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Cuomo's Ban On Reporters At Public Events Sparks Backlash, Concerns Over Freedom Of Press

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a COVID-19 briefing in Yonkers on Wednesday, April 21.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a COVID-19 briefing in Yonkers on Wednesday, April 21. Photo Credit:

Embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing new criticisms amid allegations that he is ducking the press during recent public briefings as he navigates his way through multiple scandals.

Cuomo has come under fire for the past several months as he faces a State Assembly impeachment investigation, multiple claims of sexual harassment, reports that his administration intentionally lied about COVID-19 nursing home deaths and attempted to cover it up, just as he was negotiating a multi-million dollar book deal.

Prior to the peak of the pandemic, Cuomo’s daily COVID-19 press briefings were made available to the press, though the administration has now transitioned to virtual conferences or conference calls, where his team has the option to pick and choose who asks what questions.

This week during a call, one reporter was cut off mid-question while pressing Cuomo about whether or not he plans to step down at the conclusion of the sexual harassment investigations.

Cuomo reiterated his stance that he will wait for the results of the investigation, and when the reporter pushed for specifics, he was cut off by the operator. During other events, Cuomo has refused to take questions at all.

The Journalists Association of New York has also been critical of Cuomo, who said earlier this month that by altering the policy on media, the governor is attempting to control the narrative surrounding him.

“This practice is an affront to the public that the governor serves, a public that is represented by journalists when they are covering the activities of elected officials,” they said.

“These restricted-access events are a blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars in an attempt to bolster the governor's image while at the same time attacking the public's right to know."

Some who have been critical of Cuomo’s handling of the press cited the fact that the press was not allowed at recent events in Yonkers, Queens, and Long Island, but there were non-media members present at each event.

When asked why certain people were permitted at conferences while the press was not, Cuomo stated that “the substance of the event” is what they were prioritizing in planning the events.

“It's a total size of the population in the room. Right? It's the total size of the group," Cuomo said. "You don't get two groups, one for the reporters and one for the people in the room.

“It's the total number of people. And we try to keep the number of people down and we try to keep social distancing mandates.”

This week, Cuomo also said that by doing the conferences virtually, it helps him to accommodate a larger pool of reporters, as anyone from anywhere can tune in virtually.

“Being able to do questions, like the way we are now (over the phone) with whatever we have – you know 40 reporters, 50 reporters, 60 reporters, I couldn’t do that in a room,” he said.

“So this is actually an effective medium. But when we get back to normal with COVID, then we’ll get back to normal with press conferences,” Cuomo added. “When will reporters be back in the room? That is purely a function of the COVID safety requirements.” 

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