Chris Cuomo's insulting sexual harassment apology shows just how little he thinks of women

As insincere apologies go, the veteran TV reporter's mea culpa demonstrates a need to give more than lip service

Published September 24, 2021 8:41PM (EDT)

Chris Cuomo (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)
Chris Cuomo (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)

Chris Cuomo is a man who doesn't think grabbing a woman's butt unsolicited is sexual harassment, so why should he offer a sincere apology for it?

In an explosive new op ed in the New York Times, a veteran TV news executive has accused the CNN anchor of sexual harassment in 2005. Shelley Ross, who was Cuomo's boss at the time, recounts how Cuomo groped her at a work party, then later sent an email apologizing for the incident — first to Ross' husband, and then to her.

Ross writes that the alleged incident took place when "[Cuomo] 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." According to Ross, Cuomo said to her, "'I can do this now that you're no longer my boss,' with a kind of cocky arrogance." Ross recalls "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 the incident, she received an email from Cuomo about being "ashamed." However, the apology left Ross with questions:

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.

Cuomo has since responded to Ross' op ed in a statement shared by the Washington Post: "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." 

The apology from the CNN anchor has grim similarities with his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's lacking "apologies," also for workplace sexual harassment allegations. Both deny any "sexual nature" in their actions, suggesting that if these women had perceived a "sexual nature," it was their imagination. The brothers could perhaps benefit from looking up the dictionary definition of gaslighting. 

Speaking of Andrew Cuomo, Chris Cuomo has been no stranger to controversy lately, even prior to Ross' op ed. The "Cuomo Prime Time" host faced an avalanche of criticism earlier this year for his role in advising Andrew as the governor's sexual harassment scandal unfolded — all while continuing to host his show.

The op ed from Ross, who has previously alleged sexual harassment from the late Fox News executive Roger Ailes, has since sparked outrage on social media, most notably for Cuomo's initial apology to Ross' husband, before saying sorry to Ross herself. Others have questioned whether Cuomo would have apologized at all, were it not for her husband seeing the inappropriate hug. 

For many women, the email apology reflects a familiar pattern of men often respecting women more as the objects or possessions of other men, than as actual people — not unlike street harassers or aggressive men at bars backing down when a woman is accompanied by a man.

Ultimately, Ross concludes her op ed not by calling for Cuomo to be fired from CNN or to give up his prime time show. Instead, she expressed that she wants 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 called for a series of town hall meetings titled "The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo."

One study found 60% of women say they experience "unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments" in the workplace. A whopping 90% of employees who experience sexual misconduct don't report this experience, according to the same study.

Many audiences and obviously Cuomo himself would certainly benefit from CNN shining a light on this issue. But Cuomo's own response to Ross' op ed shows little interest in investing this sort of effort, or really even discussing the incident further.

By Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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Chris Cuomo Cnn Commentary Sexual Harassment Shelley Ross Tv