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MacAdam: Cuomo must-see TV, who'd a thunk it?

MacAdam: Cuomo must-see TV, who'd a thunk it?

Governor's sober daily briefings on COVID-19 have been a hit across the country, not just in New York
MacAdam: Cuomo must-see TV, who'd a thunk it?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media as National Guard members watch.
Photographer: New York Times

My binge-watching experience amounts to:

-- "Game of Thrones"

-- All six seasons of "Downton Abbey," to fill in the background I lacked when I took my mom to see the movie version first.

-- A "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day" marathon one year with my brothers

-- Four straight episodes of "iCarly" while looking after my little nieces

-- A couple hours of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" at Wolff's Biergarten one weekday afternoon when there was no soccer

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Except for "Always Sunny," I wouldn't classify any of these as therapeutic. (If you've seen the Game of Thrones "Red Wedding" episode, you know what I mean.)

But I could see whiling away a few idle hours going back and watching New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's daily briefings on coronavirus and COVID-19 from last week, and look forward to future ones.

Yes, that sounds absurd -- "Politician goes on the air to talk about a disease that is killing people, with no quick end in sight, you say? Where do I sign up?" But Cuomo's briefings have been so masterfully crafted and delivered, yet so genuinely humane and heartfelt, that, if nothing else, they serve as a salve against the anxiety and uncertainty that have dropped over the world like the dead weight of a hot, moldy tarp.

I'm not the only one. And it's not just people in New York state.

In the last week and a half, Cuomo's popularity around the country has skyrocketed, based on his own social media presence; his hilariously dry sparring on-air with younger brother Chris, the CNN anchor; but mostly because of his reassuring presence during the daily late-morning briefings, which are archived on YouTube.

He runs New York, but the comments sections below his YouTube videos indicate that people in states from coast to coast have adopted him as their own. On Saturday, the New York Post ran a goofy story about how people are swooning over the governor and need their "morning fix" of his daily press conferences, which start with a half-hour of Cuomo updating on all aspects of the state of emergency, followed by 20 minutes of questions from conspicuously well-spaced media.

Tuesday's was broadcast live on C-SPAN from the Javits Convention Center in New York City instead of Albany.

The content of this one was not reassuring. Things are getting worse faster than expected.

Still, the briefing was reassuring, because Cuomo stuck to his sober, measured delivery of facts, dressed in a dark blue long-sleeved, button-down with the New York seal, accompanied by a viewer-friendly PowerPoint display to the side. You develop a level of trust in someone who is fully engaged with the granular detail of circumstances, policy and process and can express it in words anyone can understand, without resorting to histrionics and showmanship.

Not trying to get the pom poms out here. Far from it.

Through two-plus terms as governor, Cuomo has not been a universally well-liked figure in this state, no matter what your political persuasion is. Far from it.

As Fordham University associate professor of political science Christina Greer told NPR's James Doubek, "He's been accused of being a bully. He's been accused of being controlling. He's been accused of being self-serving. But it seems as though all of those personality and character traits are on the back burner right now. Because it seems his No. 1 priority is to make sure that New Yorkers are safe."

I started jotting down notes during Tuesday's briefing -- competent; organized; dryly funny without trying too hard; clear; definitive; does his homework; dense with information but not ponderously so; lack of pretense; patient; disciplined; humane ...

He got emotional when it was needed, without letting it control him. He gave shoutouts to not only the medical personnel and first responders, but to people whose jobs require them to be exposed to the public and can't self-isolate.

Cuomo wrapped up with words of encouragement and support, for everybody: "We're going to make it because I love New York, and I love New York because New York loves you. New York loves all of you."

There's a collection of interviews by The Progressive's David Barsamian titled "Louder Than Bombs" that includes a 2003 talk with Kurt Vonnegut, and one of his answers occasionally rattles around in my head depending on what's happening with our country at any given time.

The question pertains to how war in the 21st century has become "a made-for-TV event. It's a video game for the army of couch potatoes," Barsamian posited.

Vonnegut's non-partisan answer: "It's incumbent upon the president to entertain. Clinton did a better job of it -- and was forgiven for the scandals, incidentally. Bush is entertaining us with what I call the Republican Super Bowl, which is played by the lower classes using live ammunition."

We're all supposed to be couch potatoes now, whether we like it or not.

But to Cuomo, this is not a game.

It's not a TV show.

Reach Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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