NEW YORK (AP/KRON) — A veteran TV news executive says CNN anchor Chris Cuomo sexually harassed her by squeezing her buttocks at a party in 2005.
Shelley Ross said in an opinion piece in the New York Times on Friday that the incident happened nearly 20 years ago, and she’s not sharing the experience to get him fired. Rather, she wants to see Cuomo respond with impactful journalism that educates his ‘”Cuomo Prime Time” viewers (and himself) on sexism in the workplace.
Ross details the time Cuomo, who had formerly reported to her at ABC News, groped her rear end at a going-away party for a colleague that she attended with her husband.
In response, Ross said she responded, “No you can’t,” pushing him off while stepping back to reveal her husband, who had witnessed the episode. She said they quickly left the party.
“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,” Ross said in the NYT essay.
She goes on to say that covert sexual harassment at the workplace persists, and she wants to see Chris address it through his show. “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,” Ross writes.
Shortly afterward, Cuomo email an apology saying he was “ashamed.” He mentioned a celebrity who had been arrested for similar behavior recently, and apologized to Ross and her husband.
Asked for comment, Cuomo told the Times, “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.”
Cuomo, the host of “Cuomo Prime Time,” has faced criticism for his role in advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was forced to resign last month after an investigation by the state’s attorney general that found he sexually harassed at least 11 women.
Andrew, a Democrat, has denied touching any of the women inappropriately. Chris has been in the hot seat ever since, with his journalistic ethics questioned since he was found to also have advised his brother as the women were coming forward. One email chain apparently showed Chris Cuomo telling his brother “to express contrition” in his response.
Chris Cuomo echoed the sentiment last month when he told CNN viewers that he advised Andrew to be repentant. “I was there to listen and offer my take,” Cuomo said. “My advice to my brother was simple and consistent—own what you did, tell people what you’ll try to do to be better, be contrite. Finally, accept that it doesn’t matter what you intended, what matters is how your actions and your words are perceived.”
Even after the attorney general’s findings, Chris Cuomo has kept his chair on CNN, although he had previously said he would stop having his brother on his show amid the initial sexual harassment accusations. Chris Cuomo excused himself by saying he was helping as a brother not as an official advisor.
Ross said in her essay in the Times that Chris Cuomo should have been ashamed for his conduct with her, “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?”
Asked for comment about Ross’ essay on Friday, a CNN spokesperson referred to Cuomo’s statement to the Times.
Ross has written previously about being sexually harassed by Roger Ailes, who was ousted from Fox News Channel over harassment complaints and died in 2017. Recounting the 1981 encounter in her New York Times piece, Ross said Ailes apologized to her for insisting on a “sexual alliance” as a condition of a pending job offer at NBC’s “Tomorrow” show.
Ross said she accepted Ailes’ apology, naively thinking she could “help reform the workplace, one predator at a time.” She said she now sees the apology from Cuomo as “an attempt to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability.”
Ross said she is not asking for Chris Cuomo to be fired from CNN, but would 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 suggested a series of town hall meetings titled “The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo.”
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