On Friday, a veteran television journalist and former executive producer at ABC and CBS who had served as CNN’s Chris Cuomo’s producer when he anchored ABC’s “Primetime Live,” accused him of sexual harassment in 2005, when he greeted her in the presence of her husband and squeezed her buttock.
In a New York Times opinion piece titled, “Chris Cuomo Sexually Harassed Me. I Hope He’ll Use His Power to Make Change,” Shelley Ross started by opining, “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.”
She then recalled Cuomo saying on his CNN show on March 1, after sexual harassment allegations had been made regarding his older brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, that he would no longer be covering or interviewing his older brother, huffing, “I have always cared very deeply about these issues and profoundly so. I just wanted to tell you that.”
Ross then cited Chris Cuomo “wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Truth’” on Labor Day Weekend after his brother had resigned. She continued, “For me, his statement of profound concern about sexual harassment and his ‘Truth’ T-shirt were provocations in this era of personal accountability.”
Ross then explained why, recalling Cuomo sexually harassing her at a going-away party for an ABC colleague. She wrote:
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.
Cuomo then emailed Ross with the subject line, “now that I think of it … I am ashamed.” He wrote, “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 …”
Ross asked rhetorically, “Was he ashamed of what he did, or was he embarrassed because my husband saw it? … 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.”
“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,” she continued. “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?”
Yet Ross claimed, “I never thought that Mr. Cuomo’s behavior was sexual in nature.”
In the end, Ross stuck by Cuomo, though, saying, “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. … 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.”
The New York Times wrote: “Asked for comment, Mr. Cuomo said on Thursday night, ‘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.’”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Ross. She is Shelley Ross, not Shirley Ross.