Gag order doesn’t serve the public good

This last Friday, Mark Streb, an aide of Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the Warren County Board of Supervisors to present a proclamation honoring Warren County on the 200th anniversary of its founding.

Streb stood up to the microphone and read the bicentennial proclamation. Minutes later, a Denton editor approached him, asking whether he had chatted with Cuomo before the trip to Queensbury, whether the governor had any personal message, and when the aide last saw the governor.

Streb declined to answer any of the questions, although they were innocuous — and even though the governor would only gain good publicity from forthright answers.

The aide’s response was not only frustrating, but it indicated a troubling trend in the Cuomo administration that deserves our attention.

This incident is the latest in a series of situations demonstrating that Cuomo seeks total control information that reaches the public — and that government employees are fearful of their political bosses.

Since the early years of the Pataki administration, government employees have been instructed to re-route press inquiries to departmental media representatives who concoct answers.

Skilled reporters, however, don’t want second- or third-hand information contrived by public relations employees whose chief objective is to make their bosses look good. Responsible reporters, adhering to a principle of informing the public, seek facts from sources with first-hand knowledge of a situation or topic.

Under previous administrations — of George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson — state officials have looked the other way when government employees have talked with the press.

Not so with the Cuomo cadre.

State Department of Transportation engineer Mike Fayette, who was charged with overseeing state roads and infrastructure in Essex County, talked to a reporter last autumn about the department’s response to Hurricane Irene.

It was reportedly innocuous, complimentary remarks made to reporter Mike Lynch of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

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