If you’re done basking in the schadenfreude, it may be time to honestly consider the implications of Andrew Cuomo’s ouster this week.
Many online commenters have expressed their opinion that Cuomo deserved to be ousted for his March 2020 order involving nursing homes, which is believed to have resulted in unnecessary COVID deaths. Oddly enough, the people furiously hammering this point tend to be the same people who’ve opposed most (if not all) COVID mitigation measures, and generally exhibit an attitude of dismissiveness toward COVID’s severity. Nonetheless, they’re extremely incensed about this particular issue of hospital administration policy.
OK, fine. As a thought exercise, let’s just assume that these nursing home-related criticisms of Cuomo are in good faith and that his March 2020 order has been empirically established to have caused excess deaths. (Whatever the precise epidemiological consequences of the order, it’s not in dispute that the state government at Cuomo’s direction subsequently withheld much of the pertinent data.)
Any way you want to slice it, though, the nursing home / COVID controversy is patently not why Cuomo was bludgeoned into submission and resigned this week. That was a controversy he evidently believed could be withstood. His most stalwart political allies did not abandon him due to the nursing home matter. They abandoned him because a successful PR and quasi-legal campaign was mounted to tar Cuomo as a serial sexual abuser, and this campaign achieved its intended result with brutal efficiency.
For the time being, try to forget the name “Cuomo.” Try to imagine what your reaction would be if the following happened in the abstract:
A politician running for elected office decides to launch a series of conspicuously vague “harassment” accusations on Twitter, but rather than critically scrutinizing the political motivations which may have given rise to such a tactic, the politician is portrayed merely as a generic “accuser” who just benignly materialized out of thin air.
That politician then communicates (and, seemingly, coordinates) with another “accuser,” whose central accusation is that she was “groomed” not as a helpless child, but as an adult political operative in her mid 20s. Nonetheless, this second “accusation” gives the impression that “accusers” were beginning to snowball, and “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” etc. The new “accuser” also happens to be a professional activist. (SEE BELOW FOR MORE…)
Soon thereafter, yet another “accuser” emerges, furthering the impression that a critical mass has been reached. But something’s odd. This new accuser’s accusation is that a photo she’d proudly displayed in her own office for years was retroactive evidence of abusive conduct.
These individuals’ accusations were sufficient to create such a condemnatory climate that the accused acceded to an “independent” investigation of himself, overseen by the state’s chief law enforcement official.
The state’s chief law enforcement official, announcing her findings, accuses the subject of the investigation of violating multiple state and federal laws, but — in a move that upends every previously-existing assumption about due process — then announces she will take no commensurate prosecutorial action, thus providing no venue for any formal cross-examination or rebuttal. Though operating under the auspices of law, she instead is content to just declare that the law had been violated, and issue a kind of newly-invented political indictment.
Virtually no one in the media/political class sees anything disconcerting about any of this, and the accused’s support appears to evaporate in a matter of days. The consensus is that he must go, so he goes. Career over!
That just scratches the surface of this ordeal. Chronicling your “disgraceful” downfall, the New York Times then runs a headline declaring you a serial sexual assaulter, proclaiming it’s been “concluded” that you’ve physically victimized at least 11 separate women:
Even though... that’s not remotely what happened.
Again, your personal feelings about Cuomo in relation to any other aspect of his governorship, ideology, temperament, etc. has no bearing at all on whether it’s factually true that he was accused of “sexually assaulting” 11 women. He was not. The Attorney General’s Report which precipitated his downfall does not allege that Cuomo sexually assaulted 11 women. Included among that tally of 11 are women who allege, for instance, that Cuomo committed such infractions as using comical terminology like “mingle mamas.” Another person complained about his telling her that she made wearing an elaborate “Personal Protective Gear” gown “look good” — at a public COVID press conference. Charlotte Bennett, an accuser described in further detail below, admitted that Cuomo never attempted to physically touch her.
