Financial Times Won’t Retract ‘Les Moonves’ Interview He Denies Ever Happened

An editor’s note now says the article has been updated to reflect that reporters “spoke to a person who identified himself as Mr. Moonves”

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The Financial Times has declined to retract an interview that one FT publication says its reporters had with ousted CBS CEO Les Moonves last month — even though a spokesperson for the disgraced media mogul denied he ever spoke to the outlet.

The FT’s corporate governance news service Agenda made headlines with its Dec. 19 story, in which a person identified as Moonves insisted that the fight about his $120 million severance pay was “far from over” despite his firing for cause days earlier.

But the executive disputed that the interview even took place. “Mr. Moonves did not speak with reporters from Agenda in December 2018 or at any other time,” his spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the exec had asked for a retraction. “Any suggestion that he did is without any factual basis whatsoever.”

In an editor’s note added this month at the bottom of Stephanie Forshee and Jennifer Williams-Alvarez‘s story (paywalled), Agenda editors offered an explanation for the discrepancy.

“Following publication of this article, a spokesperson for Mr. Moonves issued a statement on January 8 that Mr. Moonves did not speak with reporters from Agenda in December 2018 or at any other time. Our reporters had each dialed a number obtained from a subscription public records database that purported to be Mr. Moonves’s number. The article has been revised with this footnote to reflect that the reporters spoke to a person who identified himself as Mr. Moonves, and that Mr. Moonves’s spokesperson has said that was not him.”

A rep for Financial Times noted that Agenda editors do not report to FT top editor Lionel Barber, but otherwise declined to comment for this story.

Agenda — which as a subsidiary of the Financial Times follows the company’s Editorial Code of Practice — revised the original story to acknowledge the dispute over the identity of its source.

“Reached by phone, a person who identified himself as Moonves tells Agenda that this issue is ‘far from over,’ however. [See editor’s note],” the second paragraph now reads. Additional quotes from the interview only refer to the speaker as “he.”

After the piece was published, reps for Moonves publicly disputed the piece and Vanity Fair began an investigation into its sourcing.

The new editor’s note replaces an earlier one in which the paper’s editors said they were “reviewing elements of this article which are disputed (by Les Moonves’s public relations team).”

Moonves, who exited as chairman and CEO of CBS in September following multiple accusations of sexual harassment, was fired for cause on December 17 — and the company’s board of directors at that time nixed a severance package estimated to be worth $120 million.

Since his departure, CBS has been led by interim CEO Joe Ianniello.