A weak and passive apology from Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is now the subject of multiple allegations of sexual harassment, including both suggestive speech and unwanted kissing.

I’m not here to litigate Cuomo’s conduct. He’s agreed to have his attorney general investigate his conduct. As I have before for others, I’ll analyze his apology statement for its effectiveness in communication.

Cuomo’s apology is lame

Here’s what he wrote, with my commentary.

Questions have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office.

Never start with a passive voice statement. It makes you sound evasive. Why not “Several women have raised questions about my interactions with them as governor”? We all know that’s what this is about — why start by removing the accusers from the sentence and calling them “people in the office”?

I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm. I spend most of my life at work and colleagues are often also personal friends.

Just as you don’t start with a passive, you shouldn’t continue by first speaking about yourself. The potential injured parties here are the women who are complaining, not Cuomo.

Also, Cuomo’s intent is an issue, but not the main issue. If I drive in a reckless way and run over your dog, the fact that I didn’t intend to do so is not much of a defense. Cuomo has acknowledged in other statements that what matters is how the women felt, not whether he meant to do something wrong. So why start this statement by talking about intent? It puts Cuomo’s defense ahead of the women who were allegedly assaulted, and that doesn’t sound at all sincere.

At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.

More about himself. The “I’m just a kidder” defense is weak when you’re the top official in the state. We’re still waiting to hear about the women who claim he hurt them.

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.

Hmm. We get “my comments . . . made others feel in ways I never intended” and “may have been misinterpreted.” This is weak and self-centered, and puts the onus for the misinterpretation on the women.

And then, at the end of the fourth paragraph, we finally get a “sorry.” But this is the weakest possible apology: “I am sorry you felt that way.” Not “I’m sorry I put you in that position” or “I’m sorry I crossed a line.” An apology for someone else’s feelings is not a real apology, so this is a failure as an apology.

To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to. 

That’s why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations.

The women who say he kissed or touched them will get an investigation. I doubt it will find anything provably over the line. But you never know.

Separately, my office has heard anecdotally that some people have reached out to Ms. Bennett to express displeasure about her coming forward. My message to anyone doing that is you have misjudged what matters to me and my administration and you should stop now – period.”

This is sneaky. First, it is the only mention of an accuser by name — in the last paragraph. It alludes to to pressure on her. And then Cuomo washes his hands of such pressure. To me, appearing at the end of this statement, it reeks of dishonesty.

This is a defense masquerading as an apology

Why write something like this?

To prove you did nothing wrong.

Charlotte Bennett said when they were alone in his office, he asked her about her sex life and if she ever had sex with older men, and complained that his relationship with a girlfriend was over and that he was lonely and missed hugging people. He also suggested she get a tattoo on her behind. Women: have you ever had a conversation like this with a powerful colleague. What did you think was going on?

Lindsey Boyland wrote that he kissed her without consent and suggested “Let’s play strip poker.” Read this (you might gag a little) and ask yourself, does the governor’s “apology” cover it? Not even close.

Anna Ruch says he was handsy at a wedding where he cupped her face and asked if he could kiss her. (Is this “asking for consent?”) He says that’s just how people at weddings behave.

It is a real question whether these allegations are serious enough to mean that Cuomo no longer belongs in office. Maybe they are, maybe they are not.

But don’t mistake the apology for anything other than a defense. It admits nothing. It puts the onus for feeling bad and “misinterpreting” on the women. And the only thing Cuomo says he is sorry about is other people’s feelings.

This isn’t going away. This apology has accomplished nothing but to prove Cuomo is clueless about what sexual harassment actually is.

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  1. There was an interesting “what if” question posed by someone on Twitter in the last day or two… What if the calls for Cuomo to resign/step aside are nothing more than a long-term plan to elect a Republican Governor in New York who will pardon Trump for crimes committed in the State so that he can run for office in 2024?.. Interesting thought eh?

  2. Funny how his highly personal “teasing” of pretty young women never seemed to happen when there would be witnesses.

    1. I first read your comment to be no witnesses>didn’t happen, when, now (based upon your second comment), I think you meant it as no witnesses shows his planning of creepiness to avoid detection/accusations.

    1. I must credit feminist columnist Monica Hesse, who raised the question March 2 Washington Post column, “Andrew Cuomo and the old ‘I was just being playful’ excuse.”

  3. And a better statement would have been?…

    Josh Bernoff, author of Writing Without Bullshit, says that when companies craft apologies, they should do five things:
    Be as brief as possible.
    Clearly explain what happened.
    Acknowledge who was hurt.
    Express regret.
    Say what they’re going to do next.

    Also the PwC apology in this blog:
    If you make a mistake, learn from this:
    It acknowledges who was hurt
    It explains what happened
    It explains what will happen next