Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets a pass from CNN on nursing home policy controversy

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being accused of failing to protect nursing home residents during the coronavirus pandemic, which one state representative called an “inexcusable tragedy.” While many are blaming Cuomo’s policies for the high death toll, one place you won’t hear any questions about it is on CNN, where experts point out the governor is instead lobbed softball questions during playful interviews with his younger brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.

Gov. Cuomo recently reversed a March 25 order that forced nursing homes to accept patients who tested positive for coronavirus despite testing deficiencies for both residents and staff. Cuomo signed an executive order on May 11 stopping hospitals from sending infected patients back to nursing homes and ramping up testing for staff.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo regularly appears on CNN for playful interview with his brother. (Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo via AP)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo regularly appears on CNN for playful interview with his brother. (Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo via AP)

More than 4,800 people died from COVID-19 in nursing homes in New York from March 1 to May 1, according to a count by the governor’s office. Roughly 25 percent of all deaths in the state have occurred in nursing homes.

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“What may turn out to have been Cuomo’s worst unforced error was his March 25 order that nursing homes must accept patients who carried the coronavirus. This now looks like setting off a series of time bombs in New York State’s elder-care facilities, and Cuomo didn’t reverse this policy until May 11,” National Review’s Kyle Smith wrote in a piece headlined, “Andrew Cuomo’s Reckless Choices.”

“We now know that Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had been packing coronavirus patients into nursing homes for weeks, possibly killing untold numbers of people,” NewsBusters analyst Nicholas Fondacaro wrote on May 14, while New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin wrote on May 5, “This nursing home disaster is on you, Gov. Cuomo.”

Some local lawmakers are demanding action. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., is seeking a federal probe into Cuomo’s policy.

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"Today I joined my [New York GOP] colleagues in the House to call for a federal investigation of Cuomo's failed nursing home policies," Stefanik tweeted Friday. "NOW they admit they unethically changed the way they report nursing home deaths. An INEXCUSABLE tragedy for NY -- NEED ANSWERS."

New York Republican Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis also called for an independent federal investigation last week during an appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

"On March 24th, Gov. Cuomo said, 'My mother is not expendable, your mother is not expendable' and yet the very next day he signed an executive order mandating nursing homes -- where our most vulnerable mothers and our most vulnerable fathers reside -- to accept COVID positive patients," Malliotakis said. "There are 5,000 residents of nursing homes or patients that have been put into nursing homes that have died, which account for 25 percent of the deaths in the state of New York."

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New York City Republican Councilman Joe Borelli explained on Monday why there are now “bipartisan calls” for an investigation.

“The truth of the matter is on March 25, the Cuomo administration made a decision in the form of a written policy that prevented nursing homes from rejecting patients that were testing positive for COVID-19 from coming back into the nursing home,” Borelli told “Fox & Friends First.”

Just last week, the Empire State reported more than 1,700 previously undisclosed deaths at nursing homes and adult care facilities. According to a tally from The Associated Press, over 5,300 New Yorkers living in nursing homes have died from the virus and the toll has been increasing by an average of 20 to 25 deaths a day for the past few weeks.

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Borelli said that family members of deceased older relatives “really want answers" and "real pressure" is mounting across party lines.

They won't be getting any answers from watching “Cuomo Prime Time.”

The governor’s younger brother's show on CNN has instead been the showcase for playful banter between the siblings. Governor Cuomo has been interviewed on CNN at least 19 times since March 8, with his younger brother conducting nine of them.

"CNN's coverage of Andrew Cuomo has been consistent with much of the media, focus on the glowing verbiage and ignore the catastrophic mishandling of nursing homes that led to thousands of deaths,” Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson told Fox News.

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“This problem is compounded by a serious conflict of interest arising from the relationship between Chris Cuomo, one of CNN's highest-profile news personalities, and his brother the Governor,” Jacobson added. “Chris Cuomo should not be allowed to cover or comment on air about his brother, and CNN should appoint someone to monitor and review coverage of Andrew Cuomo to prevent this conflict of interest from bleeding over to other news coverage.”

The last time anyone from CNN asked the New York governor a question pertaining to nursing homes was all the way back on March 10 -- two weeks before the governor's order that forced nursing homes to accept patients who tested positive for coronavirus -- when Jake Tapper asked if the state was ready to handle the type of coronavirus-related tragedy that occurred in Kirkland, Wash., where 19 people had died at the Life Care Center nursing home.

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“Jake, that's my nightmare. And that's where you're going to see the pain and the damage from this virus. Senior citizen homes, nursing homes, congregant senior facilities -- that is my nightmare. We've taken steps, some drastic steps in this area,” Cuomo responded. “All you need is 9-year-old Johnny to visit his grandma in a nursing home, give her a kiss, and you can be off to the races. That's my fear. That population in those congregate facilities. That is really what we have to watch.”

Cuomo was pressed about his nursing home policy this past Sunday, but it not by a CNN reporter. During Cuomo’s daily briefing in Albany, a local reporter asked if lives would have been saved if the policy were reversed earlier.

“People rationalize death in different ways… I don’t think there is any logical rationale to say they would be alive today,” Cuomo said.

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CNN’s audience has instead grown accustomed to questions such as whether or not the governor considers himself an eligible bachelor, and who is the favorite child.

