Up to now, the the scheme consisted of accusation, the presumption of guilt and swift conviction, whereupon the only sentence imposed was by the mob and its enablers: death. One of the complaints, and only one, was the disproportionality of sentence, that not every accusation by a woman against a man warranted his “cancellation,” his being fired, thrown off the island and disappeared, never to be heard from or admitted into polite society again.
Shelly Ross was Chris Cuomo’s former boss. Chris, the angelic and perpetually sincere host on CNN of all causes progressive, and definitely Mario’s better looking son, did the dirty to Ross back in 2005 and she kept the receipt.
At the time, I was the executive producer of an ABC entertainment special, but I was Mr. Cuomo’s executive producer at “Primetime Live” just before that. I was at the party with my husband, who sat behind me on an ottoman sipping his Diet Coke as I spoke with work friends. When Mr. Cuomo entered the Upper West Side bar, he walked toward me and greeted me with a strong bear hug while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze the cheek of my buttock.
“I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss,” he said to me with a kind of cocky arrogance. “No you can’t,” I said, pushing him off me at the chest while stepping back, revealing my husband, who had seen the entire episode at close range. We quickly left.
Not being a butt-squeezer sort of person, this was completely inappropriate. I’ve known butt squeezers, male and female, gay and straight, and it happened among friends from time to time. I didn’t like it and wouldn’t do it. I don’t blame Ross for not liking it. Not one bit. I had a friend who once grabbed and squeezed my butt, but it was a straight guy and he meant it as a sign of affection and familiarity. I still told him to get his hand off my butt or he’d lose it. No woman ever squeezed my butt. I’m not particularly callipygian.
After Chris squeezed Shelly’s tush, he sent her an email confessing his sin and apologizing.
Ross critiques it as directed toward her husband’s feelings about the incident rather than hers. Since Chris may not be the brighter Cuomo, but still isn’t dumb, my surmise is that she presented the problem not as one of her personal trauma from a butt squeeze, but of the embarrassment, maybe even anger, it caused her husband. And so Chris apologized for the offense about which he know, because one tush grab between old friends wasn’t going to cause permanent physical injury or psychic damage.
Someone inappropriately grabbed your butt, you tell them to “fuck off,” push them away, maybe embarrass them before the present crowd, and then life goes on. It does not become the one moment of your life, 16 years ago, that is indelibly seared in your brain and drives the rest of your life. It’s not that it wasn’t wrong. It was. It’s that in the scheme of bad sexual things, this just wasn’t anywhere near the top of the sexual assault list. We all endure a thousand petty instances of inappropriate conduct in our lives. We “survive” without it becoming the center of our existence. Not Shelly Ross.
I have no grudge against Mr. Cuomo; I’m not looking for him to lose his job. Rather, this is an opportunity for him and his employer to show what accountability can look like in the #MeToo era.
If she had no grudge, she wouldn’t have written her indictment and proffered it to the New York Times to assure maximum exposure. She’s not “looking” for him to lose his job, although it’s not as if she would lose sleep if that happened. He apologized. He’s spent the past 16 years on TV being so very empathetic, up until he advised his brother Andy not to quit in the face of his accusations, which is part of what set Ross off together with his wearing a t-shirt that said “Truth” on the front, because that’s the sort of thing that sets off a well-adjusted adult woman.
But presenting the indictment to the MeToo jury, together with her documentary evidence of guilt, Cuomo’s confession, which is far more than most accusers do, The Times asked Cuomo about it, and gave him a parenthetical aside.
(Asked for comment, Mr. Cuomo said on Thursday night, “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.”)
For Chris, it was wrong, non-sexual and long since over. Not to for Shelly Ross, who proposes her version of “accountability.”
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. 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. He could host a series of live town hall meetings, with documentary footage, produced by women with expert consultants. Call it “The Continuing Education of Chris Cuomo” and make this a watershed moment instead of another stain on the career of one more powerful male news anchor.
Ironically, this isn’t a punishment for Chris Cuomo, but for CNN. Ross wants to dictate the content of cable news coverage under the guise of “journalistic repentance.” Would CNN deny her, deny Cuomo, deny women, their due? Then again, it is CNN, and her idea is pretty darn trendy these days, particularly after the board of TimesUp imploded because it was rife inherent conflicts and hypocrisy, not to mention a heavy layer of melodrama, all over an inappropriate but otherwise survivable public butt squeeze between friends.
Ross even has a cool name for her series. How could CNN refuse to dive head first down her rabbit hole? I bet they could even get Joy Reid to host it, since Chris Cuomo will likely be disappeared long before the show about his awfulness airs, holed up on a farm outside of Troy, New York with his brother, Andy. Sentence has been imposed. Will CNN execute it?