaged his state, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, was widely lauded for the way he communicated. Pundits hailed him as authoritative, reassuring, even sexy; national networks carried his press conferences live, and they won a special Emmy award for Cuomo’s “masterful use of television to inform and calm people.” Then, early this year, Cuomo experienced a vicious narrative shift—he was accused first of covering up nursing-home deaths in his state, then of bullying, then of sexual harassment—and his media relations became a lot less open. Even though he met in person with journalists at the beginning of the pandemic (and continued to meet in person with supporters), Cuomo transitioned to remote press conferences, citing public-health grounds, with the first preceding his scandals; as the allegations piled up, his remote briefings became less and less frequent. Journalists who had held Cuomo’s feet to the fire found themselves frozen out. On a press call in April, a reporter asked Cuomo if he would resign should a probe into the sexual-harassment claims conclude that he broke state law. As the reporter pressed for an answer, his mic was cut.
Yesterday, that probe came to a close: the state attorney general’s office published its report on the matter, and it was even more damning than many media observers had expected. The report found that Cuomo did indeed violate both state and federal law, corroborating the claims of eleven women who said that Cuomo touched them without their consent and/or made lewd remarks. Ironically (or perhaps not), the words “press conference” appear thirty-eight times in the report, and are central to some of its most serious revelations. An unnamed executive assistant who said that Cuomo groped her, including under her blouse, told investigators that she was prepared to take her experience “to the grave,” only to become visibly distressed in front of colleagues while watching Cuomo claim, at a press conference in early March, that he had never “touched anyone inappropriately.” A second accuser, Virginia Limmiatis, testified that she decided to come forward as “a direct result” of the same press conference: “He is lying again,” she said. “I am compelled to come forward to tell the truth.” A third woman, an unnamed official at the New York State Department of Health, said that Cuomo made sexual comments to her both before and during a press conference in March 2020, at which she gave him a COVID swab for the cameras. Colleagues of the physician recalled that she was “shocked that the governor had made such a comment on national television,” and concerned that it “would take away from the important public health service” she was trying to perform. Emmy-worthy, indeed. [Continue reading…]