New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is falling from grace at epic speed. His administration is now the target of a Justice Department probe for policies that resulted in the death of one out of eight nursing home residents in the state. Regardless of whether the New York legislature impeaches Cuomo, the standard he championed poses a continuing peril.
From the start of the Covid pandemic, the media idolized Cuomo for his “safety through absolute power” mantra. Last March 20, Cuomo imposed a statewide lockdown on 20 million New Yorkers, closing schools and businesses. Cuomo labeled his decree a “pause” and declared: “If everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” At that point, most counties in New York state had five or fewer people who have tested positive for coronavirus.
Cuomo’s “just one life” standard for lockdowns should have obliterated his credibility. Instead, Cuomo’s maxim was treated as a triumph of idealism and benevolence. Cuomo’s power grab was enabled by media allies that fanned hysteria. As AIER editorial director Jeffrey Tucker recently noted, the New York Times’ Donald G. McNeil Jr. “was the first reporter from a major media venue to stir up virus panic and advocate for extreme lockdown measures… The Times allowed its voice to be used to promote a primal and primitive disease panic, which they surely knew would create a cultural/political frenzy.” Presidential candidate Joe Biden hailed Cuomo last Spring for setting the “gold standard” for leadership on Covid.
After Cuomo swayed the New York legislature to give him “authorization of absolute power,” as the New Yorker declared, he issued scores of decrees, including one compelling nursing homes to admit Covid-infected patients and permitting Covid-infected staffers to keep working at those homes. A New York democratic legislator said that Cuomo was “inclined towards tyranny. But in a crisis that’s what people want.”
A New Yorker profile, entitled “Andrew Cuomo, King of New York,” explained that Cuomo and his aides saw the battle over Covid policy as “between people who believe government can be a force for good and those who think otherwise.” For many liberals and much of the nation’s media, placing people under house arrest, padlocking schools, bankrupting business, and causing two million people to lose their jobs vindicated government as “a force for good.”
MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace declared that Cuomo is “everything Trump isn’t: honest, direct, brave.” Entertainment Weekly hailed Cuomo as “the hero that America never realized it needed until he was on our television screens every night.” As National Review recently noted, local reporters failed to ask questions on his nursing home edict “for months, as the governor held his much-praised daily press briefings about the pandemic. There were literally hundreds of hours of Cuomo press conferences in the first half of 2020 where not a single question was asked about nursing homes.”
The docile media paved the way to Cuomo winning an Emmy award for his “masterful use of television” during the pandemic. The media’s valorization of Cuomo helped make his self-tribute book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, a bestseller.
Cuomo has always known how to milk the media. When he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he explained to the Washington Post in 1999 how he would fix HUD’s dismal image: “The PR is the most important thing I do … Eighty percent of the battle is communications.” (I christened Cuomo as “the Clinton administration’s most megalomaniacal cabinet secretary in a 2000 American Spectator piece titled, “Andy At It Again: How to Keep Reinventing HUD to Advance Yourself.”) Flash forward to last June, and Cuomo prematurely issued a poster celebrating his and New York state’s victory over Covid. The political art (sold for $14.50 plus shipping and handling) featured a steep mountain symbolizing the rise and fall of Covid cases. The poster was plastered with insipid phrases such as “The sun on the other side, “The power of ‘We,'” “Winds of Fear,” “Follow the Facts,” and “Love Community Support,” and included a jibe against Trump. Though poster sales failed to deter second and third waves of Covid outbreaks, the PR campaign further encouraged the media to focus on Cuomo’s words instead of his deeds.
During the pandemic, “legitimacy” came not from adhering to the US and state Constitutions but from continually invoking “science and data,” as Cuomo did. . Cuomo’s entitlement to absolute power came from modeling concocted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a Washington State-based institution bankrolled by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As investigative journalist Jordan Schachtel noted last week in an AIER analysis, IHME forecasts presumed a death rate 30 times higher than the rate that actually occurred. That horrendous miscalculation sufficed for one governor after another to nullify Americans’ freedom with lockdown orders. Absurd statistical extrapolations forecasting future harm made tyranny irrelevant.
