A former top TV news producer alleged in a New York Times opinion piece that Chris Cuomo touched her inappropriately years ago when both of them worked for ABC News, a disclosure that threatens to add to public perception issues around the anchor, who leads CNN’s most-watched primetime program.
Shelley Ross, a former executive producer of ABC News’ “Good Morning America” and CBS News “Early Show,” alleged in the New York Times article that Cuomo squeezed “the cheek of my buttock” at a “going away party for an ABC News colleague” in 2005 in full view of her husband. Cuomo, said Ross, apologized for the incident in an email, a picture of which is included in her article.
“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,” Cuomo said in a statement provided to the Times Thursday night and included in Ross’ article. CNN declined to comment.
Cuomo has been under scrutiny in recent months while his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was being forced out from his role due to a number of allegations of sexual harassment. Chris Cuomo took part in sessions with his brother’s staffers as they considered responses to the harassment claims. CNN never disciplined the anchor, but acknowledged in May that “it was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor’s staff, which Chris acknowledges. He will not participate in such conversations going forward.”
The anchor’s 9 p.m. show, “Cuomo Prime Time,” is CNN’s top-rated program and is emblematic of a new era at CNN that gives on-air journalists license to offer perspective and analysis alongside the usual recounting of facts that is a staple of TV news. Cuomo’s show vies directly with MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” and Fox News Channel’s “Hannity.”
Ross’ account may also bring new attention to ABC News, which has been named in a lawsuit by a current staffer who alleges she was harassed sexually by former “Good Morning America” producer Michael Corn, and that executives at ABC and its corporate parent, Walt Disney, knew about the claims but chose not to act upon them. Corn, now an executive at Nexstar, has denied the allegations. ABC News said in a previous statement that it “disputes the claims made against it and will address this matter in court.”
CNN may have inadvertently abetted its anchor by allowing him to interview his brother on the show several times in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. The pairing generated publicity for the siblings as New York’s top official won early plaudits for his handling of the crisis. Even so, their conversations represented a breach of journalistic protocol. “The early months of the pandemic crisis were an extraordinary time,” CNN said in February. “We felt that Chris speaking with his brother about the challenges of what millions of American families were struggling with was of significant human interest.”
Ross was Chris Cuomo’s boss when they both worked on the ABC News magazine “Primetime Live.” She alleged in her article that the incident she described took place after she had left the show. She alleged Cuomo told her, “I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss.”
“Soon after, I received the email from Mr. Cuomo about being ‘ashamed.’ He should have been. 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?” Ross asked in the article.
Ross said she does not want Cuomo to lose his job, but to offer accountability by reporting on issues related to harassment and bias. “I’m 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 said. “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.”