CNN's Defense of Chris Cuomo's Special COVID Privileges is Grotesque
How can a media outlet credibly claim to denounce abuse of power by political officials when they defend and glorify their own anchor's participation in it?
Ever since the COVID pandemic subsumed most countries on the planet, there have been numerous scandals and controversies relating to those who corruptly obtain medical privileges and other exemptions unavailable to ordinary citizens. These scandals typically arise when someone uses their wealth, power or connections to jump in front of others for access to potentially life-saving procedures or medications or grant themselves and their friends license to ignore what everyone else must endure.
Right now in Brazil, for instance, there is a burgeoning scandal from reports that a group of businesspeople with ties to the government arranged to purchase their own private stash of vaccines for use for themselves, families and friends in violation of the law. In the U.S., people were outraged when very young members of Congress were among the first to receive the vaccine (though the law permitted them to do so); those young Congressmembers justified their line-jumping on the ground that they were doing so selflessly to encourage others. Meanwhile, other members of Congress refused this privilege on the ground, as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) put it, that it is “shameful” for young lawmakers to believe they “are more important” than workers. Repeatedly in the U.S., politicians were caught exempting themselves from lockdown orders they were imposing on everyone else.
But those pale in comparison to the abuse of power by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo, as reported on Wednesday by The Albany-Times Union and The Washington Post. “High-level members of the state Department of Health were directed last year by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to conduct prioritized coronavirus testing on the governor's relatives as well as influential people with ties to the administration,” reported the Times-Union. “Members of Cuomo's family including his brother, his mother and at least one of his sisters were also tested by top health department officials — some several times,” it added.
In particular, Gov. Cuomo abused state resources to ensure that his then-49-year-old brother, Chris, received fast COVID testing at a time when tests were very scarce. “The CNN anchor was swabbed by a top New York Department of Health doctor, who visited his Hamptons home to collect samples from him and his family,” The Post reported. The article also contains these damning details:
The same doctor who tested Chris Cuomo, Eleanor Adams, now a top adviser to the state health commissioner, also was enlisted to test multiple other Cuomo family members….The coronavirus test specimens were then rushed — at times driven by state police troopers — to the Wadsworth Center, a state public health lab in Albany, where they were processed immediately, the people said. At times, employees in the state health laboratory were kept past their shifts until late into the night to process results of those close to Cuomo, two people said.
All of this commandeering of state resources to provide the CNN host with very specialized medical attention occurred while “media reports were full of accounts from New Yorkers desperate to get tested — including some with symptoms and recent travel history who were turned away because of scarcity.”
For more than a year now, CNN’s promotion of “interviews” conducted by Chris Cuomo of his own brother — in which the CNN host repeatedly heaped lavish praise on Gov. Cuomo and even hyped him as a presidential contender while the Governor was corruptly and possibly criminally covering up COVID deaths — was one of the most glaring breaches of journalistic ethics imaginable. It was not cute or charming. It was corrupt. And it aggressively deceived CNN’s audience. That they knew it was corrupt was evidenced by the CNN host’s recent announcement that he would not cover his brother’s recent scandals: what conceivable framework makes it journalistically permissible for a news host to shower his own brother with praise, but then not cover his scandals?
But now Chris Cuomo is directly involved in a serious abuse of power scandal by his brother: in fact, he’s the prime beneficiary of that scandal. He sought special medical favors from his brother, depriving other sick people more in need of it than he, by exploiting the fact that his brother is Governor and thus rules the state. That’s a scandal by any measure — one involving not only the Governor but also the CNN host.
What’s even more remarkable is that on May 6 — just weeks after Gov. Cuomo provided special COVID testing and treatment for him — Chris Cuomo “interviewed” his brother and began the interviewing by noting that New York State lacks the resources to provide COVID testing to the public at large. So not only did they conceal that they had both just used state resources to get Chris that scarce testing, but they both acknowledged that there was a resource shortage to serve the general public, even as Gov. Cuomo was lavishing those resources on his own family. Just watch the first minute here:
Even worse, Cuomo spoke openly on CNN about his COVID diagnosis and what he was doing for it. But he concealed from the public the fact that the Governor of New York arranged for him to have special treatment and state-funded access to tests that were unavailable to most of the public. Indeed, Cuomo has been repeatedly caught lying over CNN’s airwaves about his COVID condition — such as when he was caught outside arguing with a cyclist while he claimed he was in quarantine with COVID, and another time when he was shaming people on air for not using masks while he was being warned by his own building that he would be fined if he continued to circulate there without a mask. But now something far worse is revealed: that he was the beneficiary of exactly the kind of abuse of power that journalists (at least in theory) exist to expose.
And yet CNN — which has spent the year relentlessly shaming anyone who is even slightly off-key when it comes to COVID — is defending and even glorifying what their host did in corruptly obtaining for himself medical care unavailable to the broader public. This is the statement the cable network provided to media outlets through its spokesman Matt Dornic:
We generally do not get involved in the medical decisions of our employees. However, it is not surprising that in the earliest days of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, when Chris was showing symptoms and was concerned about possible spread, he turned to anyone he could for advice and assistance, as any human being would.
Ponder what they are saying. It is unsurprising that someone in Chris Cuomo’s position would want special privileges. Of course it’s unsurprising: everyone has a motive for wanting special privileges for themselves. The same exact defense CNN offered here could be made if Chris Cuomo had instead bribed state officials to provide him special medical treatment unavailable to the general public, or if he had broken into the home of another sick person to steal their medication that he could not obtain for himself. It would be understandable that a person with COVID would want to do this, in the sense that it is a rational motive. But the fact that Cuomo had a rational motive for doing this does not make it less corrupt, unethical or amoral. There are all sorts of things that it may be “understandable” for us to want for ourselves that the law, morality and/or ethics nonetheless prevents us from obtaining.
CNN’s attempt to cast this as an invasion of Cuomo’s private medical decisions is insultingly dishonest. Nobody cares about this because they are interested in what took place in the intimate setting between Cuomo and his physician. The issue — obviously — is that this person who CNN presents as a “journalist” clearly abused his influence and power, along with his brother, by using state resources for his own benefit and jumping in front of a line that almost certainly deprived people more in need of getting COVID tests at a time when they were scarce. The issue is not Cuomo’s medical privacy but the abuse of power in which he participated with his brother, the Governor of New York.
The hubris here on the part of the Cuomos is tawdry but, for them, completely unsurprising. This entitlement complex is what one might expect from two boys who grew up as the children of a popular and powerful governor whose wealth and fame are due to their last name: a good reason for the taboo against nepotism and dynastic politics, which so often produces abuse of power. But CNN’s behavior is something else entirely.
How can a news outlet credibly claim to denounce and expose abuse of power by political officials when they defend the participation in such corruption by their own on-air talent? CNN is telling the public that they see nothing wrong with their rich and well-connected anchors exploiting public resources or connections to powerful politicians to corruptly obtain medical treatment at the expense of everyone else. That is as grotesque as it is damaging to CNN’s brand.