Janice Dean began speaking out against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo when she saw that media outlets weren’t holding the Democratic governor accountable for what was happening in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dean, senior meteorologist at Fox News Channel, lost both her mother-in-law and father-in-law to the disease in New York nursing homes. While thousands of elderly men and women were dying of COVID-19, Cuomo was “celebrating himself,” she says.
The New York governor was “on CNN with his brother [anchor Chris Cuomo] joking around, while thousands of people were dying,” Dean says. “Body bags [were] literally piling up outside of nursing homes and storage facilities and storage trucks.”
Dean joins the “Problematic Women” podcast to discuss Cuomo and whether he ultimately will be held accountable for his handling of New York nursing homes during the pandemic. She also discusses her new book “Make Your Own Sunshine: Inspiring Stories of People Who Find Light in Dark Times” and why she aims to find the good in every challenging situation of life.
Also on today’s show, we discuss a Florida high school that chose to digitally adjust students’ yearbook photos to make them more appropriate. And as always, we’ll crown our Problematic Woman of the Week.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Lauren Evans: We are joined by Fox News’ senior meteorologist, Janice Dean. She is the author of The New York Times bestseller “Mostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling Through the Rainiest Days.” Now she has a new book titled “Make Your Own Sunshine: Inspiring Stories of People Who Find Light in Dark Times.”
Janice, thanks so much for joining the show.
Janice Dean: Thank you for having me.
Evans: So, Virginia and I have been looking forward to this for a long time. During the pandemic, we talked about you on this show. You are one of the boldest voices speaking out about the situation in the New York City nursing homes. You directly address Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order that sent the elderly back into those care facilities. Thousands of elderly New Yorkers, including unfortunately your own in-laws, lost their lives to COVID-19 last year because they were infected inside these nursing homes. Now a lot of people are pushing back against Cuomo, but you really were the first and at times the only voice. Where did you get the strength to take an unpopular position, and why was it important to really speak out?
Dean: Because it affected my family. And I wasn’t seeing the coverage that I expected on many of the news outlets. There were some that were covering his March 25  order that put COVID-positive patients into nursing homes, but not enough in my opinion. And the governor was going around celebrating himself and on CNN with his brother [anchor Chris Cuomo], joking around while thousands of people were dying. Body bags literally [were] piling up outside of nursing homes and storage facilities and storage trucks. And to see him celebrating himself and talking about what a great job he was doing on “CBS Good Morning” and ABC and NBC and CNN and MSNBC, it was soul crushing. Because I was doing my own investigating into the nursing home issue, which by the way we had no idea was happening. We lost both of my husband’s parents in separate elder care facilities in the spring.
And so, not only were we devastated but we were dumbfounded as to how this happened, why it happened, and what the origins were of the March 25 order. And then seeing the report that he was actively covering up the numbers by not counting those that died in the hospital. He was the only governor of any state that counted deaths like that. So, those that died in the hospital, like my mother-in-law who got COVID in their elder care facility, but unfortunately died in the hospital. Those numbers weren’t counted and by not counting them, he was giving out false information.
So at the very beginning, I didn’t want to come out and tell our story. I am the meteorologist on Fox News. No one has ever known who I voted for. I’m not a political person at all, but I felt it was important to tell our story because nobody else was.
Virginia Allen: No. That’s so critical, Janice. And I’m so glad that you decided to speak out and tell your story because as you said, Gov. Cuomo was intentionally covering up information. We’ve now learned, and I keep waiting for Gov. Cuomo to be held accountable for his actions of intentionally hiding that information from the public. But I haven’t really seen that yet. Janice, is Gov. Cuomo going to be held accountable?
Dean: It’s a good question and every time I get a glimmer of hope, a ray of sunshine, like the attorney general’s report that came out in January from [New York Attorney General] Latisha James, who is a Democrat and who was appointed basically because of Andrew Cuomo. She released a 76-page document that [detailed] her own investigation into the nursing home coverup. And the fact that, because [Cuomo] wasn’t counting those that died in the hospital, it wasn’t an accurate number. When that came out, I felt like, “Wow. Maybe the powers that be are going to hold this person accountable.”
