Opinion: Cuomo’s Allegations Must Spur a New Culture of Accountability

Chris Cuomo is a hypocrite.


On Sept. 24, Shelley Ross, former executive producer at ABC and CBS, revealed that Cuomo sexually harassed her at her 2005 going-away party. “I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss,” he said, while lowering his hand to grab and squeeze her buttock. Soon after the incident, Cuomo sent an email to Ross, notably apologizing to her husband before directly expressing his regret to her.


More than a month later, Cuomo has yet to address the allegations on his show.


Previously on CNN, Cuomo portrayed himself as a #MeToo advocate by repeating statements of support while the movement was gaining traction.


“Women are coming forward,” he said encouragingly, in 2017, when reporting Trump’s defense of Roy Moore, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice. Moore was facing accusations of sexual misconduct at the time.


But the extent of his hypocrisy goes much deeper than those statements. Early this year, Cuomo’s older brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, faced sexual harassment allegations from 11 women, prompting an investigative report by Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, and Cuomo’s eventual resignation. During this turmoil, Chris Cuomo was involved in strategy calls with the governor’s advisers. He also suggested in an email that his brother should rationalize the harassment by explaining that he’s “playful” and “makes jokes.” Chris later apologized for, as critics argued, violating journalistic ethics.


Cuomo supported the movement when convenient, but was defiant when his brother’s political survival was threatened. How should he be held accountable?


Ross sees a way forward. “This is an opportunity for him and his employer to show what accountability can look like in the #MeToo era,” she writes, before asking Cuomo to “journalistically repent.” She demands that he study the impact of harassment on air, host related town hall meetings, and call it “The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo.”


Ross’s article brings up difficult conversations about the complexity of each individual’s experience, and whether the culture of accountability #MeToo strived to create should mirror the rising cancel culture. Ross’s experience isn’t negligible; any circumstance of unwelcome sexual contact shouldn’t be ignored just because it isn’t considered “severe.”


However, accountability must be nuanced. As Ross puts it, the usual “clean sweep,” or forced resignation of those complicit in sexual misconduct, should not be the only way to reckon with the issue. This type of reaction can’t be applied to all scenarios; it’s reductive. It simplifies the experience of the victim and ignores the outcome they want to see. Once a person is “canceled,” the issue seems to be over with. That takes away from the aim of #MeToo: reforming the workplace, preventing sexual abuse, and establishing equity.


Critics, the first from the comment section, are calling her article written for the Times the epitome of sensationalism. Cuomo harassed her 16 years ago, and he did apologize. The Times didn’t investigate Cuomo’s side of the story and seems to disregard his immediate, though imperfect, apology. They argue that he doesn’t deserve the public shaming that came with her article, and that society has become too perfectionist. In short, some see the article as a push towards a dangerous form of journalism - where an incident that occured years ago can turn into a “hit piece.”


There is no easy answer. But it’s clear that it isn’t enough for one to say they stand with a cause. Cuomo failed to align his behavior with his assurances of support.


This isn’t binary. We shouldn’t have to choose between condoning sexual misconduct or turning to cancel culture to solve our problems. Ross’s story shouldn’t be ignored. We need to make this an opportunity to have those extensive conversations.