The Cuomo scandal underscores that party is not linked to sexual misconduct by politicians

Jacob Sawyer, Staff Writer

Over the past several years, numerous American politicians have come under fire for sexual misconduct. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was accused of groping a high school classmate while drunk at a high school party, among numerous other actions. Eight women have called out the late George H. W. Bush for touching them inappropriately. Most notably, former President Donald Trump has accumulated dozens of allegations of sexual misbehavior since his run for the White House four years ago, including two pending lawsuits. Is there possibly anything these leaders have in common?

All three of them are or were Republicans. The crusades against them, meanwhile, have all received wide Democratic support, centered upon the wider left-wing #MeToo movement. That started in 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano accused film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct; since then, the movement has sparked intense debate from both supporters and critics. To cap it all off, a December 2018 poll suggested that on a scale of one to 10, Democrats rated the seriousness of this issue 8.3 while the score for Republicans was 6.1. 

But the hard data for politicians suspected of sexual misbehavior paints a much less partisan picture. Out of a sample of 25 accused candidates and officeholders that lost the November 2018 elections, 12 were Republicans and 13 were Democrats. Nearly half (39) of the 90 state legislators in the hot seat from 2017 to early 2019 were also Democrats. Still, one could be forgiven for thinking sexual misconduct within the government was mostly or merely a Republican problem. 

House Armed Services Committee subcommittee Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA) conducts a hearing about sexual harassment and retaliation in the armed forces, in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, July 29, 2020. ((Chip Somodevilla/TNS))

This fallacy can be directly attributed to long-running bias in the American mass media. The Kavanaugh allegations, for instance, were widely pounced on by outlets like CNN and MSNBC but in themselves were questionable. When President Biden faced much more credible accusations from former aide Tara Reade last year while on the campaign trail, the story was covered very little. In another show of hypocrisy, most media channels remained mum when a woman came forward to accuse New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, of inappropriate sexual behavior. The woman, Lindsey Boylan, 36, was the first to come forward, tweeting Dec. 13 “[he] sexually harassed me for years.” 

A couple months later, the governor was hit with two more allegations. Two more women, Charlotte Bennett, 25, and Anna Ruch, 33, came forward on Feb. 27 and March 1, respectively. But remarkably, the mainstream media managed to face the music and widely cover the story, as if Cuomo was a Republican! After quickly fading following an initial spike in December, interest in the story quickly surged during the weeks of Feb. 21-27 and Feb. 28-March 6, surpassing the December peak, data from Google Trends shows. In response, the governor’s popularity ratings fell swiftly, with only 38% of voters approving and a whopping 45% not only disapproving, but also wanting him to resign, as of March 2. This is very encouraging, but unfortunately the trend may simply be a blip and not be here to stay.

For one, sexual misconduct is not the only scandal facing Governor Cuomo. He had recently come under fire for his handling of nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic after the state Attorney General reported Jan. 28 that deaths in these facilities were undercounted by 50%. This controversy dates back to March 25, when Cuomo ordered that nursing home residents hospitalized for the COVID-19 virus be permitted to return home as soon as they were non-critical, even if they were still positive for the virus. While it was heavily reported on throughout the pandemic, with interest peaking in May, the nursing home scandal became that much more egregious when the undercounting was uncovered.

Perhaps more importantly, the New York Times, which tends to skew left, was the first outlet to cover Bennett’s allegation. This trend mirrors that of the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, which was first broken by the right-leaning but somewhat less credible New York Post. Other conservative media then harped on the story for months despite it containing numerous unverified claims. So, once a top liberal outlet broke a major story, other liberal outlets reported on it strongly, even if it didn’t completely favor liberal causes.

Given these highly unusual circumstances, as well as its attempted downplaying of the Tara Reade story less than a year ago, the mainstream media will likely wish to go right back to neglecting sexual misconduct by Democratic politicians once U.S. politics return to normal. Cuomo, as well as all other officials proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have engaged in such misconduct, must be held accountable and punished accordingly. But their punishments, including negative media coverage, must be fair and equal regardless of political affiliation or past accomplishments.