It hit me early Sunday morning in the hours before “Media Buzz,” which is usually a bit of a frenzy as we scramble to update the show.
There was nothing to update. No national news had been made over the weekend. The papers were filled with third-day analyses of stories that had unfolded the previous week.
The closest thing to a new development was word leaking the night before that Donald Trump would address CPAC next weekend.
Yes, we’re in the middle of a pandemic that has claimed a half-million American lives, the vaccine rollout is a mess and the economy is still crippled. But these are day-to-day policy and political challenges that move only incrementally.
The pace of political news has slowed dramatically. That was widely predicted when Trump decamped to Mar-a-Lago. President Biden deliberately makes fewer headlines, tempers his rhetoric, doesn’t use Twitter as a weapon, and cedes the spotlight to others, such as allowing Anthony Fauci to be the face of the Covid response.
This may be a positive development. It’s not healthy for Americans of all stripes to be in a constant state of rhetorical warfare over the occupant of the White House. Biden of course is pursuing an ambitious liberal agenda, and that should be hotly debated and aggressively covered. But the man who just went to visit his ailing old Republican friend Bob Dole simply seems less polarizing than Trump or Barack Obama.
The new environment at 1600 Pennsylvania has left a considerable void, and the media, which thrive on conflict, are finding ways to fill it.
It’s no accident, in my view, that there is suddenly a very harsh national spotlight on the governor of New York, the governor of California, and a senator from Texas. These are the kinds of local scandals and controversies that would have been covered in the past but were not with most of the media oxygen consumed by the 45th president.
In the case of Andrew Cuomo, it’s not a coincidence that the media establishment is belatedly unloading on him now that he no longer presents a contrast with Trump downplaying and predicting the quick demise of the pandemic.
Allegations have been brewing for months that Cuomo’s policies led to many unnecessary Covid deaths in nursing homes, and that story has finally become too big to ignore. The Justice Department has launched an investigation and based on new revelations, Cuomo has had to concede that his administration withheld the casualty figures, which turn out to be nearly twice as high as the state previously reported.
Now a Democratic assemblyman, Ron Kim, has accused Cuomo of threatening him over the issue, creating a drama that prompted CNN, MSNBC and ABC to interview him. The New York Times yesterday ran a blistering piece in which Democrats and others accused the third-term governor of a long history of bullying and threats to get his way, intimidating even his own staff.
When his early pandemic briefings drew a favorable contrast with those of Trump, who was often at odds with Fauci, Cuomo became a media darling who even won an Emmy. But now, as he accuses his political opponents of spreading falsehoods, he’s got the stage to himself.
But he does sometimes share billing with Gavin Newsom, who took a different approach to the virus in California–and now will likely face a recall election. Opponents have gathered more than a million signatures to force him into a wide-open race–nearly two decades after Gray Davis was recalled in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Newsom’s uber-aggressive approach to lockdowns has angered many of his constituents. And his unmasked group dinner at the posh French Laundry, after urging Californians to stay home, triggered charges of hypocrisy.
Public frustration boiled over during the holidays, but when Newsom rescinded the stay-at-home mandate last month, he was accused of ignoring science. Unlike Cuomo, the California Democrat avoided publicly feuding with Trump, but that hasn’t mattered.
Ted Cruz would always have been pilloried for taking his family on a Cancun vacation while a storm knocked out power and clean water for millions of Texans. It was a politically tone-deaf blunder.
But to watch CNN and MSNBC pummel him hour and hour last week, you’d think he had committed a war crime. He took some flak on Fox News as well. There were breathless spottings of him at the airport and the disclosure of his wife Heidi’s texts. With no Trump news to overshadow him, Cruz became the designated Republican pinata.
Part of the reason is that most journalists just don’t like Cruz, a political loner who can come off as condescending. At times his brief spring break overshadowed the dozens of deaths and mass suffering in Texas.
The cable news networks geared up yesterday to cover the confirmation hearing of Merrick Garland, Biden’s nominee for attorney general. Suddenly came breaking news–the Supreme Court had declined to block Trump’s attempt to keep his tax returns out of the hands of Manhattan’s district attorney. MSNBC dumped the droning senators for reporting and punditry. By the afternoon, Trump had charged in a statement that he was the victim of “fascism,” of law-enforcement officials “in far-left states and jurisdictions pledging to take out a political opponent,” and threw in a jab at “a heavily reported enemy of mind, Governor Andrew Cuomo.”
For one fleeting news cycle, it felt like old times.