But since then, it still feels like an upward climb. He continues to be the governor of this state and go on television and pretend like nothing has happened. Not only has there been the nursing home tragedy and cover-up, but there are many women that have come forward because of his terrible treatment.
Another part of this story is the #MeToo movement against this governor, but he continues to open up New York City. We jokingly say that every time a piece of bad news comes out about Gov. Cuomo, he decides to open up New York a little bit more.
So, I hope so. There are three separate investigations into the nursing home tragedy. There’s a federal investigation, there’s an FBI investigation, and there’s the DOJ [Department of Justice] investigation that started under President [Donald] Trump that I hope our current president is still continuing to look at. And I have to hope that it will be on the side of justice, because our loved ones deserve that.
Evans: As our listeners know, as my friends know, as really anyone who’s talked to me in the past six months knows, I am a huge fan of your friend Megyn Kelly’s new podcast. And in November, I was moving into a new house, loading and unloading boxes, had the podcast on. And it was the episode that you were on with Megyn Kelly talking about the #MeToo scandal. And Janice, it was so interesting and empowering. I literally just had to stop what I was doing and sat on my kitchen floor just to listen and I enjoyed it so much.
And because your take on the #MeToo movement was so thoughtful. The men that did terrible things to women. You look at them as humans and you want to get them for all of their faults, and they deserve what came to them, but also you look at the good things in them and how they helped you. And I think that that helps you heal as a woman. So, looking at the #MeToo movement and how it treated Andrew Cuomo, just so different than folks on the right, like [Brett] Kavanaugh. How can we keep pushing for the #MeToo movement and pushing for men to be held accountable, when the left won’t hold up their side of the bargain?
Dean: It’s very difficult. What’s good for one group seems to be not so good for the other group. It’s quite interesting to me that those that supported the #MeToo accusations of Kavanaugh are dismissing the nine women that have come forward with arguably more evidence than those that came against Kavanaugh during that whole hearing. And so, you’re right. The hypocrisy is really quite incredible.
I believe in due process, even in Gov. Cuomo’s case. I think that it’s not black and white. It’s quite gray when it comes to #MeToo and sexual harassment. Back in the day when I was starting out in broadcasting, it was quite commonplace to be treated like this, unfortunately. And I walked that line of joking around and being friendly to these high, powerful men but at the same time, letting them know that I wasn’t going to go along with what they were suggesting or alluding to.
So, I think things have changed, obviously, and people have to react differently. And there are now many avenues that women can take to complain or let their workplace know what’s going on in terms of bosses or people around them that are harassing them. But I also do still believe in due process. So, even though I am very angry at this governor for my personal reasons with the nursing home issue, and I believe he should be held accountable for that, when it comes to the #MeToo accusations although I do believe the women I think that we do have to be on the side of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Allen: Yeah. I think that’s such a healthy perspective to hold. Few people I think have been able to walk that line really, really well. And Janice, I’m really thankful to see you doing that.
I do want to ask you a little bit of your own story. You now have this national platform as a meteorologist at Fox News, as a bestselling author. And so many people, I think young women [especially], look up to you as such a leader. As a young child, did you dream about having a platform like you have now and doing the things like writing books and being on TV and having such a voice to the masses?
Dean: Well, if you go back in my childhood, I grew up in Canada. My mom will tell you that even at an early age, I was going around and interviewing neighbors when I was younger as a kid with a pretend microphone: “How are you today? What’s the weather like? What are you doing with your time later on this weekend?”
So I think that in many ways I’ve always probably wanted a career in broadcasting or entertaining or doing something to make people happy. The position that I’m in right now, politically, is not comfortable at all for me. So, I look forward to the day that I go back to doing the weather and reporting on the horse races and the Kentucky Derby and going to Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day. I love doing that. I feel like I have the best job in the world.
It’s really what I’ve always wanted to do. So I think the answer is yes. I think I probably always knew that I would be doing something in this broadcasting industry. But the stuff that has to do with the governor is very difficult. It gives me that knot in my stomach every time I go out and talk about it, because it’s not my wheelhouse. I’m not a political person at all, but I am somebody who has had something terrible happen to her family. And because I have that platform, I’m grateful that I can represent my family and the thousands of others that continue to want answers.
