Glenn Greenwald Media Criticism

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?
CNN host Chris Cuomo (l) “interviews” his brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), on CNN, May 6, 2020. [Screen shot / CNN]

By Glenn Greenwald / Substack

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.

17 comments

  1. What is grotesque is the continuous coverage from the media. This looks more and more like a hatchet job to get the governor. Wait until the investigation is done. It isn’t just this but almost any subject. We are constantly subjected to opinions. Everything is “tried in the press”.
    As the great reporter Seymour Hersch said, don’t give me anything that starts with “I think”.
    The tragedy is that there is so much that is not covered.

  2. What do you expect from CNN?….It is merely another MSM Right-Wing-Democrat news site….I can barely remember a time that they actually reported the “NEWS”.

  3. The saddest thing about this outstanding piece from Glenn Greenwald is that the Cuomos and CNN couldn’t care less about ethics, corruption or otherwise. The only thing missing is Jeff Zucker endorsing his money-making brother act à la Les Moonves.

  4. You really know how to make much ado about nothing, don’t you? Who cares if this guy got a covid test? Did he take that test away from widows & orphans or something? I don’t think so.

    This is nothing.

    1. I beg to differ that this is a “nothing.” With the BLM movement comes awareness of privilege and entitlement that white people have because of the color of their skin. In this case, their entitlement comes from class and caste, among other things mentioned by the author. There is a mass of people out there “seeing” for the first time and beginning to hate the elitist set. You may be among the entitled, and therefore to you, it is “normal” and “nothing.”

    1. To Bill Wolfe re: A. Cuomo and fracking, etc.–your link is a sound rebuke to his defenders here. Like “who cares” if family members got to jump the line for COVID vaccines? Neat deflection to make caring for family the issue, a welcome distraction from that pesky nursing home hullabaloo. As if a bunch of useless old people are more important than the would-be neolib standard bearer. And of course it’s “a hatchet job” because the Gov. has never, ever done anything a leftist might question. Oh oh. I guess your info suggests he has.

      PS–Love the Mario C. giant puppet figure. IMO daddy C. was an admirable figure. Of course he was from a time when the Dem party still adhered to the New Deal. Before the neolib usurpers abandoned labor and became allies of Wall St. and 1%er donors.

      1. Mario Cuomo was the most brilliant, humane and honest (and sexy, ha, ha) politician I’ve ever known….He must be turning over in his grave at what’s become of his party.

    2. Well aren’t you a wealth of information, seriously. Thank you for posting. Old trickster here.

    3. Bill Wolfe, do you know what the “The Trap” opens onto on your website? I would remove it if I were you.

      1. Wow! Thanks. And that wasn’t the only link that did that! I deleted them all.

        I wonder how my website was hacked to do that?

      2. Are there any tech geeks out there that can explain to me how links to webpages on my blog could have been hijacked and redirected to porn sites? How could hackers get inside the software on my webpage?

        A few years back, I was hacked and the only way I discovered it was the huge excess monthly data use charges I received. The server I use could stop it was to shut off reader comments. Is this crap typical? Or unusual?

        I had a bunch of links to Adam Curtis films, 350.org, other organizations etc.

        Yesterday I deleted them all

  5. Greenwald again ignores the real abuse.

    Cuomo took money from corporate interests and then spearheaded an inside baseball scandal to provide those corporate interests with legal immunity.

    That’s the real corruption – how could it be ignored?

    1. It’s all real corruption in many terms and many ways. Caste and class of elitists are mostly corrupted human beings. Few have the internal courage or fighting power to wrestle with their ugly demons and come out better for it. It eats away at them. Cuomo’s behavior towards women; another example of entitlement and privilege. He thinks it nothing in the elite bubble he lives in, has lived in all his life. Other commenters on this page most come from that bubble as well. They don’t seem to know how alone they are. Great time for bubble bursting.

  6. That this behavior is considered “understandable” is yet another example of privileges the liberal educated, administrative, and professional elites consider theirs by right of superiority. The type justly called out in Lani Guinier’s //The Tyranny of Meritocracy.//

    It’s also why references to the 99% by neolib Dems are so self-serving. Implying that these Dems have the same interests as the majority working class when the last few decades have certainly shown that to be false. In actuality, they have done little to help anyone but themselves, their class, and their corporate sponsors.

    These D centrists only represent the 20% upper middle class elites. People useful to the 1%. And who very, very seldom have to worry about access to health care, stolen pensions, or tenuous jobs. Who are unlike the 70% of Americans with less than $1000 in savings–and that a pre-COVID figure.

    It’s not that we don’t need educated experts and tenured professors. People like Ralph Nader and Nomi Prins are clearly on the side of people who aren’t privileged, who don’t have connections. It’s just that the Democratic Party, when taken over by the centrists, abandoned labor and ditched the New Deal ideals.

  7. Who needs a political system or court system when you have CNN, a Corporate Elitist Fascist organization telling everybody what to think. I said long ago, take your F—ing tv off of the wall, send it one-way to CNN with a note on it telling them what to do with their news. After they get a million or so of these, maybe they will learn. Better yet send them directly to the reporters who are nothing but robotic puppets lying for their masters.

  8. “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 ….”

    Not to put too fine a point on it, Glenn, but that’s a core design feature of the US healthcare system. There may be exceptions for donor organs* and for this particular class of vaccines, but I’m sure it must be a very hard reflex for the privileged to break.

    *Not organ transplants, mind you, just the organs themselves. If you and/or your insurance program can’t/won’t/don’t pony up for the procedure, you’re generally SOL. The wealthy, powerful, and connected rarely face that hurdle.

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