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“I’m not out to get Chris Cuomo — I want to make an argument about accountability,” Shelley Ross, a veteran television news journalist, told me recently after she came to Times Opinion with a guest essay about his role helping his brother, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, respond to sexual harassment allegations by women in his office and others.
Ross made no claims to being a neutral observer: She wanted to disclose publicly, for the first time, that Chris Cuomo, who once worked for her at ABC, sexually harassed her at a colleague’s going-away party in 2005 and then emailed her about how he was “ashamed” and tried to explain his “intent.” In Ross’s view, his behavior was not sexual in nature but rather meant to diminish and belittle her by sexually harassing her in front of the staff. She believes he wrote the email to her “to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability,” and more recently he has escaped accountability for supporting Andrew Cuomo when many of the former governor’s other confidants and advisers have paid a price for defending him.
Ross’s essay grapples with an important idea that goes beyond any one person or incident: that there can be different kinds of accountability for harassers and those who enable and protect them, but there needs to be at least some kind of accountability.
She argues that accountability has been lacking in Chris Cuomo’s case. While he apologized in May for taking part in strategy calls with the governor and his staff and CNN called those conversations “inappropriate,” Ross asserts that Cuomo and his employer have moved on without any accountability, despite the findings of the New York attorney general’s report and Andrew Cuomo’s resignation. (I want to mention that I was a CNN political analyst during past campaigns, and I’ve appeared on Chris Cuomo’s shows.)
“This is an opportunity for him and his employer to show what accountability can look like in the #MeToo era,” Ross writes. “Mr. Cuomo and CNN seem to have moved on. As recently as last month, he was suggesting that he did not cross a line in aiding Governor Cuomo, telling his CNN viewers, ‘I’m not an adviser. I am a brother.’ A brother calls to privately console you after hours. An adviser is looped in on staff emails and crisis conference calls, gives talking points and helps shape the narrative.”
In a statement to The Times on Thursday, Chris Cuomo said, “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.”
At the end of the essay, Ross offers an idea for a new kind of accountability — in hopes, she told me, of keeping the discussion going about ways to confront and ultimately stop workplace sexual harassment and stop people from supporting or defending harassers. Times Opinion has published many pieces in the #MeToo era about workplace conduct and harassment; Ross’s essay is a pointed argument about how we should think about hard questions of accountability that lack easy answers.
Patrick Healy is the deputy Opinion editor. He joined the Times in 2005 from The Boston Globe, and has served as the Politics editor, a deputy editor in Culture, and a reporter covering two presidential campaigns, theater and New York politics.
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