Allen: Absolutely. One of the words I think I would use to describe you is perseverance. In 2005, you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And from the outside, it really doesn’t look like having MS has slowed you down, but has it?
Dean: It should sometimes. But my husband’s the one that continues to remind me that when I’m tired and I need to take a break, I need to listen to my body. It’s been a tough year because I worry about that. Having MS is kind of a mystery illness. I know that I have it, but it’s one of those things that can strike when you least expect it. Like the weather that I predict. Sometimes a thunderstorm can happen when you least expect it. And that’s kind of what’s going on in my body is that my immune system is attacking itself. And although I’m really grateful for the therapy that I’m on and the doctors that take care of me, it’s one of those illnesses that I could really literally wake up tomorrow and not be able to get out of bed or walk.
So I guess even though I have to be more cognizant of that, I also am of the belief that every day I do get out of bed is a gift. And I’m going to take advantage of that to its full possibility, and hope that I still will have a long career where I can continue to do the things I love. But I’m not going to lie. There are certainly times where I do need to take a break and be in the moment and appreciate the fact that there are going to be some limitations to what I can do sometimes.
Evans: Even just in these few moments that we’ve spoken to you this morning, you are just such a positive person and it just oozes out of you. But you are in an industry where if it bleeds, it leads. How do you balance everything around you, this polarizing news cycle and that desire to stay positive?
Dean: It’s very important but you have to recognize that we are in a period of time where people are upset and angry and the news is polarizing and people want to pit us against each other. This has been a terrible year of loss, and people are coming out of it now. And I think that hopefully, going forward, we realize that we’re all on this earth for a purpose. We’re all connected. And the thing that I try to remember is there is goodness around us. We just truly have to look for it.
And even during the dark time that I had this past year with my family, it was these people, some of them strangers, that would send messages or write little notes. We were sent prayer cards from all over the country. There were churches that said that they were going to honor my husband’s parents in their services.
There was the local firefighter, neighbor, that dropped food off on our doorstep while we were going through such a difficult time. Those are the moments that I think I really hold dear and try to remember the most. Even though we’re going through a difficult time. As more often than not, people want to help.
And the book that I wrote, “Make Your Own Sunshine,” is truly about that. These wonderful people are going through some sort of challenge in their life and coming out on the other side, realizing that they want to be better human beings. And I think if we can appreciate that coming out of such a difficult time, how can we be better and how can we help others? Because kindness can change the world.
Allen: Oh, that’s so good. Kindness can change the world. We could end the podcast right there, just on that. But Janice, truly one of the things I definitely admire most about you … is that ability that you have to say, “No, I’m going to look for the good. I’m going to choose to be positive here.” And your book titles so reflect that: “Mostly Sunny,” and then your new book “Make Your Own Sunshine.” Where does your optimism come from?
Dean: In some ways, I think you have to be born with it. I think I’ve always been sort of a mostly sunny type gal, the glass is half full. And maybe that comes from a faith in a higher power. Maybe that we’re all destined to go down the path that we’re on. And knowing that kind of brings you to this solid ground.
During my life, I’ve done so many amazing and incredible things. I look back on the fact that I packed my bags and got into my Honda Civic and drove to New York City, believing in myself and believing in something that I wanted to do. And so, I think my whole life has been like that. And even the stumbling blocks or the tragedies that we go through, coming out of the other side of that, you have to realize that, again, how are we going to make these days better? How are we going to bring something into our lives that encourages us every day and helps our families?
So it’s OK to feel bad and sorry and angry, but then you also have to realize that’s not healthy either. It’s not healthy to live in this downward spiral of grief and anger. It’s important to look for the goodness. And one of the stories, the common threads through the book too, is people who open themselves up to kindness and look for that are more likely to see that. But if we live in this cloud all the time of storminess, you’re never going to get out of that.
