NEW YORK – A television executive who accused Chris Cuomo of groping her at a party 16 years ago says the CNN anchor needs a public education about sexual harassment and if he did that, “he'd be a hero instead of a cad.”
The executive, Shelley Ross, said Friday she's concerned that Cuomo's reaction to her story and his role advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, indicates that he's learned little about harassment and what it does to women.
“I don't want to see anybody lose their job,” Ross told The Associated Press. “I want to see people learn and to make the news business a better place and the workplace a better place.”
Her story represented another embarrassment for the host of “Cuomo Prime Time,” generally the network’s top-rated show. He has been criticized for his role advising his brother, Andrew Cuomo, who resigned as New York governor last month over allegations of sexual harassment from multiple women.
Cuomo did not address the matter on his show Friday night.
Ross said in an opinion piece in The New York Times on Friday that Chris Cuomo had greeted her at a going-away party in 2005 with a bear hug “while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze the cheek of my buttock."
Ross said Cuomo told her, “I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss,” and she responded, “No you can’t,” pushing him off while stepping back to reveal her husband, who saw the whole thing.
In an interview, Ross called it an attempt to diminish and belittle a female executive in front of her staff.
Cuomo sent an apologetic email to Ross shortly afterward saying he was “ashamed.”
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.” CNN had no additional comment on Friday.
“There was no interaction,” said Ross, former executive producer of the newsmagazine “Primetime Live.” “An interaction has a premise that two people are involved in something. I did not want to be groped.”
“I didn't know if he had changed from the years we worked together,” she added, “and I see from the response that he hasn't.”
Cuomo took a scheduled day off Friday from his SiriusXM radio show, the service said. CNN referred reporters to Cuomo’s statement to the newspaper.
Ross said she was motivated to tell her story in part because of the fallout faced by some people who had advised the former governor. They included the resignations of Roberta Kaplan and Tina Tchen, two figures in the Time's Up organization, and Alphonso David, who was ousted as president of the Human Rights Campaign.
CNN has not commented publicly about findings from a New York attorney general's report about Chris Cuomo being involved in discussions with his brother's advisers about how to respond to the first reports of harassment allegations. Such involvement in politics is generally considered off-limits for journalists.
Chris Cuomo told CNN viewers last month that he had advised his brother to be contrite.
“I was there to listen and offer my take,” Cuomo said. “And 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.”
He eventually advised his brother, who has denied touching any women inappropriately, to resign. But the Washington Post reported that, when charges were first revealed last winter, Chris Cuomo had advised Andrew to take a defiant position and not resign.
The report by New York Attorney General Letitia James that precipitated the governor's resignation included an email Chris Cuomo sent to his brother's advisers last February about a suggested public statement that the New York Democrat should make.
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?”
She wrote that she sees Cuomo's apology as “an attempt to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability.”
Ross has written previously of 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 suggested a series of town hall meetings titled “The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo."
This story has been corrected to show that the program Cuomo hosts is called “Cuomo Prime Time,” not “CNN Prime Time.”