The Cuomo Show goes dark

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing on June 12, 2020 in New York City. | Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

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ALBANY, N.Y. — The Emmy-winning Cuomo Show has been canceled.

The star of the show, embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, spent half an hour on Thursday yukking it up with representatives of the Mets and Yankees at a press conference in which the press was invited to participate via Zoom but was not allowed to ask any questions. That came a day after Cuomo said he would no longer answer questions about topics like sexual harassment or nursing homes, issues that are under investigation at the state and federal level.

It’s all a stark contrast from this point a year ago, when national television networks were beginning to air Cuomo’s daily Covid-19 briefings and his back-and-forth sessions with reporters in their entirety. Back then, he was a national phenomenon. Now he is facing calls for his resignation even as the state Assembly has begun looking into possible impeachment proceedings.

Suffice it to say, he is not as ubiquitous in March 2021 as he was a year ago.

The governor publicly spoke with the press 91 times last March via in-person briefings, remote conference calls or Zooms, and appearances on television or radio programs. From April through January, he made an average of 32 appearances per month — and that’s not including a number of interviews to promote his book, which weren’t included on his official schedules. His apparent transparency and his performance during televised Covid-19 briefings led the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to give him a special Emmy award late last year.

More recently, however, the governor has been less of a media presence. He made only 13 appearances during the first few weeks of February, as he was coming under intensified fire for his decisions involving Covid deaths among nursing home residents. On the morning of Feb. 24, his public schedule promised a press briefing later in the day, but it failed to materialize as the first detailed allegations of sexual harassment were made against him later that morning.

Now, after facing weeks of accusations of inappropriate behavior by former aides and other women, the governor is starting to cut off the press. Cuomo has taken questions from reporters on five occasions since that canceled Feb. 24 press conference and has now begun doing so mostly off camera.

“It’s great to have an hour of free TV time on national TV when you’re the executive producer and people are desperate for information,” said Risa Heller, a top New York media strategist and former adviser to Sen. Chuck Schumer and Gov. David Paterson. “It gets a lot harder to program when you have to answer a lot of hard questions.”

Cuomo made that clear this week. On a conference call on Wednesday, Cuomo prefaced question-and-answer time by saying he wouldn’t talk about the Assembly impeachment investigation or the law firm that the chamber announced earlier in the day it had hired to lead the probe.

“Let the lawyers do their job and let them conduct a review and then we can talk about it when we have facts established or a specific situation relative to the review,” he said. “But other than that I’m going to respect the review and I won’t comment on it or related matters.”

The state Assembly’s investigation of the governor is wide-ranging, and covers pretty much all of the alleged scandals that have dominated headlines in recent weeks. In his remarks on Wednesday, Cuomo was seemingly suggesting that moving forward, he would answer only questions about topics like vaccines or the state budget.

Most reporters did not seem interested in those limits, leading to some frustrated responses from Cuomo. One reporter asked about a former aide’s accusation that he discussed her sexual preferences. “Did any of that happen?” the reporter asked. Cuomo declined to answer.

“As I said, the Assembly has a review going on just the questions you asked, and questions like it, and I’m going to respect the review and I won’t comment on issues that are subject to the review,” he said.

And then came Thursday, when Cuomo’s office sent out an advisory announcing that he’d be holding a briefing via Zoom. The advisory was mostly the same as on the other 28 occasions when the governor has held a virtual briefing since December. But tacked on to the usual message detailing how to join a webinar was a note that “There will be no Q and A today.”

And so Cuomo held the press-free press conference where he announced the capacity limits for Major League Baseball games in New York this spring — 10,850 in Yankee Stadium, while 8,384 long-suffering souls will be allowed to gather in Citi Field .

He was joined by former New York pitchers Al Leiter and CC Sabathia. He challenged the players to an arm-wrestling contest and reminisced about his father’s once-promising baseball career. Daughter Michaela was also there, meaning it wasn’t exclusively a male-only gathering, but she didn’t talk.

“Keep reopening,” Cuomo said, urging New Yorkers to get vaccinated and take advantage of new activities without being reckless. New York is coming out of the pandemic “better than before,” he said. “And let’s play ball!”

The pullback from press-driven events might allow the governor to better control the narrative, but could also mean less attention on his efforts to show New York is starting to open up.

“The Cuomo that they know and love is the Covid leadership Cuomo, so he’s not willing to do the thing that made him popular in the first place: going on television and being Leadership Cuomo in the time of Covid,“ said Christina Greer, a professor at Fordham University and host of several podcasts. “To do so is to open himself up.”

Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.

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