The 2 Monsters of New York

Andrew Cuomo is governor of New York, and his brother Chris hosts a daily show on CNN. But who are they really?

After visiting the United States at the start of the 19th century, the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville decided to publish his observations. In his classic work, “Democracy in America,” he notes an absence of “class consciousness” in the new republic, where everyone can aspire to the same social status and the same treatment, unlike in monarchical Europe.

In theory, that is.

In reality, of course, since the very beginning of American history, some people — particularly men — have been able to take advantage of their family name, climb the social ladder and reach the top more easily than their fellow citizens. Just since the mid-20th century there have been the Adamses, the Roosevelts, the Rockefellers, the Udalls and, of course, the Kennedys and the Bushes.

There are also the Cuomos.

The late Mario Cuomo was elected governor of New York three times in the 1980s and 1990s. For most of that time he was considered the Democratic Party’s biggest potential national star, although he repeatedly refused to run for president.

Two of his five children now occupy positions of huge power and influence: Andrew, 63, has himself been governor of New York for a decade, and Chris, 50, is the current host of a daily news show on CNN, broadcast in the most competitive slot for American cable networks.

The Older Brother

Andrew Cuomo made his name nationally, and even internationally, at the height of the pandemic. Presented and seen as a leader firmly in control and attuned to science, he played a kind of opposition role in real time to Donald Trump’s chaotic leadership in Washington.

He quickly acquired a huge base of political capital — his approval ratings exceeded 70% in the spring, and he was presented as a future president. He even received an Emmy for his daily televised press conferences about the pandemic.

Ironically, the state he leads has the worst track record in the country, and even the world, in terms of COVID-19 deaths relative to population size. If it were an independent nation, New York State would have the single worst death rate, except for the microstate of San Marino, with 2,436 deaths per million inhabitants as of Thursday, which is double the rate in Quebec.

The gap between popular belief and reality is already jaw-dropping.

In fact, as soon the pandemic broke out, without great fanfare Cuomo officially ordered nursing homes in his state to accept patients infected with COVID-19. Some weeks and thousands of deaths later, after the order became the subject of media attention, it was removed from the state website — as if it had never existed.

The house of cards held up for some months, until it finally collapsed. First came the shocking report from the state attorney general (a Democrat, like the governor) at the start of 2021, which highlighted extraordinarily inaccurate data provided by the Cuomo administration on deaths in nursing homes. It should have reported more than double what was officially accounted for.

A few days later, one of Cuomo’s most important advisers admitted to state legislators that the data were not just inaccurate, but had been deliberately falsified by the governor’s office.

At the same time as the numbers were being doctored, Cuomo signed another order, scarcely noticed at the time, giving hospital and nursing home managers legal protection against potential lawsuits. It was only discovered later that hospital and nursing home associations had donated some $2 million to Cuomo’s campaign fund.

Far from being seen as the future head of American government, Cuomo instead now has the latter on his heels, as he is the subject of an FBI criminal investigation. And it’s not only about his official duties.

On Wednesday morning, Cuomo’s former press secretary, Karen Hinton, published an article in which she portrayed her professional relationship with the governor as being the equivalent of a prisoner in a 1950s marriage — a toxic work environment where intimidation and, to use Hinton’s expression, “penis politics” were ever present.

That article laid the groundwork for another published later the same day by Lindsey Boylan, a senior staffer in Cuomo’s administration, in which she accused the governor of sexual assault and harassment against her, and against many more women too afraid of Cuomo to come forward.

Boylan claims the sexual harassment she experienced was verbal — that, for example, he asked her to play strip poker with him, and even invited her alone to his office during a Christmas party to show her, with a smirk, a box of cigars he had received from Bill Clinton (which she understood as a clear reference to Monica Lewinsky).

She also accuses him of physical assault — touching her back and legs repeatedly, and then kissing her on the lips during a professional engagement without any invitation from her to do so.

The Younger Brother

In more or less any respectable organization there are laws and clauses in place to avoid conflicts of interest. At CNN, that would mean not allowing Chris Cuomo to talk about his brother on the air, for obvious reasons.… That is, until the pandemic hit in 2020.

While Andrew Cuomo was offered the most important platform of his career, his younger brother was encouraged to amplify that platform incalculably by repeatedly inviting him on his show. There was complicity, and also complacency — extreme complacency. It is obvious and unsurprising that Chris Cuomo has not treated the New York governor with the usual aggressive stance he presents to other politicians on his show. They are brothers, after all! It’s not for nothing that such behavior had been banned originally.

So why allow it in these circumstances? As soon as the crisis hit the state, the public should have had the right to expect the governor to be asked the toughest questions. Without ever really responding to that question, CNN announced last week (during the scandal consuming Andrew Cuomo) that the policy banning Chris Cuomo from interviewing his brother on air would suddenly be reinstated.

Of course, there was another possible solution: removing Chris Cuomo’s privilege to use the microphone altogether. Not because his brother is the governor, but because some months before the COVID-19 crisis, the host physically threatened a citizen in public during a verbal exchange, which, in New York, constitutes a crime.

At the start of the pandemic Chris Cuomo contracted COVID-19, and while using his platform each day to condemn people not respecting health regulations, he broke his own quarantine and insulted a man he encountered in a public place. And he openly lied to viewers about it. He then continued to disregard health measures in place in his building — measures that we must remember were laid out by his brother, the governor of the state in question.


The Trump era has managed to desensitize more than one person. One consequence of recent years is that supporting the president’s worst extremes, whether implicitly or explicitly, means many have lost the moral authority required when facing a scandal.

Every citizen is innocent until proven guilty, including Andrew and Chris Cuomo. Nevertheless, many ordinary citizens would have lost their careers and employment for less. But Andrew Cuomo continues to lead the fourth most populous American state, and Chris Cuomo continues to host his show night after night, as if nothing has happened.

In American democracy, where the principle of equality is supposed to rule over everything, how is this possible?

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