CNN anchor Chris Cuomo has been accused of sexual harassment by his former supervisor.
The incident took place about 16 years ago, according to former ABC producer Shelley Ross, who wrote about the incident in a Friday Op-Ed in The New York Times.
The scene: a 2005 party for a colleague who was leaving ABC. The dynamics: Ross at the time was the executive producer of an ABC entertainment special, but was previously an executive producer of ABC’s “Primetime Live,” where she was Cuomo’s boss.
“I was at the party with my husband, who sat behind me on an ottoman sipping his Diet Coke as I spoke with work friends,” Ross wrote. “When Mr. Cuomo entered the Upper West Side bar, he walked toward me and greeted me with a strong bear hug while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze the cheek of my buttock.”
She recalled the dialog.
“’I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss,’ he said to me with a kind of cocky arrogance. ‘No you can’t,’ I said, pushing him off me at the chest while stepping back, revealing my husband, who had seen the entire episode at close range. We quickly left,” she wrote.
Ross noted she received an email apology from Cuomo an hour later, which was reproduced with the Op-Ed. “Now that I think of it … I am ashamed,” Cuomo’s email subject line said.
“He should have been,” Ross wrote in the Op-Ed.
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“But my question today is the same as it was then: Was he ashamed of what he did, or was he embarrassed because my husband saw it? (He apologized first in his email to my ‘very good and noble husband’ and then to me for ‘even putting you in such a position.’)” she wrote.
“Mr. Cuomo may say this is a sincere apology. I’ve always seen it as an attempt to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability.”
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) September 24, 2021
At the start of the Op-Ed, Ross noted Chris Cuomo’s relationship with his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and his alleged support of truth were “provocations” to her, and led her to question what Chris Cuomo really thinks about what he and his brother allegedly did.
Andrew Cuomo was forced to resign after multiple allegations of sexual harassment were supported by a report issued by the New York State Attorney General.
“Now, given Mr. Cuomo’s role as a supporter of and counselor to his brother, I am left again wondering about his relationship with truth and accountability. Has this man always cared ‘deeply’ and ‘profoundly’ about sexual harassment issues? Does he believe enough in accountability to step up and take some meaningful actions?” Ross wrote.
She said accountability has not yet reached Chris Cuomo or CNN, which she said seemed to have “moved on” even as the group “Time’s Up” that was formed to fight sexual harassment dissolved because of links between its leaders and the former governor.
“We all know that [Chris] Cuomo was being consulted by his brother; what has never come to light, and what Mr. Cuomo has not been held to account for, is the full scope of the advice he gave his brother and whether his advice and his role in helping shape the defense of a sitting governor (one who was being investigated by Mr. Cuomo’s own network) were in keeping with CNN’s standards and values,” Ross wrote.
She mocked Chris Cuomo’s contention that he acted as a brother to the former governor and not an adviser.
“A brother calls to privately console you after hours. An adviser is looped in on staff emails and crisis conference calls, gives talking points and helps shape the narrative,” she wrote, later adding, “today we have no clear idea if either he or CNN is interested in accountability.”
“I never thought that Mr. Cuomo’s behavior was sexual in nature,” she continued. “Whether he understood it at the time or not, his form of sexual harassment was a hostile act meant to diminish and belittle his female former boss in front of the staff.”
The Times then inserted a response from Cuomo that said, “As Shelley acknowledges, our interaction was not sexual in nature. It happened 16 years ago in a public setting when she was a top executive at ABC. I apologized to her then, and I meant it.”
Ross touched on the issue of sexual harassment, saying it is “not just inappropriate touching, pressure to consent or drunken overtures after hours. Most sexual harassment is invisible to outsiders, as are the scars.
“It may be someone ‘accidentally’ brushing up against you, or engaging in uncomfortable sexual innuendo with you, or asking you to spin around so they can look at your rear end. It’s all got to stop. You can’t have a sliding scale in which asking permission for a kiss is OK and a hand on the back is harmless. Who gets to draw the boundaries?”
She closed by asking for CNN and Cuomo to do more than just issue apologies and get on with life.
“I’m not asking for Mr. Cuomo to become the next casualty in this continuing terrible story. I hope he stays at CNN forever if he chooses. I would, however, like to see him journalistically repent: agree on air to study the impact of sexism, harassment and gender bias in the workplace, including his own, and then report on it,” she wrote.
“He could host a series of live town hall meetings, with documentary footage, produced by women with expert consultants. Call it ‘The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo’ and make this a watershed moment instead of another stain on the career of one more powerful male news anchor.”