Governor Andrew Cuomo is struggling to lock down the increasingly thorny narrative about reasonable press access to state officials.
Which is strange given that he’s invested so much time and energy trying to control that narrative.
The latest salvo comes from Albany Times-Union reporter Jimmy Vielkind, who reveals that the governor’s office is tracking all press calls to far-flung state agencies, routing them through a kind of central clearing house.
[A]ccording to interviews with numerous people familiar with the Cuomo press operation, the freshman Democrat has taken a heavier hand in agency affairs, particularly compared to the two preceding administrations.
Press releases must be reviewed before they are issued, and in some cases agency spokespeople cannot return or acknowledge inquiries without approval. The result, these sources say, has been a more restricted flow of information about state operations.
Team Cuomo has tried to justify this level of control by suggesting that it’s necessary in order provide accurate information. Here’s DEC commissioner Joe Martens, speaking with the Syracuse Post-Standard.
“We simply want to make sure that any information conveyed to the press is 100 percent accurate, so there’s no miscommunications or understandings,” he said. “We’re very careful about whatever message we send to the public because we want to make sure it’s correct.”
This might be a fair argument to make, if the Cuomo administration could point to any instances where reporters interviewing taxpayer-funded public employees who are experts in their fields had led to some kind of misinformation or inaccurate reporting.
I’ve covered state politics — and a half dozen different state agencies semi-regularly — for a decade and a half. I can’t think of a single time that that happened. (It probably has, rarely, but I need to be convinced that it’s a real problem.)
But I can think of dozens of times when information dispatched from high-up in Albany, shaped by the political will of governors and their political staffs, has produced inaccurate, misleading and manipulative information.
And hundreds of times when unnecessary delays and obfuscation limited the public’s access to information.
I know, I know. It’s always difficult to get the public to care about these “goo-goo” or “good government” issues.
From the lack of campaign finance reform to Cuomo’s continued reliance on Albany’s behind-closed doors “three men in a room” brand of politics, voters generally give a pass to a governor who can get stuff done.
My hope is that this story has real legs. It’s good for New York and, one would hope, ultimately good for Andrew Cuomo if there is plenty of sunlight on our state government.