Yes: once the ball had gotten rolling, one woman, Brittany Commisso, did come out and claim that Cuomo slipped his hand under her blouse, and touched her breast. Cuomo adamantly denies that allegation; his lawyer Rita Glavin put out a comprehensive timeline of the date this event purportedly took place to demonstrate it couldn’t possibly have happened. Glavin also says the Attorney General investigators failed to even seek out documentary evidence that would’ve proven the allegation false. Whether true or not, though, this is certainly one allegation which would constitute sexual assault per most normal people’s definition of the term. But 11 women sexually assaulted? That’s not even close to what was alleged, and it’s just so divorced from the facts — which are publicly accessible for anyone interested in taking the time to read through the primary source material — that it’s almost incredible.
Yet a completely false headline was splashed across the NYT homepage. And no one seems to find any of this at all unsettling. Why? In part, Cuomo has himself to blame, for all the resentment he’s engendered over the years. And there are plenty of good reasons to disdain Cuomo’s overly-long tenure as governor. You don’t have to explain those reasons to me — I’ve covered two of his brute-force re-election campaigns, and at one point attempted to coin the term “Emperor Cuomo II” to capture his megalomaniacal governing style and obnoxious, dynastic familial background.
But you’d think the media would at least in theory strive to present a fair accounting of the allegations that led to the thrice-elected governor of New York being nuked.
Less than 24 hours before Cuomo announced his resignation, an article I wrote on the whole ordeal for Tablet was published. Please read it and let me know if you’ve come across any of the information contained therein in any other media coverage. Here’s an excerpt:
At her press conference, James proclaimed that one purpose of the investigation was to demonstrate that “we should believe women.” But it’s unclear whether the women who reportedly attested that they “valued” Cuomo’s conduct also merit such “belief”—and if so, why their testimonies were twisted to signify the opposite of what they apparently said. Either way, the attorney general’s standard of “belief” seems to involve explicitly accusing public officials of lawbreaking, while forsaking any obligation to actually prove those accusations in court.
Still, prior grudges should in theory have no bearing on whether it’s sound public policy to idly “believe,” for instance, accuser Charlotte Bennett—a former Cuomo aide and recent Hamilton College grad who currently identifies as a “womxn’s health, safety & justice advocate.” Bennett disclosed having communicated via DM with the first accuser, Lindsey Boylan, shortly after the latter wrote a vaguely condemnatory December 2020 Twitter thread complaining that Cuomo had “grilled” her about her work and “harassed” about her looks. Bennett proffered her own allegations shortly thereafter.
In another unusual aspect of the saga, Boylan was an active candidate for elective office at the time—running in the Democratic primary for Manhattan borough president. (She’d go on to lose handily.) Eventually pressed for specifics by the AG investigative team, Boylan cited an instance when “the Governor showed her around his office, and pointed out a cigar box which he said was from Bill Clinton.” Boylan said she “felt” this was “an allusion to President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.” Cuomo retorts that he routinely points out this box to innumerable visitors, male and female.
Bennett’s flagship allegation—which, again, requires unquestioning “belief” according to the attorney general, 99% of the media, President Joe Biden, Republicans demanding Cuomo’s “swift” arrest, etc.—is that she was “groomed” by Cuomo as a 25-year-old professional political operative. That’s what Bennett said in a March interview, and that’s what is repeated in the report. This repurposing of “grooming” from a concept that typically refers to illicit predation by adults on children, to adult-on-adult interaction, is now apparently a compulsory mainstream “belief.” One example of Cuomo’s purported “grooming” is when he referred to Bennett as “Daisy Duke” on a day she wore shorts to the office.
One of the most eyebrow-raising characters in this entire mess is Charlotte Bennett, arguably the most significant of Cuomo’s “accusers” given that she “broke the dam” by being the second person to publicly come forward with claims. Did anyone bother to do basic research on this person before deciding that her allegations — which are really more of an interpretative paradigm she’s constructed than any one tangible “allegation” — had to be relayed to the public almost completely uncritically?
