Talking Points

The telling contrast between Chris and Andrew Cuomo's harassment apologies

Chris Cuomo knew he'd done something wrong.

One of the more striking details of Friday's allegation that the CNN host sexuallly harassed Shelley Ross, his former boss at ABC News, is the speed of his apology. Only about an hour passed, Ross wrote in The New York Times, between the moment Cuomo squeezed her buttock at a 2005 going-away party for a colleague — in front of her husband — and the moment he sent her an email awkwardly expressing contrition.

"Now that I think of it ... I am ashamed," he wrote. "So pass along my apology to your good and noble husband ... and I apologize to you as well, for even putting you in such a position." 

Cuomo doesn't get plaudits for expressing regret. As Ross notes, the full email reads like a legalistic hedge against accountability. But the very existence of the message, the felt need to do damage control, is proof that Cuomo immediately knew he'd done something wrong — or, at least, something that could get him in trouble.

That's notable, because so often high-profile men accused of sexual harassment try to evade responsibility by pleading innocence of intention — suggesting they're the victims of evolving mores. It was a joke. Or a misunderstanding. Or the accused didn't realize just how much times had changed. That's the angle former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Chris' brother, took when defending himself against multiple harassment allegations. "In my mind, I've never crossed the line with anyone," Andrew Cuomo said in his resignation speech last month, "but I didn't realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn." 

It's tough to credit those defenses. Nearly 30 years after Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas, and after a gazillion human resources office seminars on harassment, the only adults who don't understand that you shouldn't put hands on a coworker or underling are those who don't want to know. Chris Cuomo — who advised his brother during the scandal — certainly knew, all the way back in 2005.