Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Building Treehouses with Cuomo

The big story today is that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo allegedly complained about campaigning on Sukkot by saying, referring to Orthodox Jews, "These people and their f***ing tree houses." The quote is anonymous and as yet uncorroborated; Cuomo denies having said it.

In response, Josh Blackman wants to revisit the question of whether Gov. Cuomo's pandemic restrictions, while facially neutral, should be seen as motivated by animus against (Orthodox) Jews. He clearly means this as a gotcha -- "Under TrumpLaw (which may have expired on January 20), this statement would be fair game to understand Cuomo's animus." Of course, under the view Blackman successfully pushed in Trump v. Hawaii -- the actual TrumpLaw -- this statement could not be used to infer animus even for legislative enactments that were explicitly characterized as targeting a given religious group. Hypocrisy cuts both ways. That said, the way the Court has been treating religious animus in the pandemic cases compared to Trump v. Hawaii suggests that TrumpLaw really was just TrumpLaw -- albeit not quite in the way Blackman means. 

But for my part, there is no gotcha: I am perfectly willing to say that, if the statement is accurate, it is absolutely valid evidence that can be used to demonstrate Cuomo has acted with discriminatory animus towards Jews. And I suspect one would be hard pressed to find liberal commentators who'd disagree on this. Certainly, deep and abiding loyalty to Cuomo isn't going to be giving anyone much pause on the principle of the matter.

Speaking of hypocrisy, although the quote is anonymous (and denied) Blackman says flatly at the start of his post that he's making an exception to his general belief that anonymous press accounts sharing negative stories about politicos should be viewed with skepticism. Instead, he comes right out and says that this skepticism extends to quotes about Republican politicians only. "I take far more seriously negative coverage of Democrats in an institution like the Times. The editors would not slip up on a quote like this." This is impressively brazen. For my part, I think major newspapers like the Times are generally professional and so generally can be given a fair amount of credence when they run anonymous quotes like this, no matter who the subject is (though of course that doesn't mean they'll always get everything right). But if one takes a dimmer view of the professionalism of the mainstream media, then I'll just say that if one thinks that folks of the Times' social milieu could not be suckered into running an undersourced quote that reflects badly on Andrew Cuomo because of their latent political sympathies, then one really doesn't understand where New York politics are right now. I'm not saying the Times would run a hit job on Cuomo. I am saying that, if they were the sort of institution prone to running hit jobs, Cuomo very much would be towards to the top of their list.

How to treat a very offensive but also anonymous-and-denied quote also relates to the final note in Blackman's post -- a swipe at the ADL. The ADL "awarded Cuomo the highest honor in June 2020. Yet, as of the close of business, neither ADL nor its President has said a word about Cuomo's remarks." To the extent that the ADL didn't race out with a comment right away, I suspect that is almost assuredly because, unlike Blackman, they are not going to take an unsourced anonymous quote that Cuomo denies as gospel sight unseen, at least not without talking with Cuomo and his office first.

From my vantage, the quote seems plausible -- Jewish "friends" notwithstanding, Cuomo seems like exactly the sort of asshole who'd say something like this and think it's okay because he has many Jewish friends. And as I said, I trust the Times' general professionalism more than Blackman does. But given the close relationship the ADL has with the governor's office in New York, I neither find it weird nor offensive that the ADL is deciding to its own due diligence before commenting. 

Finally, it's hard to read the ADL comment outside of the shadow of Jonathan Greenblatt very publicly calling for Tucker Carlson's firing from Fox for promoting the White Supremacist "Replacement Theory". I've seen some conservatives appallingly cite this as proof of the ADL's liberal bias as opposed to the ADL rightfully calling out an extreme case of White Nationalist thinking embedding itself in mainstream conservative institutions. Blackman concludes by saying that he "will have much more to say about ADL and anti-semitism in due course"; perhaps he will address this then. But I hope in doing so he recognizes that there's simply no comparison between the ADL waiting to verify an anonymous quote compared to calling out Tucker Carlson for openly promoting White Supremacy where everyone can see it on national television.

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