‘Ugh’: Life at Andrew Cuomo’s Hometown Newspaper
Casey Seiler, editor of the Albany Times Union, was in a meeting Tuesday afternoon with the newspaper’s executive committee in their office near the airport when he saw a comment he had made in private for months earlier was now circulating on Twitter.
“Uh, no, no! Not unofficially, ”Seiler said. “No, don’t send us anything unless it’s recorded, Melissa, okay?” Referring to Melissa DeRosa, a key aide to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.
Mr. Seiler, mostly bald and boy-like, like a nerd Patrick Stewart, declined to comment on how often he says “ugh” in professional circles. But the spirit of the exchange – made public in an explosive report released Tuesday by the state attorney general – was representative of life in Mr. Cuomo’s hometown newspaper while the governor fights for his political life.
Mr Seiler had protested Ms DeRosa’s offer in March to send the newspaper a document regarding a woman who accused Mr Cuomo of harassment. Withholding information – details that cannot be directly shared with readers, but which could be intended to influence coverage – was something the Times Union discouraged. Finally, no document was sent. (“It was not a personal file. It was nothing derogatory,” said Richard Azzopardi, communications director and senior advisor to Mr. Cuomo later. The document would have “added a little context” to the conversation., he said.)
This state attorney general report found that Mr. Cuomo harassed 11 women and oversaw a toxic work environment.
Many details are now on record, including the efforts by Mr Cuomo’s team to manage his image during this crisis. For The Times Union in particular, this included the team providing potentially damaging information about an accuser; frequently insist that he not be recorded when contacted by a journalist; provide inaccurate information; and yelling at reporters and editors on phone calls.
The pandemic roller coaster that Mr. Cuomo rode on also took a spin on paper. Mr Cuomo’s popularity soared during his regular televised coronavirus briefings (sobering data, inspirational quotes, zingers from his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo), which contrasted with that of President Trump (dangerous information, false insurance and attacks on journalists). Yet while other reporters at the newspaper were occasionally called upon to question Mr. Cuomo, the newspaper’s coverage manager on Capitol Hill never was.
Now, in the wake of the Attorney General’s report, Mr. Cuomo’s tactics and his targets are in full view. On Tuesday, seeing the words he spoke circulating privately online, Mr. Seiler picked up his laptop and walked out of the meeting. Then he called Brendan J. Lyons, who oversees the Times Union’s coverage of the Capitol and was on the phone with Ms DeRosa in March.
Mr. Lyons already knew something was going on. He was working from home when he saw someone on Twitter calling him and Mr. Seiler, heroic. His first reaction: “Uh oh.”
Neither man had known that the 38-minute phone call in March was recorded, presumably by Mr. Cuomo’s assistants, not to mention that the recording was obtained by investigators, transcribed and presented in the attorney general’s report.
In early March, days before the phone call, Mr Lyons posted an interview with an anonymous assistant to the governor who said he groped her. Now, months later, Mr Lyons has rushed to recall if that secretly taped phone call laid bare by the attorney general’s report could contain information about aid that was never intended to be public. .
“It’s a story of sexual harassment,” Mr. Lyons said in an interview. “Is there something in this that harms a victim or exposes a victim?” “
For the 165-year-old newspaper rooted in a county with fewer residents than Staten Island, the Cuomo scandal is a rare moment of wider attention. For years, as online platforms and social media engulfed advertising budgets and audiences, news outlets covering state capitals, including Albany, have shrunk. The Times Union has devoted more resources than most other media to coverage of Mr. Cuomo and his administration: in addition to Mr. Lyons, two other reporters and a younger reporter are assigned to Capitol Hill, not counting the reporters. who turn to the blanket. , too much.
The Times Union, which is owned by Hearst, has stuck to its old-fashioned principles. No denunciation except in case of absolute necessity. Minimal chatter with sources. Don’t let your inbox dictate how you’re going to spend your day.
This approach is particularly ill-suited to Cuomo administration. Mr. Cuomo, a three-term Democratic governor, is the son of a three-term Democratic governor. The two gained reputations for obsessing over their media coverage, calling reporters and editors seemingly wholeheartedly and avoiding those whose coverage they didn’t like, according to reporters and former collaborators.
