CNN’s Chris Cuomo is joining his brother, disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo, in being accused of sexual harassment. On Friday morning, Chris Cuomo’s former ABC News boss, a veteran executive producer named Shelley Ross, leveled accusations of sexual harassment, including an accusation that he once grabbed her on the buttocks. Her accusation came in the form of an opinion-editorial at the NY Times:
I was Chris Cuomo’s boss at ABC News nearly two decades ago, and I am a regular viewer of CNN today, so I’ve long watched how he communicates on camera and witnessed at times how he behaved behind the scenes. This year, as he escaped accountability for advising former Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his sexual harassment scandal, two moments crystallized for me how Mr. Cuomo performs.
The first was on March 1, two days before Governor Cuomo publicly addressed the sexual harassment allegations made against him by three women and apologized for acting “in a way that made people feel uncomfortable” but denied touching anyone inappropriately. On “Cuomo Prime Time,” Mr. Cuomo explained to his CNN viewers that because of the sexual harassment scandal, he would no longer be covering or interviewing his brother, as he frequently did during the first Covid-19 surge. With an expression of great sincerity, he said, “I have always cared very deeply about these issues and profoundly so. I just wanted to tell you that.”
The second moment came this Labor Day weekend, after Governor Cuomo had resigned and as his loyal confidants and outside advisers were losing their own influential jobs in the fallout. There was Mr. Cuomo in the Hamptons, appearing in a photo wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Truth.”
Then, she ties Chris Cuomo’s purported concerns about sexual harassment to his behavior and reporting on his brother, the former governor.
For me, his statement of profound concern about sexual harassment and his “Truth” T-shirt were provocations in this era of personal accountability.
Not only does Ross say that the incident in question was witnessed by her husband, she says that Chris Cuomo actually wrote her an apology email about an incident where 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” at an Upper West Side bar.
“Now that I think of it … I am ashamed,” read the subject line of a 2005 email Mr. Cuomo wrote me, one hour after he sexually harassed me at a going-away party for an ABC colleague. At the time, I was the executive producer of an ABC entertainment special, but I was Mr. Cuomo’s executive producer at “Primetime Live” just before that. 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. 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.
“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.
Soon after, I received the email from Mr. Cuomo about being “ashamed.” He should have been. 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.”) 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.
A screenshot of the email was provided to the New York Times and is included below:
While Ross claims not to hold a “grudge” against Chris Cuomo, and says she is not seeking for him to be fired, she is calling for “accountability” while highlighting his problematic coverage of former governor Andrew Cuomo.
I have no grudge against Mr. Cuomo; I’m not looking for him to lose his job. Rather, this is an opportunity for him and his employer to show what accountability can look like in the #MeToo era. Accountability has been the cornerstone of the #MeToo movement, leading to tangible results and even justice, consequences for harassers and the possibility of real change. Accountability has been clear in the wake of the New York State attorney general’s investigation into Governor Cuomo, which not only outlined instances of sexual harassment and mistreatment of at least 11 women by him but also identified an inner circle of advisers who helped guide him through this political and legal crisis. I call them the enablers. The official report documented the inner workings of these people, including Mr. Cuomo, and laid out their strategies and tactics to protect the governor.
Mr. Cuomo’s name shows up in an email thread with other advisers the weekend Governor Cuomo’s second accuser, Charlotte Bennett, came forward. The attorney general’s report says that he was part of “ongoing and regular discussions about how to respond to the allegations publicly” and that he appeared to counsel the governor “to express contrition.” The Washington Post also reported that Mr. Cuomo urged his brother to take a defiant position early in the scandal and not resign. We all know that Mr. 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. (In May, Mr. Cuomo apologized for taking part in strategy calls with the governor and his staff, calling it “a mistake.” CNN called those conversations “inappropriate.”)
After providing more details and testimonials in the Times piece, she claims that she hopes that Cuomo stays on CNN ‘forever’ if he so chooses (apparently, Cuomo’s flagrant disregard for journalistic ethics vis-a-vis interviewing his powerful brother Andrew Cuomo are not of concern to the ABC News and CBS News executive producer).
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. 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.
Chris Cuomo doesn’t need a ‘continuing education’ on how to be a news anchor at one of the most influential cable news outlets in the country. Americans need reporters and anchors that they can trust.
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