Because basic research would have drawn one’s attention to a lawsuit filed in October 2017 against Hamilton College, the elite liberal arts school (2021 estimated cost: $75,200) which Bennett attended and graduated from in 2017 with a degree in women’s studies. The lawsuit makes reference to an individual anonymized with the moniker “Sally Smith,” but notes that “Smith” wrote an opinion article in the October 20, 2016 edition of Hamilton College’s student newspaper on the subject of sexual assault. Here is Charlotte Bennett’s byline appearing under an opinion article from that date:
The lawsuit alleges that “Sally Smith,” who would seem to be Charlotte Bennett, knowingly fabricated a sexual misconduct claim against a fellow student in order to get him expelled from campus shortly before graduation in Spring 2017. She is said to have done this by recasting a consensual encounter with him from years earlier as non-consensual, as part of a coordinated campaign to create the perception of a pattern of abuse committed by the accused individual (here referred to as “Doe”):
Note the observation that “Smith” — apparently Charlotte Bennett — “understood” based on prior experience “that multiple reports against the same individual” would aid in generating the momentum to achieve the desired result, i.e., the expulsion of this male individual (“Doe”) from campus. (Charlotte Bennett’s LinkedIn page lists one of her Hamilton College activities as “Title IX Peer Advocate,” hence her familiarity with the topic.) Sure enough, the plaintiff was soon thereafter barred from Hamilton and declared ineligible to participate in graduation activities, the lawsuit recounts.
“Smith” is said to have withdrawn her complaint against the male individual shortly after the desired goal was achieved — his being barred from campus — due to the emergence of a recording which “unequivocally proved that Smith’s allegations against Doe were fabricated.”
“Doe” later sued Hamilton for violations of due process and redress of harms inflicted on him by the expulsion. The lawsuit was settled in 2018. Requests for comment sent to Bennett and her lawyer Debra Katz were not returned by the time this article was published.
The coordination tactics allegedly employed by Bennett to oust “Doe” from campus sound remarkably similar to the tactics she appears to have employed to oust Cuomo.
Is this background information about one of the most crucial Cuomo “accusers” not, at the very least, relevant? Is it not information worth taking into account when considering whether Bennett’s interpretation of Cuomo’s allegedly predatory behavior is credible? According to Cuomo’s lawyer, it was Bennett who told the Governor about female commenters on social media wanting to date him:
But then this was all later re-interpreted by Bennett as evidence of Cuomo predatorily “grooming” her, and the media just glommed right on, with the takeaway apparently being that everyone is now required to “believe” Bennett’s inventive new interpretative paradigm. None of the Hamilton College backstory has been aired throughout the congratulatory media tour that Bennett embarked on in recent days, with the New Yorker celebrating her as “vindicated.”
If you’ve been following this saga on any level, and the above information never entered your frame of awareness, it should be an indication that something about the coverage has been alarmingly off.
Sure: Cuomo, a megalomaniacal politician if there ever was one, probably on some level had this coming. Merely by bringing aides like Bennett into his close personal orbit, treacherously deep into his third term in office, he was asking for trouble. And having private discussions with them about intimate issues was obliviously stupid, at the very least. But try to take a slightly more far-sighted view, just for a minute. However much Cuomo might’ve had this coming to him, do the precedent-setting implications of the ordeal seem conducive to a healthier political and cultural climate? Does the empowerment and/or “vindication” of the people who employed these tactics against him — and received the most kid-glove possible treatment in the media — seem like a positive thing in the long run?
It should really be emphasized that Attorney General of the State of New York, Letitia James, did something here that previously would’ve been close to unthinkable. She went before the TV cameras and simply declared that Cuomo had violated the law, but then washed her hands of any responsibility to prove her allegations of lawbreaking. This law enforcement official might have radically discarded the most basic notions of due process, but a political objective was achieved, and you can bet James will be reaping dividends ahead of the next New York gubernatorial election in 2022.
Less than 24 hours had passed before Cuomo resigned and my Tablet article was essentially negated. My point in writing it, and in writing this Substack article, is not to definitively absolve Cuomo of all wrongdoing, nor to rush valiantly to his defense. Rather, it’s to shed light on outlandishly dubious aspects of this whole story that have been buried in the moralizing zeal to oust Cuomo. And to note the shocking lack of interest among the media, Republicans, and Democrats alike in treating these aspects with even a modicum of critical scrutiny.
But now that he’s resigned, the record has been written. In his resignation statement, Cuomo actually thanked his accusers — including Bennett — even as he largely disputed the thrust of their allegations. In any event, their tactics have been validated. It worked. Precedent entrenched. Congratulations, everybody.
I’ll be discussing this in a Rokfin stream today (August 13) at 5pm EST. If you missed it live, you can also watch the stream in full afterwards at the same link.