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Chris Cuomo, host of CNN's Cuomo Prime Time, has been accused of sexual harassment.
Shelley Ross, a veteran TV journalist and former executive producer at ABC and CBS, made the claim in a New York Times guest essay. She said Chris — who came under fire recently for advising to his brother former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his sexual harassment scandal, grabbed her buttocks at a 2005 party and sent an email after to apologize.
"'Now that I think of it … I am ashamed,'" was the subject line of the email, which was resurfaced and appeared in the story.
Ross wrote that it was sent "one hour" after Chris "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."
She recalled him saying as he groped her, "'I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss,'" noting it was said "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."
The apology email arrived an hour later — with a reference to Christian Slater, who had been recently arrested for grabbing a woman's behind on an NYC street. (Charges against Slater were later dropped.)
"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," wrote Chris, who married wife Cristina in 2001. "So pass along my apology to your very good and noble husband… and I apologize to you as well, for ever putting you in such a position. Next time, I will remember the lesson, no matter how happy I am to see you."
Ross said she viewed Chris's email as less of an apology as "an attempt to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability." However, she also made it clear that she "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."
Chris provided his own comment, telling the NYT, "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 said as a female in the TV news industry, she's spent 40 years fighting sexual harassment in the workplace — and experienced it firsthand. She also recalled how, in 1981, disgraced network executive Roger Ailes "insisted to me that we have a 'sexual alliance' or my pending job offer at NBC’s Tomorrow show would be withdrawn." She called her attorney; Ailes apologized.
Ross said her point in speaking out is "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." She does however want "to see him journalistically repent" in the wake of his involvement in his brother's sexual harassment scandal.
Ross took issue with Chris saying on his CNN show in March — as the sexual harassment allegations against Andrew simmered — that he wouldn't be reporting on his brother or interviewing him on his show. Ross also noted the statement T-shirt Chris wore — that said "truth" — after his brother resigned. However, it was later revealed Chris was among a small group Andrew consulted in the wake of the New York State attorney general's report accusing him of sexually harassing at least 11 women, which many criticized as a conflict of interest and led to calls for Chris's firing.
Ross noted, “If Mr. Cuomo and CNN management don't think he crossed a serious line, one that warrants consequences, I know he crossed a line with me."