Our press corps is wielded as a partisan and corporate weapon, making journalists averse to covering corruption and avarice if leaders from both parties are implicated in shilling for corporate power. Which is why the press is unable to handle a scandal like Gov. Andrew Cuomo's alleged mismanagement of nursing home policy during the pandemic.
A group of Republican senators are pressing President Joe Biden’s Justice Department to investigate Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mismanagement of nursing home policy during the pandemic — and conservative media outlets are excitedly touting those lawmakers’ plans to spotlight the issue at this week’s confirmation hearing for Biden’s attorney general nominee.
Cuomo deserves the criticism. However, there is some serious hypocrisy at play here. Amid an outcry about nursing home deaths, these same Republican critics copied and pasted Cuomo’s infamous nursing home immunity law into their own legislation.
That fact has not been spotlighted by the same conservative media machine hyping the Cuomo scandal, even though it is out in the open for all to see.
The situation not only illustrates Republicans’ inauthenticity, but also a broken media ecosystem so devoted to partisan storytelling, it no longer consistently covers the bipartisan corruption that does not neatly fit a Red Team/Blue Team narrative.
Cuomo’s Republican Critics Copied and Pasted His Law Into Their Bills
At its core, the scandal engulfing Cuomo is really about liability shields for nursing home corporations and their executives.
Early in 2020, a powerful health care industry group that delivered large donations to Cuomo’s political machine drafted legislative language to shield those executives from legal consequences if their cost-cutting, profit-maximizing decisions endangered nursing home residents’ lives. Cuomo slipped that language into New York’s state budget and then did not support repealing it when critics warned that removing a lawsuit deterrent to corporate misbehavior was jeopardizing lives. Instead, his administration withheld data about how many nursing home residents were dying under the immunity regime.
Despite the warnings about the immunity law’s effects in New York — which were later buttressed by a report from New York’s attorney general — US Senate Republicans lifted New York’s language and dropped it into their own legislation last year. Indeed, as the Daily Poster first reported, those Republican legislative proposals included word-for-word passages from Cuomo’s corporate immunity law.
The specific New York legislative passages spliced into the GOP bill were the most egregious ones of all — they were the provisions that took liability shields given to frontline medical workers and expanded them to protect powerful corporate executives making the big decisions.
Five of the Republican senators who cosponsored those bills — Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, Thom Tillis, and Marsha Blackburn — are now touting a letter they sent to Senate Democrats demanding a full probe of Cuomo’s nursing home scandal.
Not surprisingly, their indignant letter includes no mention of their own support for Cuomo’s law shielding nursing home executives from lawsuits, which was part of their larger effort to provide sweeping liability shields for businesses during the pandemic. Nor does their letter mention the money they received from health care industry donors that stood to benefit from the immunity proposal.
And for all their letter’s rhetoric expressing anger about misinformation, the Republican senators also do not ask for a Justice Department probe of Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose “administration engaged in a pattern of spin and concealment that misled the public on the gravest health threat the state has ever faced,” according to an investigation by the South Florida Sun Sentinel. That report found that “state officials withheld information about infections in schools, prisons, hospitals and nursing homes” — and yet Republican senators somehow have nothing to say about it.
Of course, an investigation of Cuomo’s administration is warranted. So are the queries those GOP senators may hurl at Biden attorney general nominee Merrick Garland about the debacle. The questions are valid even if the Republican inquisitors are acting in bad faith.
However, will anyone bother to ask those same Republicans about their own records?
This isn’t about scoring cheap political points on GOP senators. This is about something much bigger. It is about whether the political system can honestly evaluate and debate a destructive policy championed by players in both parties in states and in Washington.
To do that, we need to know both why Cuomo did what he did, and also why his Republican critics subsequently championed his policy at the center of the scandal.
Will any reporters or lawmakers bother to ask Republicans about this?
The Story of Bipartisan Corruption Is Now in Media No-Man’s-Land
In our media-driven politics, the answer may end up being no, because the press corps has for the most part refused to dig deep into the issue. Many news outlets have refused to cover how corporate immunity metastasized from a Cuomo policy into a bipartisan initiative designed to shield powerful corporate officials as they presided over a public health disaster.
This lack of coverage is an important story unto itself. It shows how the media machine has fractured.
The immunity story is about corporate power — and corporate power is a typically taboo subject among corporate-owned legacy news outlets.
That leaves the more overtly political outlets to drive coverage. But those outlets are less ideological and more partisan, and this horrific tale — if recounted honestly — cannot be neatly transformed into cannon fodder for the red-versus-blue wars.
On the Right, news outlets such as Fox News and the New York Post have loudly and aggressively (and accurately) reported on Cuomo’s cover-up of the nursing home data and the burgeoning death toll. And yet they have been largely silent about the immunity provisions in general and Republicans’ support for those provisions in specific, because that part of this saga complicates — rather than fortifies — the purely anti-Democrat narrative they are trying to promote.
Similarly, until the scandal exploded last week and became an unavoidable news topic, Democratic-adjacent news outlets such as MSNBC have displayed little interest in covering the sordid details of a story that revolves around a well-known Democratic politician. That reflects a larger attitude among liberals who seem to believe that “celebrating the idea of the competent blue-state governor is more important than reckoning with the reality of a serially underachieving chief executive playing three-card monte with dead bodies,” as Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley explains.
The result is that the very heart of this scandal — the corporate immunity law pushed by a powerful industry and championed by lawmakers in both parties — ends up either being downplayed, or the bipartisan nature of the corruption is depicted as proof that the corrupt policy has merit.
This is a microcosmic example of a larger problem. A political press corps that has been transformed into partisan and corporate weaponry is now more averse to covering stories of corruption and avarice if those stories implicate figures in both parties shilling for corporate power. Such stories annoy advertisers and — just as important — do not satiate partisan audiences, which have now been conditioned not to judge news on its merits. Instead, they reward news with clicks, likes, and shares if it seems useful to their side.
That reality allows for Republican senators at this week’s Garland hearing to pretend to be offended by a Democratic governor, even as they touted his law at the center of the scandal.
It potentially allows Democratic senators to try to avoid the corporate immunity issue, for fear of enraging one of their biggest campaign donors — the same health care industry organization that bankrolled Cuomo and pushed New York’s immunity law in the first place.
In short, the dynamic leaves hugely important news about bipartisan corruption in a media no-man’s-land — left to be ignored or trampled in the latest impulsive bayonet charge by one party or the other.
And so as you take in the Garland hearing and all the headlines it will generate, watch for the questions about the Cuomo scandal — but also watch for what is not said or reported. The silence is part of the cover-up.
You can subscribe to David Sirota’s investigative journalism project, the Daily Poster, here.
This post was originally published on Jacobin.