Cuomo describes himself as a “great progressive,” perhaps thereby entitling himself to any power he presumes necessary “for the good of the people,” Bill of Rights be damned. November, the US Supreme Court struck down New York state restrictions that limited religious gatherings to ten or fewer people while permitting far more leeway for businesses to operate, declaring that Cuomo’s rules were “far more restrictive than any Covid-related regulations that have previously come before the Court… and far more severe than has been shown to be required to prevent the spread of the virus.” Cuomo’s allies in the liberal establishment reacted with horror to the limit on his sway. An American Civil Liberties Union official fretted to the New York Times that “the freedom to worship… does not include a license to harm others or endanger public health.” Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe and Cornell professor Michael Dorf babbled that the ruling signaled that the Supreme Court belonged in “the theocratic and misogynist country in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’”
Cuomo remained revered even though his repressive policies failed to prevent New York from having among the nation’s highest Covid death rates. But a Justice Department probe into his nursing home policies launched last August may be his undoing. New York state reported barely half of the total of more than 12,000 New York nursing home patients who died of Covid. Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, told Democratic legislative leaders that “basically, we froze” when the feds demanded information. “We were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice… was going to be used against us,” DeRosa said according to a leaked transcript.
But Cuomo’s culpability goes beyond hiding corpses. Early in the pandemic, he pushed to include a legislative provision written by the Greater New York Hospital Association to give a waiver of liability to nursing homes and hospitals whose patients died of Covid. A report last month by the New York Attorney General warned, “The immunity laws could be wrongly used to protect any individual or entity from liability, even if those decisions were not made in good faith or motivated by financial incentives.” As the Guardian noted, “Cuomo’s political machine received more than $2 million from the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), its executives and its lobbying firms.”
But Cuomo’s credibility should have been dethroned long before the latest disclosures. As early as last May, barely two months after the start of the state lockdown, a New York Post columnist groused: “So Gov. Andrew Cuomo killed Grandma and cratered New York’s economy. But he looked good doing it.” Cuomo’s cachet derived almost entirely from media scoring that until recently ignored almost all of the harms he inflicted.
Cuomo and other politicians have used Covid policy lodestars that were akin to crossing the Pacific Ocean with navigators who insisted the earth was flat. Melinda Gates admitted last December: “What did surprise us is we hadn’t really thought through the economic impacts.” The politicians who imposed shutdowns based on data from the Gates’ funded by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation apparently never bothered to estimate the collateral damage from their decrees. Similar myopia spurred crackdowns and restrictions in many states that helped cause the sharpest reduction in Americans’ life expectancy since World War Two.
Unfortunately, there is no indication that either politicians or the media have recognized the authoritarian dangers inherent in governors or presidents claiming a right to boundless power to save “just one life.”
A similar standard is helping justify keeping schools closed in many areas. Teachers’ unions have rallied around the motto: “If one teacher dies, isn’t that too many?” But like Cuomo’s shutdowns, that standard ignores the horrific collateral damage on American children. A Journal of the American Medical Association analysis concluded that shutting down the schools would reduce the current crop of students’ collective years of life by more than five million, based on “lower income, reduced educational attainment, and worse health outcomes.” It remains to be seen how much, if any, the role of the well-being of children plays in school policy in the coming months.
While it is unlikely that the media lapdogs who adore Cuomo and other prominent politicians will admit their follies, the exposure of hard facts may help blunt the next stampede to submission. The Justice Department investigation into nursing home policies that boosted Covid death tolls in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania could tarnish some of the nation’s most aggressive Covid lockdowners. Other investigations by the media or private groups could expose far more evidence of misconduct or of gross negligence that boosted Covid death tolls.
In a tour of television talk shows shortly after President Biden was inaugurated, Cuomo recited his latest catchphrase: “Incompetent government kills people.” This intended slapdown of Trump is recoiling badly on the New York governor. If Cuomo is impeached or forced to resign for his Covid fiascos, maybe he could score plenty of media appearances with a new slogan: “Absolute power with impunity kills.”
Reprinted with permission from American Institute for Economic Research.