Andrew Cuomo’s ratings shot up an astonishing 32 points during the pandemic, per FiveThirtyEight, giving him his best polling in seven years. Chris Cuomo’s CNN colleague Chris Cillizza could barely contain his own enthusiasm: “Thrust into the national spotlight by his state’s status as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has rapidly become one of—if not the—single most popular politician in the country for his handling of the pandemic,” Cillizza wrote. “Cuomo’s poll numbers are, literally, unbelievable.”
The CNN performances were not the only reason that the governor’s ratings were up. Leaders in the midst of crisis almost always benefit from a rallying effect. (Donald Trump right now is a notable exception.) Andrew Cuomo also profited by comparison with the president; while Trump gave unhinged press conferences at the White House, the governor’s appearances were a model of sober and calm leadership. As for the interviews themselves, no one should begrudge the brothers their love for one another. Nor is it wrong, per se, for CNN to seek higher ratings. After all, the goal of journalism is to convey information, and the greater the audience, the better that information spreads. The problem comes when the efforts to juice ratings start to get in the way of accurate journalism that holds officials accountable.
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While Andrew Cuomo was benefiting from heart-string-tugging segments on CNN, his state was struggling. Like Trump, Cuomo had promised that COVID-19 wouldn’t be as bad here as elsewhere; like Trump, he didn’t have to wait long to be disproved. Experts said that New York City was always likely to become a center of the virus because of its constant flow of people, size, and density, but as The New York Times reported, “initial efforts by New York officials to stem the outbreak were hampered by their own confused guidance, unheeded warnings, delayed decisions and political infighting.” Promised contact tracing never materialized. Shutdowns came late, and over the governor’s hesitations. Journalism that truly aims to restore trust in media would hold Andrew Cuomo to account for these missteps.
When Cuomo has faced such questions—mostly from reporters who don’t share his last name—he has bristled, blaming a range of other bodies and agencies. As with Trump, he’s not entirely wrong: The federal government and the World Health Organization, among others, did badly botch the crisis. But that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility.
Meanwhile, some other states have performed much better than New York in the face of the pandemic, but their governors haven’t gotten the same kind of adoring media attention. It’s a long-standing media critique that stories in New York and Washington, D.C., get attention disproportionate to stories elsewhere in the country, but that’s not the only factor at play here. If they wanted to share the spotlight, perhaps Governors Jay Inslee of Washington and Mike DeWine of Ohio should have considered having brothers with plum TV gigs.