Does Cuomo reporter file make him the Nixon of Albany?

Last night, Buzzfeed reported that a top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepared a 35-page dossier on Liz Benjamin, an influential political reporter in Albany who has often shared harsh facts on the workings of Cuomo’s administration.

The dossier, which highlighted items by Benjamin deemed “GENERALLY SNARKY,” illustrates the famously thin-skinned Governor’s tense relations with the media.

The Cuomo aide who prepared the document, Communications Director Richard Bamberger, defended his criticisms of Benjamin as being “as usual and customary as can be,” while Buzzfeed’s anonymous source said the dossier was “the stuff of Richard Nixon and Eliot Spitzer” and revealed Cuomo’s “scary dark side.”

But are we truly talking about pathological paranoia or business as usual for a politician in the age of the internet? We want to know: Is it typical for politicians to assemble files on the reporters who cover them?

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What we found

The file that Cuomo’s aides compiled on political reporter Liz Benjamin isn’t extraordinary in itself, but the way it was used raises serious concerns, say two veteran observers of New York State politics.

Wayne Barrett, the longtime political reporter who aggressively covered another prickly politician — former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — noted that the document was a collection of clips and offered no indication of a personal investigation into Benjamin. “I can’t imagine that public officials and their press people haven’t attempted to systematically analyze a reporter’s clips as standard operating procedure,” Barrett wrote in an email.

Far worse, in Barrett’s view, is that Cuomo has regularly declined to participate in Benjamin’s show Capital Tonight, where he has only appeared once during his governorship. “What I find far more objectionable is that the Cuomo team won ‘t talk to Liz and NY 1 and other totally objective news organizations,” Barrett wrote. “This clip commentary probably fed that isolation, which is neither good public policy nor fair.”

Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College and expert on New York state politics, concurred that the dossier’s contents weren’t improper. But he said it was troubling that it was prepared for a meeting with senior executives at YNN, the Time Warner subsidiary that hosts Benjamin’s show. “What purpose could it have other than to influence her reporting or decisions by her superiors?” Muzzio said.

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said today on Fred Dicker’s radio show that “since the beginning of the printing press” government officials have met with the media to complain about their reporting. Said Vlasto, “If you’re going in for a meeting to discuss coverage, you put together the coverage you’re gonna discuss.”

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