I come out of this situation hopeful, very hopeful, that we’re going to come out of it as better people. And these days that we spent in our homes with our families, those are important days. I got to spend more time with my children than I have since they were born. The fact that I got to see them every day and be with them in the morning and go through some challenges. But also be able to go on our bikes and go around the neighborhood and feel closer than ever to them. Those are the things that I hope to remember most coming out of this year.
Evans: I love that. I love that so much. Well, today, we’re having you on to talk about your new book, “Make Your Own Sunshine: Inspiring Stories of People Who Find Light in Dark Times.” So everyone, right now you have my permission: Pause it. You can go buy it on Amazon, but make sure to come right back. Why did you decide to write this book?
Dean: I’ve been doing good news stories for many years in my career. At Fox, I do a good news story every day on Fox News Radio. It’s called “The Dean’s List.” And it’s a minutelong story about someone who did something kind for another person, or someone that did something for someone else. And it went viral on social media. So every day I try to highlight a person or a story that should be put out into the universe.
And I always wanted to expand on those stories and dig into some of my favorites, such as why a person did what they did. What the background and history is behind it, and how it might’ve acted as a domino effect to have others do the same thing. So, I started writing it before the pandemic and wrote most of it during the pandemic, conducting the interviews by Zoom and on phone calls.
And I realized while I was doing them, the person that was going to get the most out of writing this book is me, because these people brought so much light during a time of darkness in my family. And I’m just so grateful that I was able to write it and put it out there. And I have to admit, it’s been a little bit of a tough sell. I think what you said earlier on today is that people want to read the really nasty stuff like the click bait. And so it’s been hard to sell a book about goodness and kindness.
But everyone that does read this book, I will tell you, it’s had sort of a quiet movement because they’ve passed it along or they’ve told someone else. And I’ve had wonderful reviews on some of the websites, just talking about how even reading one story a day, one chapter a day, has really given people hope.
And sometimes it’s only one message or one text from someone that is optimistic that can turn your day around. So that’s what I hope for this book to be. It doesn’t matter how many books I sell. It matters that people are saying, “I’m so glad you put it out there.” And it’s all about goodness. There’s nothing bad about the book at all and you will cry. There are stories of sadness, but again, it’s coming out on the other side; after a storm, the sun always comes out. So for that I am grateful.
Allen: Do you have a favorite story in the book, or one that really speaks to you personally?
Dean: It’s a hard one because everyone is my favorite. And I love talking to people who tell me what their favorite story is because every chapter is different. So that to me is just so wonderful. I guess one of the stories that I love the most, because I feel a kinship with him, is the Napkin Notes Dad. He wrote notes to his daughter, Emma, every day when she was going to school, when she was little.
And I do the same with my kids. I write them a lunchbox jokes. I still do. So I write a little lunchbox joke that goes into their lunch box, so that every day when they’re eating lunch, they can see a little note from me and they can read the joke. And sometimes they’re like, “Oh, mom, that’s a terrible joke.” But it’s not about that.
It’s about me thinking about them and having me part of their day, even though I can’t be with them. So, the Napkin Notes Dad: Garth [Callaghan] had the same idea. And what happened was he was diagnosed with cancer and he didn’t think he was going to live. So, he spent months writing notes for his daughter, Emma, so that she would have one every single day, even though he might be gone. And she is in college now and Garth is still with us. Garth Callaghan is still with us. And the notes that he wrote her are still in several shoeboxes that she’s never had to open.
Evans: Oh, that’s great.
Evans: Well, Janice, before we let you go, there’s one question that we love to ask all of our guests because they always have just the most interesting answers. And that is whether you consider yourself a feminist? Yes or no.
Dean: It’s a big question. Listen, I don’t think I am a feminist. But I do believe in supporting women and doing everything that I can in the position that I’m in to make sure that I am taking care of the women around me and making sure that the days are better ahead of us. I’ve certainly done it at Fox.
Some people will say I’m a mother hen and I stay there as long as I do because I feel very responsible for the young women coming into this industry. I guess if that makes me a feminist, I am. But I do it out of the love of my fellow women. Not because of a label.
Evans: Love that.
Allen: So good. Janice, thank you so much for your time. It has been an honor having you on “Problematic Women” today.
Dean: Thanks for having me.