Although Andrew Cuomo is finally opening up events to the media again, he’s making it exceedingly difficult for reporters to make it in time. Some gubernatorial reporters even proposed a boycott in response to such “mind games.”
Last week, the New York governor announced that he would begin to allow reporters to attend events and ask questions, breaking a four-month-long absence during which Cuomo’s office held virtual events due to what it said were safety measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Cuomo fulfilled his promise, holding a press availability in Syracuse on Monday. But there was a catch: the event was officially announced less than two hours before he was scheduled to appear, making it difficult for many journalists assigned to Cuomo and based nearly two hours away in capital city Albany to arrive in time (some journalists, luckily, had caught wind of the event in advance and appeared in time).
The move was just the latest in an ongoing back-and-forth between the reporters covering the governor’s mounting scandals and an embattled executive who has done little to hide his irritation and frustration with the reporters assigned to cover his powerful office.
According to multiple people familiar with the discussions, in recent days several members of the Legislative Correspondents Association—an organization somewhat similar to the White House Correspondents Association but encompassing state reporters who cover the governor—have proposed a boycott of covering Cuomo’s events until he agrees to hold regular availabilities and take questions from the Albany press corps.
While the boycott has been suggested and discussed by members, it still seems somewhat unlikely that it will materialize. Some reporters said their editors would not be supportive; others wondered how many members would keep it up if other reporters were unaware of the boycott or broke rank and attended events.
“For more than 100 years, members of the Legislative Correspondents Association have regularly interacted with governors and other state officials as part of our reporting on New York government and politics,” said LCA president Bernadette Hogan, a New York Post reporter who covers Albany. “The ability to do so is an important part of keeping people around the state informed about their government. As reporters, we value access to elected officials and transparency from those officials.”
But the mere suggestion of a boycott caps months of exasperation with the governor’s attempts to shut down his adversaries in the press, which have spanned everything from muting the call-in lines of reporters attempting to ask follow-up questions during virtual pressers to restricting journalists from attending his events at all.
Prior to holding his first in-person media availability this week, Cuomo had barred reporters from attending events since December, citing a rise in COVID-19 cases in the Empire State. But the limits were also a convenient way for the governor to control his interactions with the press at a time when his office faced several scandals, calls from state and national lawmakers for him to resign, and a probe by the state’s attorney general into allegations of misconduct.
Since December, several women have accused Cuomo of sexual misconduct and harassment, prompting an investigation by Attorney General Letitia James. The probe is one of several into Cuomo’s administration as her office also looks into whether the governor improperly sought help from state employees for his 2020 book about the coronavirus pandemic, and as the FBI investigates allegations that the governor deliberately misled the public about nursing-home deaths during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Albany press corps has covered these scandals and attempted to press the governor to answer their questions, Cuomo has attempted to project transparency while actively ignoring some reporters who have grilled him.
In an editorial last week, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple noted that the Times Union, the Albany-based newspaper that earlier this month reported on Cuomo’s alleged “sexually aggressive behavior,” had only gotten one opportunity in the last year to directly ask the governor a question. Reporters like Wall Street Journal reporter Jimmy Vielkind and reporters from the New York Post—who have all broken news that did not reflect well upon the governor—have similarly been regularly passed over for questions for months.
And as the COVID-19 case count has steadily declined in New York, the governor has faced additional calls to open up his press briefings. The New York Post, Washington Post, and others have pointed out how Cuomo’s virtual press conferences were often held in large, open spaces and had numerous in-person attendees who were socially distanced.
And the governor has begun to yield to some of these requests. During a press conference on Monday, Cuomo was forced to answer questions about whether he fostered a toxic work environment and responded to allegations of sexual harassment.
But some reporters believe he still is trying to avoid further scrutiny.
For example, on Tuesday, Cuomo once again made himself available for questions. The catch, however: reporters needed to hop in the car again for a long drive to Binghamton, two hours from Albany, the state press corps’ home base, and nearly double that distance from New York City.
“It’s Cuomo mind games,” one reporter who covers the governor told The Daily Beast. “There’s almost no way you could get there in time.”