A prominent governor of a major Northeast state, a rising star within his party and someone who has made clear he has aspirations for the White House, is suddenly entangled by allegations of corruption which threaten to arrest his meteoric rise and might even prove to be the end of his political career. Sound familiar? No, not Chris Christie and the infamous “Bridge-gate,” but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who allegedly tried to tamper with his own anticorruption commission.
The situation Cuomo faces is, from a political perspective, strikingly similar to the predicament Christie contended with in late December and into January. Like Christie aide Bridget Kelly, a longtime Cuomo aide is now the focus of a federal investigation into the closure of the Moreland Commission.
“New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s highest-ranking aide has agreed to meet with federal prosecutors this month as their investigation into the disbanding of an anticorruption commission intensifies, according to a person familiar with the matter,” The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. “[Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz] was Mr. Cuomo’s conduit to the Moreland Commission, and it is his alleged actions that have served as the basis for accusations that the administration improperly interfered with the commission’s investigations, directing them away from any entities with ties to the governor.”
CBS News noted that Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has called the dissolution of the anticorruption panel Cuomo commissioned “premature.” Cuomo has retained counsel but continues to campaign for his reelection this fall.
Schwartz, who served as the governor’s primary liaison to the directive, is accused of meddling with the commission by urging members of the 25-member panel to steer clear of investigating entities with links to Cuomo.
In one instance, Schwartz asked a commissioner to withdraw a subpoena issued to Buying Time, a media-purchasing firm that had done work for Cuomo’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. The subpoena was ultimately resent, which Cuomo has cited as proof that the commission acted independently of his office’s recommendations.
The New York Times reports other cases in which Schwartz interfered, though, including attempts to retract a subpoena to the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members financially backed the governor’s election bid. He also allegedly tried to guide the commission’s investigations away from the Committee to Save New York, a lobbying group that raised some $17 million for TV ads early in Cuomo’s term.
Conservatives have long been irked by the national media’s disproportionate focus on Christie’s political woes, especially when juxtaposed with the lack of attention the press devoted to a variety of matters of greater national significance. As early as January 9, for example, Newsbusters observed that the broadcast network newscasts had devoted 17 times more coverage to Christie’s bridge problems than they did to the IRS scandal (which remains a scandal in spite of the media’s best efforts to convince itself otherwise).
But the IRS scandal and “Bridge-gate” were distinct in a way that “Bridge-gate” and Cuomo’s political problems are not. The scandals surrounding Cuomo and Christie’s administrations are virtual mirror images of one another. Nearly all that distinguishes these two scandals from each other is the political media’s ravenous interest in one and utter indifference toward another.
On Tuesday, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg pointed out a City Journal piece composed by Walter Olson who determined that media bias is all that could possibly explain why this scandal has not received the same level of attention that “Bridge-gate” garnered.
“The Moreland story is still relatively new, but even by this time in the Bridgegate news cycle, the national media had produced perhaps 10 times as much coverage of Christie’s woes,” Olson wrote.
Here’s how all of this has played out. In the six days after disclosure of the Bridgegate emails, newspapers outside of New Jersey mentioned Christie and the bridge scandal more than 500 times. The matter attracted attention around the country, from the Visala Times-Delta in California to the Portland (Maine) Press Herald and the Bismarck (North Dakota) Tribune, according to the Nexis newspaper database. The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot ran five stories and one letter to the editor. According to transcripts of television and radio broadcasts collected by Nexis, the bridge scandal appeared hundreds more times on national broadcasts, led by CNN, which mentioned the story more than 100 times. While some of these were merely brief references during news roundups, the cable network also did numerous stories with headlines like, WHAT DID CHRISTIE KNOW?, CHRISTIE: I AM NOT A BULLY, PAYBACK POLITICS IN THE SPOTLIGHT, and FALLOUT IN NJ BRIDGE SCANDAL.
Now consider the treatment of Cuomo and the budding Moreland scandal. In the same number of days following the Times’s report, virtually all the coverage of the Moreland revelations has come from within New York State. While local papers have published about 140 stories, only about a dozen newspapers outside of New York have even mentioned the story, according to Nexis—including in neighboring states. Consider the response (or non-response) of the Washington Post. Five days after the Times’s bombshell story on Moreland, the Post ran a lengthy story about Christie’s trouble with New Jersey’s underfunded pensions, but had yet to run anything on the Moreland controversy. By contrast, five days after the Bridgegate emails had emerged, the Post’s reporters and columnists had cited the Christie scandal 35 times, in stories with headlines like, DAMAGED BRIDGE, N.J. BRIDGE DRAMA IS MADE-FOR-TV SCANDAL, and CHRIS CHRISTIE’S VERY SAD DAY. Similarly, despite the opening of an investigation into the Moreland matter by the U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, the episode has generated just 20 broadcast mentions, led by MSNBC, which has done half a dozen stories so far. It’s possible that more pieces from this period will appear in the broadcast database as they are transcribed, but the paltry number of broadcast stories up to now is consistent with the lack of interest the newspapers have shown.
Some have defended the media’s lack of coverage by suggesting that Christie, who was at the beginning of the year the Republican Party’s top contender for the presidency in 2016, deserved all the scrutiny he got. Goldberg found this explanation more damning than exculpatory:
People telling me media justified for 100X more coverage of Christie than Cuomo because he's a GOP contender are making my point, not theirs
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) August 6, 2014
Let's say you're all right about Christie v Cuomo. I'll settle for 1/8th the MSNBC/CNN/NBC/CBS/NYT feeding frenzy. Fair? How about 1/16th?
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) August 6, 2014
Christie has not been exonerated, and the investigation into his and his staff’s behavior before and after the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge continues. But the political damage has been done. The feeding frenzy surrounding “Bridge-gate” transformed Christie from one of the GOP’s most electable 2016 prospects into just another in a field of Hillary Clinton’s potential rivals – and not even a particularly distinguished one. This was the media’s aim, and they succeeded in achieving it.
It is tacitly corrupt for the political press to justify the level of coverage it devotes to a scandal involving a politician based on his or her partisan affiliation and potential electability. The longer Cuomo’s scandal flies under the radar, the longer the media gestates a scandal of its own.