CNN host Chris Cuomo has admitted that he inappropriately touched Shelley Ross — who was then a top producer at ABC News, where they both worked — but insisted the 2005 encounter “was not sexual in nature.”
Ross, a veteran executive producer who had long stints at both ABC and CBS, on Friday accused Cuomo of sexual harassment during a company party that she attended with her husband. “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,” Ross wrote in a commentary piece in the The New York Times. “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.”
Cuomo, she said, told her he could do that now that she was no longer his boss, but she pushed him back and told him he couldn’t. Later, she wrote, he sent her an email — and included a screenshot of the email in the piece.
Cuomo wrote “now that i think of it…i am ashamed…” in the subject of the email, and went on to apologize. “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… net time, i will remember the lesson, no matter how happy i am to see you…” he wrote.
Ross noted that Cuomo, a former lawyer, seemed to her to be covering himself legally with the email by differentiating himself from Christian Slater, who was charged with groping a woman on the street. (The charges were later dropped.)
She also faulted Cuomo for advising his brother, Andrew Cuomo, who became mired this year in multiple accusations of sexual harassment that led to his resignation as New York governor last month.
In her piece, Ross also insisted that she did not want to see Cuomo fired for his behavior 16 years ago. “I hope he stays at CNN forever if he chooses,” she wrote. “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. He could host a series of live town hall meetings, with documentary footage, produced by women with expert consultants. Call it ‘The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo’ and make this a watershed moment instead of another stain on the career of one more powerful male news anchor.”
On Thursday, Cuomo issued a statement to 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.”
A representative for Cuomo did not immediately return a request for further comment to TheWrap on Friday morning.