Recent headlines on CNN’s website include, “Andrew Cuomo may be the single most popular politician in America right now,” “Gov. Cuomo got tested for Covid-19 at a press conference to show how easy it is” and “Andrew Cuomo is down for Robert De Niro to play him.”

“CNN's natural assumption is that the president is an incompetent liar, and Cuomo is comparable to Churchill. No one who watches CNN can ignore that they dramatically favor the Democrats, and Governor Cuomo in particular,” Media Research Center director of media analysis Tim Graham told Fox News.

CNN hasn’t exactly been critical when it covered the nursing home controversy. The network billed Gov. Cuomo as “trying to head off further disaster” when it comes to nursing home tragedies and typically only mentions criticism aimed at Cuomo for the sake of amplifying his policy changes.

“In recent days, CNN has reported on individual states with spiking numbers that are simply flooring. In New Jersey, more than half the state's deaths from coronavirus have come at long-term care facilities. And in New Hampshire, as of a few days ago, nearly 80 percent of the deaths were at nursing homes. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to head off further disaster,” correspondent Brian Todd said on May 11.

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The network’s wire report on May 10 previewed Cuomo’s new directive without mentioning that he is regularly blamed for the situation the rules were enacted to reverse. Indeed CNN hosts often gloss over negative news when the network returns from airing Cuomo's daily briefings.

“You are listening to the governor of New York Andrew Cuomo at the end there where we dropped out of that briefing after about 40 minutes or so talking about what will be a legacy stain of the coronavirus crisis that the high rate of deaths in nursing homes not just in New York State, the governor discussing there, but across the United States,” John King said on May 5. “Governor saying there is no doubt New York is coming down the other side of the mountain. Its curve is coming off the peak and now getting closer to a better situation.”

CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield briefly acknowledge the criticism on May 10 in order to set up correspondent Evan McMorris-Santoro to discuss how Cuomo’s updated policy.

“When it comes to nursing homes, the governor is saying, essentially, they're going to be putting resources in nursing homes. They're going to be requiring nursing home staff to get tested twice a week. And they're going to be saying that if you have a COVID positive person, will not be transferred into a nursing home, will instead be taken to either stay in a hospital or taken to a COVID specific nursing home. It's all an attempt to sort of round out these questions but it also speaks to how ongoing this problem is even as the state moves into a period where we're going to maybe see some parts of some regions shifting into reopening,” McMorris-Santoro said.

On May 17, CNN’s media critic Brian Stelter perhaps came closest to a Cuomo criticism when he went on “CNN Newsroom” to declare: “It's a good thing that Cuomo and other governors are being scrutinized for how they handled nursing homes and other vulnerable populations of individuals. Especially in the early days of this crisis.”

“CNN has been an active participant in the broad media narrative that promotes Governor Cuomo as the positive counter to Trump,” DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall told Fox News.

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CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich oddly called it “snarky nonsense” last week when Politico pointed out that some media members regularly praise Cuomo but "love to hate" Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for reopening his state after coronavirus data suggests a sunny outlook.

“It’s amazing that President Trump gets blamed for the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. while [New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo somehow gets a free pass for the deaths in New York,” conservative strategist Chris Barron told Fox News. “I think the reason Cuomo has been elevated to superstar is the same reason they elevated Beto: the left is constantly looking for their next JFK.”

Cuomo first ordered New Yorkers to halt non-essential functions on March 22, three weeks after the first confirmed COVID-19 case in New York City and one day after neighboring New Jersey shut things down. California’s stay-at-home orders came on March 19, Illinois’ came on March 21.

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Along the way, the Democratic governor’s daily press briefings turned the East Coast liberal into a national superstar despite Cuomo largely avoiding responsibility for New York’s overwhelming coronavirus totals. NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck told Fox News that the chances of CNN holding Chris Cuomo’s brother accountable “in any real, sustained fashion for his nursing homes policy are close to zilch.”

“It's so bad he's perhaps the last current elected official on the planet that CNN would report on in a negative fashion. Because for CNN, it's all Trump hate, all the time, and same for red states,” Houck said. “The families of the thousands dead would like some answers and tough questions from reporters to Cuomo, but sadly they shouldn't put their trust in CNN. Instead, we're likely to hear more about his dating life than that on CNN's air.”

Meanwhile, Chris Cuomo has come under fire for the way he handled his bout with coronavirus. The host said he tested positive, vividly describing symptoms on air. He eventually claimed he was finally healthy enough to emerge from his basement, where he said he had been recovering, but that was days after a now-infamous altercation with a cyclist outside an unfinished construction site that he owns.

The CNN host previously admitted he was involved in a heated altercation with the cyclist –- who filed a police complaint. As a result, Cuomo’s so-called "emergence" was extensively mocked on social media for misleading CNN viewers.

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Liberal New York Times media columnist Ben Smith even mocked the situation, comparing CNN to a reality TV show.

“The extent to which CNN has adopted reality TV values here is pretty remarkable. Including eliding the controversy over Cuomo's travel,” Smith wrote to caption video of Cuomo’s return to society.

Fox News’ Morgan Phillips, Joshua Nelson and Julia Musto contributed to this report.