Watch: Cuomo Responds to Death Counting Scandal: 'Who Cares' if They Died in Nursing Homes?
When New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo lost Chris Cillizza, I knew it was over.
Months after every source that wasn’t CNN knew that Cuomo was undercounting nursing home COVID-19 deaths — The Associated Press reported last summer that New York, almost alone in the United States at the time, didn’t count deaths that happened in the hospital as nursing home COVID victims — CNN’s Cillizza was genuinely shocked by New York Attorney General Letitia James’ report that New York was (gasp!) undercounting nursing home COVID-19 deaths by as much as 50 percent.
In a piece Thursday, he wrote that after nearly a year of his network propping Cuomo up as the anti-Trump, “it turns out that all the hype obscured a troubling reality.”
“There’s much we still don’t know. But here’s something we do know: Should James’ report be borne out, it would occasion a serious reexamination of Cuomo’s performance during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.” [Emphasis Cillizza’s.]
When you’re losing even Cillizza — a man who’d normally be happy to elide over the whole thing with his usual farrago of peppy, meaningless ex post facto insights — yes, that should invite some serious inner self re-examination. Quelle surprise, it won’t.
“Look, whether a person died in a hospital or died in a nursing home, it’s — the people died,” Cuomo said during his Friday media briefing.
“People died. ‘I was in a hospital, I got transferred to a nursing home, and my father died.’ ‘My father was in a nursing home, got transferred to a hospital, my father died.’ People died.”
“Who cares? 33 [percent], 28 [percent], died in a hospital, died in a nursing home,” he continued. “They died!”
Cuomo on nursing home deaths: “Who cares [where they died]? They died!” pic.twitter.com/VECpQNKF2I
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) January 29, 2021
We’re very well aware of that, which is the problem. And now those remarks are another problem for Cuomo, since plopping this aggressive solecism on top of an already damning report seemed to cause more scales to fall from the media’s already thoroughly de-scaled eyes.
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake was yet another opinion journalist legitimately stupefied Cuomo could be this way. The New York governor, he wrote, “earned plaudits from his constituents for his early coronavirus pandemic response for one main reason: his willingness to level with them on the state of the threat and to — seemingly — address questions with candor and humility.”
You were seemingly watching different news conferences than I was, since Cuomo’s tendency to evade and become verbally pugilistic when not being showered with unadulterated praise was always evident if you looked hard enough. (The problem was finding reporters who would, considering the establishment media always liked casting him as the brash, plain-spoken antidote to Donald Trump — a man who was castigated by the very same reporters for evasion and verbal pugilism.)
“From a public policy perspective, we should care. A death is indeed a death, but there are major and very valid questions about whether nursing home policies led to unnecessary ones,” Blake wrote.
“To the extent that more deaths occurred in or came from that setting, it allows us to evaluate how significant that problem was and how much corrective action is needed. Cuomo has to know that.
“Indeed, this has long been a question when it comes to the initial response in the Northeast, which was particularly hard-hit at the start of the pandemic. So the idea that this data would be parsed should be no surprise,” he continued. “Questions about the accuracy of New York’s data on this front date back several months. Cuomo has dismissed them as politically motivated, but that defense suffered a major setback given the source of the report: his own party’s attorney general, Letitia James, whom he supported for that post.”
Blake, at least, mentioned this information had been in public circulation for months; the AP’s initial report in August was both thorough and credible, making it slightly dubious that Attorney General James’ report came as a surprise to anyone.
However, the belief that Cuomo was ever anything other than the person we saw in the media briefing Friday should have been dispelled long ago, too. If you thought Aaron Blake’s “candor and humility” line was eyebrow-raising, listen to this jaunty piffle from Cillizza: “If Donald Trump was seen as the public face of the failed government response to the coronavirus pandemic, Andrew Cuomo was seen by some as the opposite — a politician who understood the myriad challenges created by Covid-19 and moved quickly to address them in the most transparent way possible,” he wrote.
“The New York governor’s daily coronavirus briefings became must-see TV as Cuomo, in his characteristic ‘I’m-walking-here’ patois, delivered updates on the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the Empire State and provided insight into how he and his administration were working to combat the virus.”
And now, it turns out that all may have been a lie. Except this was eminently discoverable months ago.
First, that whole “I’m-walking-here” attitude was apparently part of the charm for Cillizza. The more sober-minded among us found it less disarming.
Take this exchange from November, when Wall Street Journal reporter Jimmy Vielkind asked whether New York City schools would be opening the next day:
Gov Cuomo was asked if NYC schools would open tomorrow, by WSJ reporter Jimmy Vielkind.
C: What are you talking about?
V: I’m still confused.
C: Well then you’re confused.
V: Parents are still confused as well.
C: No, they’re not confused. You’re confused. pic.twitter.com/3ZZRGqG5iJ
— BG (@TheBGates) November 18, 2020
Moments after he said this, Fox News noted, a reporter for The New York Times relayed the information that New York City schools would indeed be closing the next day. This was in November, which gave the media plenty of time to realize Cuomo’s exaggerated Ratso Rizzo act wasn’t done in the name of transparency.
And he had plenty to be opaque about. Again, the material in James’ report, while a tribute to the numerical prestidigitation that Cuomo did to avoid scrutiny over nursing home deaths, didn’t contain anything that should have been startling.
Cuomo has misled the media in other smaller ways since the beginning of the crisis — and the media has been happy to stay misled.
One example: At the beginning of the pandemic, when hand sanitizer was in short supply, Cuomo made a big deal about repurposing New York’s prison labor to manufacture the product. With much fanfare, he announced the finished product — “NYS Clean” — at one of his media briefings, saying that it had a “very nice floral bouquet.” (“I detect lilac, hydrangea, tulips,” Cuomo said upon sniffing the product.)
It only took a little over two weeks for Vice to report that New York’s prisoners weren’t actually making hand sanitizer, but merely repackaging a product from a third-party vendor.
This is a small lie compared to underestimating nursing home deaths by up to 50 percent, but it’s something we should have cared a lot more about at the time. The point is that Cuomo didn’t care about lying to us.
He still doesn’t, as evinced by his word choice at Friday’s media briefing. The difference is that the media can’t play along anymore.
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