Anyone following the growing nursing home COVID death scandal swirling around New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has likely heard about the governor’s reported habit of threatening people who cross him. Cuomo’s alleged bullying tactics gained attention when New York state Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat, accused the governor of personally threatening him last week for calling out the governor’s “BS” surrounding the nursing home cover-up.
Following Kim’s accusation, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, came out and said the lawmaker’s allegation was “not a surprise.”
“It’s a sad thing to say, Mika, but that’s classic Andrew Cuomo,” de Blasio told MSNBC last week. “A lot of people in New York state have received those phone calls.”
“The bullying is nothing new,” de Blasio said, adding, “The threats, the belittling, the demand that someone change their statement right that moment — many, many times I’ve heard that and I know a lot of other people in the state that have heard that.”
Now one New York journalist has gone on the record accusing Cuomo’s office of bullying him during his time as editor of a magazine covering New York politics and saying that this is a pattern of behavior for the executive.
In a new op-ed for the New York Post titled “Cuomo’s office terrorized me for doing my job as a journalist,” former City & State editor-in-chief Morgan Pehme recounted an incident he claims took place in April 2014 when his magazine was prepared to run a story that the governor didn’t like.
Pehme began his tale of Cuomo woe:
It was 4:30 a.m., so I pulled the bathroom door shut in my one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment to answer the phone without waking my then-5-year-old. On the line was Melissa DeRosa, Gov. Cuomo’s then-communications director, now his second-in-command. She was threatening to destroy me.
By now, thanks to Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim blowing the whistle on the threats he received in a call from Cuomo, the public has a glimpse of the bullying practiced by the governor and his top brass.
Many Americans are shocked, having bought into the compassionate persona Cuomo conveyed in his pandemic briefings. But Kim’s revelations came as no surprise to anyone who has dealt with the governor. As one Albany insider texted me last week, “everyone has an Andrew Cuomo story.”
The onetime editor said his publication was going to expose Cuomo’s efforts to distort a report on public corruption — a report for which Pehme’s magazine got pushback from Cuomo’s office the minute the outlet began digging. Though he cannot quote exactly what the governor’s office threatened him with, Pehme said he knows that a promise to “destroy” his career and get revenge was included in the threats.
And the fear he experienced was warranted, he added, considering Cuomo’s “track record of vindictiveness”:
I had no reason to think these were idle threats. I was fully aware of the governor’s volcanic temper and track record of vindictiveness. If he wanted to crush me, he could and likely would.
This was a serious gut check for me. I worried about losing my livelihood, damaging my future, letting down my wife and daughter. But fortunately, I had bosses and colleagues who stood by the quality of our work. So we published the piece, like the press is supposed to do in the face of intimidation.
According to Pehme, “abusive calls” from the governor’s office or the governor himself are regular fare for the Albany press corps:
[T]he abuse he privately metes out amounts to a systematic campaign to chill negative coverage of his administration. And it works.
Editors kill legitimate stories because of his threats; reporters shy away from promising tips; sources stay silent.
There are many reasons the media don’t expose the governor’s bullying. Albany reporters fear that if the governor freezes them out, they won’t be able to do their jobs effectively. Some journalists see speaking up as a violation of the unwritten code of “off-the-record” conversations. Others just assume that “everyone knows” how Cuomo operates, so it isn’t worth reporting.
Pehme closed his piece urging journalists to do their jobs and report the truth about Cuomo — just as they did when the #MeToo movement uncovered abusive “monsters” in the entertainment industry.
“Journalists are agents of accountability,” he wrote. “It’s time for New York’s reporters to step up and tell their own Cuomo stories.”