After his loss to Carl McCall, Cuomo decided to reinvent himself (the "New Cuomo") and came back into public life trying to seem more measured, more mature - less like his old self, the nasty, vindictive, paranoid asshole.
One of the strategies he employed as part of his reinvention was to court Rupert Murdoch and Murdoch's man in Albany, Fred Dicker, in order to get the NY Post and FOX News on his side.
By courting Murdoch and his henchmen, Cuomo was following in the footsteps of British politicians like Tony Blair who had shown how powerful it was to have Murdoch and his papers on your side when you're a politician - even one who is ostensibly from the decidedly less conservative party.
So far, that reinvention has worked.
Cuomo has extremely high approval ratings two years into his governorship and he has managed to take his popularity and use it to push through all kinds of policies that Rupert Murdoch likes.
In return Murdoch's papers treat Cuomo with respect and promote this image of Cuomo as mature, measured, statesmanlike and indeed, presidential.
But behind the scenes Cuomo has the reputation for being the same nasty, vindictive, paranoid asshole he always was - he's simply learned to game the public relations so that few people outside of politics know that.
Unfortunately for Cuomo, both the connections to Murdoch and the re-emergence of the old Cuomo have been exposed today. The Village Voice political blog does a great job of covering the story:
Governor Andrew Cuomo's PR flack is under fire for a "file" he kept on a reporter who's often critical of Cuomo -- and now the gov's PR squad is running damage control.
First stop -- as always -- Andrew Cuomo apologist/New York Post state capitol bureau chief Fred Dicker's radio show.
It should be noted that we contacted the governor's office last night asking for an explanation of the "file." Like many other media outlets that publish less-than-flattering commentary on the governor, we were ignored.
Dicker -- who currently is in the process of writing a biography on Cuomo (natch) -- had Cuomo Press Secretary Josh Vlasto on his show this morning to discuss the "file" kept on Albany reporter Elizabeth Benjamin by Cuomo Communications Director Richard Bamberger regarding the "generally snarky" blog posts she's written about the governor.
Vlasto -- who took time away from his vacation to chat with Cuomo's pal Dicker -- claims the "file" isn't nearly as sinister, or "Nixon-esque" as certain members of the media are making it out to be.
An "unfortunate episode" is how Vlasto describes the "file" on Benjamin, claiming that it's nothing of any substance -- just a collection of blog posts with a few notes from Bamberger (read it for yourself here).
He blames the spread of the leaked "file" on the fast-paced nature of Internet journalism -- specifically blogs that can be particularly "snarky."
Dicker, obviously, agreed with Vlasto's assessment of how insignificant the information contained in the "file" is -- with no mention of what the "file" represents: how paranoid the governor's office is with Cuomo's media image, and how Cuomo's PR people pick and choose which media outlets will have access to the governor based on how favorable their coverage will be. For example, the governor has appeared on Benjamin's public affairs television show, Capitol Tonight, a grand total of once. Dicker, on the other hand, frequently has Cuomo as a guest on his radio show, and currently is writing a biography of the governor, for which he's been assured he'll have Cuomo's "cooperation."
Dicker, obviously, is at the top of the list when it comes to Cuomo-approved reporters, so the governor's office's paranoia with the media doesn't impact him. The rest of us aren't as lucky/don't treat the governor like he's royalty -- in the past two months, the governor's office has only once responded to our request for comment...on anything.
Dicker went so far as to suggest that there might be some sort of "espionage" going on on the second floor of the state capitol, and that reporters might be picking through the governor's trash looking for "exclusive" documents, like the "file" on Benjamin.
Dicker further blamed the distribution of the "file" compiled by Bamberger -- who Dicker apparently adores -- to the "snarky" nature of the blogosphere, noting that "snarky" is just a modern-day term for "nasty." He illustrated his point by saying how "nasty" the Village Voice has been with him the past "several weeks."
Keep in mind, this is the same Fred Dicker who's alleged to have sent photographers to the home of former gubernatorial candidate/Cuomo opponent Carl Paladino to take pictures of his daughter.
We sent Dicker an email asking if he really didn't see anything wrong with the gov's office keeping a "file" on a reporter. We'll let you know if he gets back to us.
This will be interesting to watch going forward.
First, the episode gives us a glimpse of the old nasty, vindictive, paranoid Cuomo in action once again - building a kind of enemies list of media people, compiling alleged crimes committed by these media people and perhaps looking for ways to retaliate against them.
Second, in this Voice piece you can see the resentment Cuomo has built up in the press corps who are not part of his Royal Court (NY 1, in another example, has a "Cuomo Clock" that counts the number of days Cuomo has refused to appear on the channel.) As Cuomo tries to pivot to presidential politics come 2014, it will be interesting to see if his hardball media tactics don't come back to bite him.
Third, you can see how the relationship between Andrew Cuomo, Rupert Murdoch and Fred Dicker is as corrupt as any between Murdoch and and British politicians like Tony Blair or David Cameron. Cuomo is completely on Murdoch's payroll, giving the man whatever he wants in order to stay on his good side and get the glowing coverage Dicker and the Post provide.
Witness when Cuomo almost decided not to push heavily for a new teacher evaluation system earlier this year. Murdoch took to Twitter to call Cuomo a "coward" and within minutes Cuomo had fallen all over himself to give Murdoch what he wanted on the evaluation system.
When Rupert (or Fred Dicker) talks, Cuomo jumps. And when Cuomo needs to be defended in the media, Fred Dicker and the Murdoch papers swing into action.
So far, Cuomo has gotten away with this strategy. But today's drama over Liz Benjamin, while certainly not fatal or even all that damaging to Cuomo's reputation (after all, other than politicos, who the hell reads the blogs this stuff shows up on?) does show that Cuomo is still the same nasty, vindictive paranoid asshole he always was and many in the Albany press corps will be happy to hand his head to him when they get the chance.