Mr. Seiler described Mr. Cuomo as the Shakespearean figure whose “greatest skills or attributes are so inexplicably linked to their faults and sins.” He added: “What makes him a formidable worker of the political machinery also makes him a control freak who hates investigations he does not control.”
When Mr. Cuomo was Attorney General, Mr. Lyons wrote an unflattering article about him. After he appeared, Mr. Cuomo called Mr. Lyons. “I made the mistake,” he said, of allowing Mr. Cuomo to abstain on the call. “Then he started yelling at me and really saying things that weren’t right. “
After a while, Mr. Lyons recalls, he said, “I’ve had enough – I’m not listening to you anymore” and suggested that Mr. Cuomo call his supervisor, which Mr. Cuomo did quickly before. that Mr. Lyons cannot give the supervisor a head held high. “And he also started yelling and threatening him,” Mr. Lyons said. The lesson he said, “I’ll never let this guy date me again.”
Mr Azzopardi, who has worked in the administration for nine years, said: “I cannot tell you what the governor did or did not do” when he was attorney general.
Commenting on the recording, Mr Azzopardi said: “Sometimes you like being able to explain the context without carefully looking at every word you say.” He added: “It’s no different here than in any other political organization.”
The report by New York State Attorney General Letitia James fueled calls for Mr. Cuomo’s immediate resignation. And the flames that engulfed Mr. Cuomo’s political house also shed new light on the newspaper in its backyard.
“I’m not a fan of the newspaper,” said Fredric U. Dicker, former editor of the New York Post and once considered a friendly media ally of the governor, in an interview. “But to the Times Union’s credit, they’ve had some very strong histories trying to review the administration.”
In 2019, Mr. Cuomo and his longtime girlfriend went their separate ways. He left the Westchester house they shared and entered the Governor’s Mansion, becoming a full-time resident of Albany for the first time since his father was Governor.
It was a house the Queens-born governor never wanted, according to Mr. Dicker, who was working on a book about Mr. Cuomo before they argued in 2013.
“He thought of Albany – I know, he told me – small town, small weather,” Mr. Dicker said. “And I think he found Albany even worse than he remembered.”
Mr. Cuomo has unfortunately been replanted in Albany, and scrutiny of the Times Union, a rugged daily devoted to his city and industry, likely wouldn’t improve his mood. “We had to jump through hoops to get access to him, even though we were in his backyard.” Jessica Marshall, multimedia producer for The Times Union, said. “It has always been inaccessible. Before the pandemic, during the pandemic, the scandal, everything. “
The newspaper, technically located in the nearby town of Colony, is the paper for Albany, a town of 96,000 people, many of whom have government-related jobs. In this fishbowl, the plastic castle of the governor’s mansion could be confined.
And now, as Mr. Cuomo appears to be running out of room to swim, The Times Union is celebrated.
Mr Seiler’s rebuke of Ms DeRosa’s offer should be taught in journalism schools, The New Republic reporter said noted the day the report was published. WNYC Public Radio Editor-in-Chief noted, “Every journalist and editor should remember these famous words” said by Mr. Seiler.
The New Yorker interviewed Mr. Seiler for a story with the headline “How Andrew Cuomo Holds On To Power”. And Mr. Lyons appeared on MSNBC (The Room assessor Twitter account: “I love colors. Art. Light. Window to the right. Crop left. 9/10. ”)
Mr Lyons took over the Capitol cover for the newspaper in 2017, after overseeing investigative projects. His probing questions led to major scoops, as well as an icy reception from the governor.
“I have given up on raising my hand in Zoom calls, asking to be called,” Mr. Lyons said, discussing Mr. Cuomo’s press conferences on the pandemic and the few availabilities held by the governor since the first ones. allegations against him were made public from February. “I have never been called once.”
Mr Azzopardi said the Times Union pushed for in-person press conferences, then “they didn’t bother to show up.” So, he said, “on this point, I’m not that sympathetic.” Mr Seiler said a mix of security concerns and topical value led the newspaper to cover these events from a distance.
By the time he was being ignored, Mr. Lyons naturally wanted an explanation. “I told one of my reporters, if you are called, to ask him who is the person who chooses to ask the questions? Remembers Mr. Lyons.
Mr. Cuomo, he said, “pretended not to know.”
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