Literally thousands of New Yorkers died in the state’s nursing homes during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, but a new Media Research Center study shows the national media are much less interested in covering that horrifying scandal than the sexual harassment accusations against Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.
From the first network evening news mention of Cuomo’s nursing home scandal nearly ten months ago (on the May 11, 2020 NBC Nightly News) through Sunday night, the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts have devoted a mere 15 minutes, 35 seconds to the story — most of which came after the January 28, 2021 report by the state’s Attorney General, Letitia James, charging that the Cuomo administration vastly under-reported nursing home deaths.
In contrast, in just the past 11 days those same broadcasts have devoted almost three times as much coverage — 44 minutes, 14 seconds — on allegations from several women that Cuomo sexually harassed them in recent years.
While both stories painted the Governor and his team in a highly unfavorable light, there’s no question Cuomo administration’s negligent nursing home policies had a much wider and more terrible impact. Yet that story was, inexplicably, getting far less attention from the national news networks — even as the overall pandemic had dominated newscasts for a full year.
Of course, last December it didn’t seem as though the harassment story would go anywhere, either. The networks couldn’t have cared less as they completely ignored the initial allegation against Cuomo, tweeted by former staffer Lindsey Boylan on December 13, 2020. Then on February 25, after Boylan expanded on her charges, only ABC’s World News Tonight bothered to even mention them (giving the news a scant 39 seconds), while the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News said nothing.
But the harassment story picked up steam after the New York Times reported that a second staffer, Charlotte Bennett, also accused Cuomo of wrongdoing, quickly followed by a third woman who said Cuomo grabbed her and kissed her at a wedding. This weekend, more former staffers also came forward to allege the Governor engaged in improper conduct.
These allegations have become the national media sensation that the far more lethal nursing home story had not. CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell devoted large portions of her newscast on Thursday and Friday to an interview with Bennett, who suggested the laudatory national media coverage Cuomo enjoyed in the spring of 2020 had “emboldened” him: “I think he felt like he was untouchable in a lot of ways.”
In 2020, MRC found 401 references to Cuomo on the evening newscasts, with only two mentions of the nursing home scandal amounting to a scant 51 seconds. From January 28 through February 25, as damning revelations showed how the Cuomo administration had covered-up the true death toll, these same newscasts only produced another 10 minutes, 56 seconds on the topic.
As the harassment story exploded on February 28, the nursing home story virtually disappeared from the newscasts, with ABC and NBC skipping it for three straight nights. The story garnered only four minutes, 34 seconds of additional coverage during the past week — roughly one tenth of what the networks gave to the harassment accusations — despite important developments: the state legislature stripped Cuomo of his emergency powers, and a New York Times report claimed the Cuomo administration intentionally doctored the state’s nursing home death toll in a report.
It’s not as if the media were trying to help the Governor — coverage of Cuomo’s harassment scandal has been absolutely devastating. So why can’t the national press put the same energy into covering the horrifying story of how Cuomo mishandled his state’s coronavirus response, with deadly consequences?