The funny thing about siblings is that no matter how different they claim to be, there’s usually that one thing that illustrates they are very clearly related. So when former New York governor Andrew Cuomo was accused of sexually harassing women in his office and chalked it up to his Italian heritage, I began waiting patiently for the other shoe to drop on his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who had helped the governor spin the allegations. According to a New York Times op-ed, the shoe has now hit the floor, and with it came a very strange email of apology from younger Cuomo to the husband of a woman he groped in 2005. As an afterthought, he also apologized to the woman herself. How kind.
According to Shelley Ross, who was once Chris Cuomo’s executive producer, Cuomo “firmly [grabbed] and [squeezed] the cheek of my buttock” during an outing in 2005 where some of their shared colleagues were present as well as Ross’s husband. Upon groping her, Cuomo allegedly said, “I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss.” Ross claims she pushed him away and immediately left the event with her husband.
Cuomo then apparently could not stop thinking about having offended Ross’s husband. Ross shared with the Times an email that Cuomo sent her after the incident, in which he notes that he grabbed her butt with nothing but positive intent: “...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,” the email reads. Just when you thought there wasn’t anything worse than the “as a father of a daughter” defense, Chris Cuomo introduces the “as a husband of a wife.”
Shelley Ross also writes in her op-ed that she is not looking for Cuomo to get fired, nor does she hold any ill will towards him—she merely wants an assessment of Cuomo’s relationship to the truth. During Andrew Cuomo’s own sexual harassment scandal, Chris admitted to advising his brother on how to respond and announced on air he would not be covering the case because of the obvious conflict of interest. Chris also claimed that he cares very deeply about sexual harassment, as one tends to do when they are trying to defend their brother while also keeping their high-paying job.
But as Ross points out, how can one care at any level of depth while never being brought to account for what they’ve done? And what does accountability look like when Chris has already done the act, helped his brother navigate his own accusations, and essentially gone about his business unmarred by any of it? Ross lays out a suggestion: “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.”
Both Ross and Cuomo state that the groping incident was not “sexual in nature.” 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.”
However, it was still serious enough that Cuomo felt compelled to apologize to Ross’s husband, a thing men do when they feel they’ve overstepped the boundaries of another man’s ownership of a woman. As the wife of a husband, I can recall several instances in which people be they strangers or acquaintances have communicated to me strictly through my spouse. What may be a non-sexual affront to the woman is, in the machismo understanding of the world, a violation of the man’s rights to be the only person who touches his wife. This is the caricature of the Italian-American man that the Cuomos have chosen to embody as if this is simply an unchangeable way of life rather than a choice they’ve both made to live as powerful seemingly untouchable men who freely touch whomever they please.