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Politics & Government

Why Some Powerful Men, Like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Haven't Learned The Lessons Of #MeToo

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A photo was published in The New York Times last night. In it, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has his hands on each side of Anna Ruch's face while she seems to be trying to force a tense, uncomfortable smile. Ruch told the paper that Cuomo was asking to kiss her, and she says it made her feel confused and shocked and embarrassed. Ruch is the third woman to accuse the New York Democrat of sexual harassment in the last week. And that uncomfortable smile is one that many women might identify with, even three-plus years now into the #MeToo movement. So where is that movement, and why does it seem as though some powerful men still have not learned its lessons? - a question we're going to put to Anna North, senior reporter at Vox.

Anna, welcome.

ANNA NORTH: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: What do you make of this latest twist and of the controversy now engulfing Governor Cuomo?

NORTH: I think first, you know, there's - there are a lot of political implications here. But I do, you know, just want to acknowledge that these are quite serious allegations. You know, I think all three of these now are really, you know, concerning for anyone in New York and around the country. I have been particularly struck by some of the things that Charlotte Bennett said, who came - became public a few days ago.

KELLY: And who worked with Governor Cuomo - was a professional colleague.

NORTH: That's correct. So she was an aide in his office and has said that he made a number of inappropriate comments toward her. And you know, she said she ended up leaving government, even leaving the state. So we hear these stories a lot where there's repeated harassment, repeated comments like this. And someone ends up, you know, leaving their job. And often, that person is a woman. So, you know, I do think, unfortunately, this is - the kinds of allegations that we're hearing - you know, that we heard last night and that we've been hearing for a few days are a part of a pattern that is all too familiar to too many people right now.

KELLY: Cuomo put out a statement. This was Sunday night, so after the first allegations had surfaced but before Ruch came forward with her account. The governor acknowledged saying things that - and I will quote - have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. He also said, quote, "To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry." Anna North, I suppose among the things that struck me from the statement was it's kind of a non-apology apology.

NORTH: That's true. I mean, it's in line with, you know, what we've frequently seen when powerful men face allegations like this. There's often sort of - a sort of an attempt to perhaps minimize some things, rationalize some things and attempt to seem to be apologizing without necessarily doing so. I mean, I think the other thing that's notable, obviously, is that there have been a number of calls for an investigation. And so we're going to see, you know, potentially many more details about this come out, and we can look back on it in that light when more details are known.

KELLY: We, of course, don't know how this will play out. Some people are calling for Cuomo's resignation. Many others are defending him. As you note, they're saying, we have to wait on the investigation, let that unfold. I am thinking of other men whose behavior has come under scrutiny - Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein. They suffered consequences. But there are many others who have not - Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor of Virginia who refused to resign, who is now polling really well in the race for governor in Virginia. What is your takeaway in terms of how much has changed in how we as a country, as a society, respond to these claims and allegations?

NORTH: I think that what happens with Cuomo will be a very interesting test in some ways. So obviously, he's a Democrat who is facing allegations in a post-Trump era, right? So we no longer have, you know, this foil of the president who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women. Now the Democrats are in power, and they have to figure out at a national level and also at a state level how are they going to address this. And I think how they do address it will be really telling.

At the same time, Andrew Cuomo's star was already tarnished before some of these allegations came to light. He was already facing investigation around COVID deaths in nursing homes in New York state. And really, there had been a lot of questions around his legacy and his handling of the pandemic. So to some degree, it's like this is going to be a test, but the hardest tests are yet to come. There's going to be a lot more tests.

I think Justin Fairfax is a really interesting case because that is someone who is really seen as a rising star in Virginia, someone young, you know, with a lot of a future ahead of him and someone who did face very serious allegations and yet, you know, seems to be continuing to be in the race and be doing quite well. So I think it'll be interesting to see how that plays out. And I'm interested to see what happens with the governor here in New York. But I also think some of the hardest questions for Democrats around #MeToo in the next few years are still to come.

KELLY: That is Anna North, senior reporter for Vox. Her latest book is "Outlawed."

Anna North, thank you.

NORTH: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.