12:49 pm Sep. 26, 2011
Andrew Cuomo's relationship with the media is the subject of a panel discussion tomorrow night in Manhattan, where reporters who cover the governor discuss his relationship with the press. It is a discussion that promises to be ... complicated.
Possibly the clearest articulation of Cuomo's philosophy of the media was made during an interview on November 4th, when Cuomo made his first post-election day appearance on Fred Dicker's radio show, a favorite forum of his.
(Dicker, the New York Post state editor, and Cuomo have known one another since Cuomo worked as a top aide to his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, in the 1980s.)
Both agreed Cuomo needed to hold the line against the increasing demands of the ever-hungry online media.
"The new phenomenon is the press has to write a story every hour," Cuomo said.
When the host said it was "awful," Cuomo agreed.
"It it awful," he said. "And I understand that need. However, I'm not going to allow that to dictate the pace of government and government is going to happen in an orderly process."
So far, he's enjoyed great success in controlling the pace of the coverage.
(It's too early to make any determination about his ability to control the tenor of that coverage, since it has never really been put to the test: His press attention has been largely positive, reflecting the indisputable fact that he has had his way with the legislature so far in instituting many of the agenda items he campaigned on, and the fact that his actions so far have been met with overwhelming approval from the public.)
Few announcements are leaked ahead of time unless the leaks are authorized, and the governor has continued to show the message discipline he displayed as attorney general (though not as a first-time gubernatorial candidate), keeping most of the stories about him focused on his management of state government.
At the same time, Cuomo has been quite accessible, after a fashion, and sufficiently "out there" to be able to sell the idea that, contrary to his career-long reputation as a fiercely controlling arbiter of his own image, his is an unusually open administration.
One of his first moves upon becoming governor was to open, physically, the Hall of Governors in the Capitol to reporters, after it had been closed off by George Pataki and kept that way through the short-lived administrations of Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. It was mostly of symbolic significance, but it was taken as an indication that Cuomo meant to deliver on his campaign promise to be more transparent than his predecessors. (Dicker called it a "very gutsy" move.)
Cuomo is quite generous with his time when it comes to venues he likes: By 11 a.m. today, Cuomo had conducted two radio interviews.
And he has on occasion answered questions from the press, sometimes until reporters actually run out of things to ask, even though, as he promised on Dicker's show, he does not cater to the press' needs when it doesn't suit him.
(Example: He gave a phone interview to a NY1 reporter after Hurricane Irene hit New York, when he was eager to show that he was moving around the state staying on top of the storm-damage situation and providing succor to constituents; but his longstanding policy of not actually appearing on NY1, as illustrated by the station's ever-ticking "Cuomo Clock," remains perfectly intact.)
Now he is able to point to a new website on which he recently hosted an online town hall-type forum to demonstrate his transparency, even as he maintains easy control over the discourse. He's also begun using the website to post his past daily schedules, something he was reluctant to release in the past. (Recently, the New York Times wrote that Cuomo was "slow to fullfill some requests for information.")
And, NY1 clock notwithstanding, Cuomo has been careful not to leave himself open to accusations of actually ducking the media.
When Cuomo finished his speech at the Somos el Futuro conference in Albany last November, he used the rear door of the ballroom to make his exit. He planned on leaving the event and letting his speech be his only public remarks. But as he and his entourages approached a waiting car behind the Crown Plaza hotel, the light from a television camera went on and a crowd of reporters descended on him. Cuomo stopped, turned around, flashed a smile and answered every one of the questions they had. He even thanked them for their inquiries.
New York Times reporter Thomas Kaplan, who was part of the press contingent covering Cuomo that evening, said the governor-elect had used an "escape route" through a "side door." The reporters, it turned out, had been given a heads-up about the alternate route by a bartender in the lobby, who, like Cuomo, knew how to get around the building.
The moral of the story, maybe? Sometimes it's possible to get answers out of the governor, even if clearance isn't pre-authorized. But it helps if he's on the spot, and his reputation for openness is, very transparently, at stake.
More by this author:
- Queens goes for Christine, Melinda and Reshma; Dicker's 'confidential' inquiry
- Dicker, now a Cuomo enemy, bridles at the Josh Vlasto treatment