That anecdote comes from Shelley Ross, who spent decades in TV journalism and worked at both ABC and CBS. In a New York Times opinion piece, she recounts this instance of sexual harassment from 2005, when she and Cuomo saw each other at a going-away party for an ABC colleague. Ross had previously served as executive producer on “Primetime Live,” a show on which she served as Cuomo’s supervisor.
In the piece, Ross describes how Cuomo rationalized his grab:
“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.
In an email he sent after the incident, Cuomo struck an apologetic tone, but left a great deal to be analyzed. The email is so astounding that it should be neither abridged nor atomized:
Subject: now that i think of it...i am ashamed...though my hearty greeting was a function of being glad to see you......christian slater got arrested for a (kind of) similar act (though borne of an alleged negative intent, unlike my own)...and as a husband i can empathize with not liking to see my wife patted as such...so pass along my apology to your very good and noble husband...and I apologize to you as well, for even putting you in such a position...next time, i will remember the lesson, no matter how happy i am to see you...
The email appears to prioritize Cuomo’s apology to Ross’s husband, and though it seems to be an expression of sincere regret, Ross calls it “an attempt to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability.”
She also zeroes in on Cuomo’s invocation of the Slater arrest, which happened the same week as the ABC going-away party. “Basically he grabbed a woman’s behind on the street,” said a New York police official, as quoted in a CNN account of the incident. (Slater was charged with third-degree sexual abuse, and the charges were dropped.) Cuomo apparently felt that his grab was more benign. Or, as Ross puts it, “Mr. Cuomo, a former lawyer, appeared to use his short apology to legally differentiate the two incidents.”
The characterization of Ross’s husband as “very good and noble” rests in its own category of treacly-creepy. Anyone who watches “Cuomo Prime Time” will recognize the serial compulsion by the host to bathe his interlocutors with righteous-sounding flattery; this has to be the most authentic email ever published.
In a statement published by the Times, Cuomo 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 explains in her essay: “I never thought that Mr. Cuomo’s behavior was sexual in nature. 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.”
As we’ve written in this space, Cuomo racked up plenty of hypocrisy demerits from his role in the political demise of his brother, former New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo (D). When Andrew Cuomo was earning praise for his early handling of the pandemic, he was also earning repeat appearances on “Cuomo Prime Time,” on which the host lauded his brother’s performance. But when the governor’s own sexual harassment crisis surfaced in early 2021, Chris Cuomo declared he couldn’t cover the matter. That didn’t mean, however, that he wasn’t a big #MeToo guy: “I have always cared very deeply about these issues and profoundly so. I just wanted to tell you that.”
That earnest expression was one of what Ross called in her essay Cuomo’s “provocations in this era of personal accountability”; the other was over Labor Day weekend, when he was photographed wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Truth.”
The truth is that Cuomo, as The Post reported, initially urged his brother to remain defiant in the face of the sexual harassment accusations. An August report by New York Attorney General Letitia James finally forced Andrew Cuomo’s resignation — and refocused attention on Chris Cuomo. It claimed he had participated in counseling sessions to address the crisis. The governor’s reliance on outside advisers, including Chris Cuomo, “contributed to creating an environment where the Governor’s sexually harassing conduct was allowed to flourish and persist,” the report concluded. (Chris Cuomo in May apologized for stepping over the line into political counseling, and CNN declared it a “mistake.”) The Erik Wemple Blog has opined that CNN should have conducted an investigation into Chris Cuomo’s involvement in his brother’s troubles.
It may now have to look inward. Ross calls on CNN not to fire Cuomo, but rather to require some accountability — which happens to be the same thing it demands of everyone else. “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,” writes Ross.
Such a presentation would have to include footage of all the times Cuomo has posed as a #MeToo champion. In February 2018, for instance, he said, “You know, we’ve been covering the #MeToo stuff very much. Inappropriate behavior at work matters, has to change. We haven’t seen the systemic change we need to.”
We’ve sent questions to CNN and directly to Chris Cuomo; we’ll update this post with any responses.