“Questions have been raised …”
“I never intended … to offend …”
“… I think I am being playful …”
“… some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted …”
“To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
If it weren’t already a well-known truism in Albany and elsewhere that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is infamously averse to apologizing, the weaselly wording of his statement — issued Sunday in response to the two allegations of sexual harassment leveled at him in recent days by former aides — made it clear: accountability is not his native language.
The passive voice, the couched, conditional language, the excuses, the justifications — all the political equivalent of “I’m sorry if you feel that way.” It was an “apology” that no one should take seriously. (You can read the whole thing here.)
Cuomo also denied the allegation of one of the former aides that he had kissed her on the lips after a one-on-one briefing at work. “I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable …”
And the third-term Democratic governor has finally asked New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, to pick an independent investigator to review the allegations, bowing to criticism that his initial plan — to pick the investigator himself — was, well, a terrible idea.
But his latest statement will do little to quell the fury over the accusations and the withholding language of his acknowledgment of some of them. That’s because for so many women, excuses like his are all too familiar and likely to fall on deaf ears.
I can’t count how many times I’ve been told by a man who said something inappropriate at work a variation of “I’m just joking,” “calm down,” or “you took it the wrong way.”
It’s meant to dump the onus back on the woman for failing to have a sense of humor or, as Cuomo put it in his statement, in multiple varied ways, misinterpreting “levity,” “banter,” “being playful,” “jokes,” and “good natured” teasing as “an unwanted flirtation.”
Like this: “I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that,” he said in his statement.
Cuomo wants to make it extra clear that the women simply took him wrong, by also insisting in his statement that “you” (here he is addressing the people who are NOT accusing him of sexual harassment) know about his “being playful,” making “jokes that I think are funny,” as you “have seen me do … at briefings hundreds of times.” See, “you” get the jokes. But these two women don’t.
This kind of excuse is not only infuriating, it’s the kind of arrogance that lets a harasser think he can get away with it — flaunt it even, do it in front of other people, do it in writing, keep doing it, despite being asked to stop.
I was once on a work trip where a group of us were traveling to an event we were covering. As I bent over to climb into the van that was taking us, a male anchor put both of his hands on my butt. When I turned around, horrified, he said, laughing, “I didn’t want you to fall out.” Others watched. Some laughed. I was mortified.
Another time, I was new to a job and about to do an on-air segment with one of the network’s star anchors. He said, in earshot of others, “I hope it’s okay, I’ve been calling you ‘C Cup” around the office.” When I said awkwardly, “Um, it’s not okay,” he said, “It’s just a joke, relax.” This also happened in earshot of others — my new colleagues.
Both incidents — two of probably a dozen over my career — happened before the #MeToo reckoning. Back then the idea that these guys’ superiors would take a harassment complaint from me seriously when my harassers didn’t even bother to hide their behavior wasn’t even in the realm of possibility.
And isn’t that the intended effect? Unwanted advances or inappropriate comments that happen in secret are sinister, but if they happen brazenly in public they can be shrugged off as harmless and merely “misinterpreted.” On Monday the New York Times reported accusations from a third woman who said that, when they met at a wedding in 2019, Cuomo put his hand on her bare lower back and later held her face in his hands and asked if he could kiss her. The incident was even apparently captured by a photographer. (CNN has not verified the woman’s allegations against New York’s governor.)
I don’t know what Cuomo did or didn’t do, what he intended or didn’t intend, but the way he has defended himself in his statement Sunday — which came only after it became clear that with the second accusation he couldn’t make the story go away — is not what accountability sounds like and it’s not acceptable. It’s the kind of sexist framework that demeans women as irrational, silly and unreliable witnesses.
It makes us not want to come forward because it’ll be, hey, we just can’t take a joke.
It actually makes things worse for Cuomo. It’s a slap in the face to the women who came forward, and a harsh reminder to the millions of women who might want to come forward but see now that powerful men will still try to put them in their place if they do. Maybe this time, with the blowback Cuomo is facing from his own party, it will end up differently for the women.