On Nov. 23, at approximately 11:40 a.m. Governor Andrew Cuomo received the International Emmy Founders Award as recognition of his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and his use of televised coronavirus briefings to inform, lead and encourage people across the state and around the world.
While Cuomo himself was not there to accept the award (he was delivering another COVID-19 update at the time), a short pre-recorded acceptance speech given by Cuomo was presented following a montage of clips from his coronavirus briefings.
The award was presented by Bruce Paisner, president and CEO of the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, with the assistance of notable New York-native celebrities Spike Lee, Robert DeNiro, Rosie Perez, Ben Stiller, Billy Crystal and Billy Joel.
According to the International Emmy Awards webpage, the Founder’s Award is given to a person or organization that “crosses cultural boundaries to touch our common humanity.”
Gov. Cuomo’s first coronavirus briefing was held on Mar. 2, 2020. For the next 110 consecutive days, Cuomo put himself in front of the press and presented PowerPoint after PowerPoint and answered question after question in an effort to keep New Yorkers informed on the ever-changing state of New York’s coronavirus pandemic.
“He informed, he demanded and he calmed people down,” said Paisner. “No one who saw it will easily forget it.”
The media marathon that Cuomo embarked upon was one that elevated his status not only amongst New Yorkers, but amongst people of the country, and the world. According to the Academy, the daily press conferences drew a total of 59 million viewers.
“People everywhere saw them. I had a friend who got up every morning in Abu Dhabi and watched the governor’s press conference of the day before on YouTube,” said Paisner. “I have many friends in California who admit that what they know, they know from Gov. Cuomo and his explanations.”
In spite of the outpouring of appreciation that Cuomo has received for his briefings, he started off his pre-recorded acceptance speech humbly. “I wish I could say that my daily COVID presentations were well choreographed, scripted, rehearsed or reflected any of the talents that you advance,” said Cuomo. “They didn’t, they only offered one thing; authentic truth and stability. But sometimes, that’s enough.”
In Cuomo’s speech, he showed his gratitude towards the essential workers who have helped New York run as smoothly as possible through this time of crisis, the actors who, Cuomo claims, “use their talents to communicate essential facts to Americans,” and to the people of New York who, “had the courage to tell the truth and the strength to stand together.”
“That’s what New York tough really means; to be tough enough to say ‘I love you,’ ‘I care about you,’ ‘I need you,’” said Cuomo. “To see past the color of skin, religion or sexual orientation. To see the humanity in each other, how we are all interconnected and all interrelated and that our destiny is not individually determined, but rather determined by what we do together.”
Watch the governor’s acceptance remarks here:
Cuomo is currently serving his third term as governor, beginning his first term in 2011. Before the coronavirus pandemic, his media presence was reserved for important bill signings, budget season updates, weather and disaster emergencies, and most commonly – economic development visits. Known for his quick-wit and Queens dialect, and and tough exterior, Cuomo was not especially renowned for his warmth or compassion.
His tough-talking New Yorker persona has not disappeared entirely; he’s still telling reporters that he doesn’t care what they think, or telling Howard Stern that he would deck President Trump if he weren’t governor. But, his demeanor has been counterbalanced over the course of the pandemic by a different side; a more tender and empathetic, comedic and compassionate one. Throughout the coronavirus briefings, Cuomo presented himself as both a fighting New Yorker and fatherly statesman, employing whichever personality he deemed fitting for the occasion, usually both during the same press conference.
There are a variety of reasons for why Cuomo’s briefings became so popular, but perhaps the most prominent one was the vacuum that his briefings filled in the wake of a lack of federal guidance during the height of the pandemic. A study conducted by doctors Randy Olson and Diana Padilla in a MedPageToday article used an interesting metric, “and frequency” (AF), to measure the difference in narrative cohesion between Trump and Cuomo during their coronavirus briefings.
The findings of this study display in an empirical fashion what many viewers of both briefings probably already noticed themselves; that Cuomo’s briefings provided a firm, singular message, while Trump’s message throughout his briefings were often contradictory and confusing.
This sentiment was shared by the celebrities who helped to present the award as well. As Billy Crystal put it, “In the darkest days of the pandemic, your daily briefings coming, ‘Live from New York!’ gave us hope, gave us clarity, gave us the truth, gave us something that we were not getting from Washington, leadership.” Billy Joel referred to him as, “the nation’s governor.”
While the federal response was confusing and subject to change, Cuomo’s priorities remained consistent and transparent. Cuomo was going to listen to the experts, follow the facts, and prioritize protecting the lives of New Yorkers over the economy. This difference in leadership ability led to many people on social media calling for Cuomo to run for president, with the hashtag #CuomoForPresident gaining serious traction on Twitter during various times throughout the pandemic.
“You set the example for the rest of the nation, the rest of the world, on how to be a leader during times of crisis,” said Rosie Perez.
Of course, Cuomo’s briefings, policies and leadership have not gone without criticism. He has faced criticism for reacting too slowly, for the Health Department’s policy of putting coronavirus patients in nursing homes, for the effects of his closures on businesses and the criteria associated with these closures, or for his release of a book talking about his success in managing the pandemic, while the pandemic still rages on.
Regardless of the criticisms levied against him, the results he has produced can not be argued with. New York went from being the epicenter of the virus in the United States at the beginning of the pandemic, in March, to being the state with the lowest infection rate in mid-June, and has now remained the state with the eighth lowest infection rate as the United States deals with its second wave of the pandemic.
As the pandemic persists and New York’s fight against it continues, Cuomo finished his speech with words of encouragement.
“We will get through this together and we will be the stronger for it,” said Cuomo. “Thank you.”