Les Moonves to Exit as CBS CEO Amid New Sexual Misconduct Accusations

Moonves’ 15 years as head of CBS comes to an end amid accusations from at least a dozen women

Last Updated: September 9, 2018 @ 6:31 PM

CBS is expected to announce Monday that it has reached an agreement with longtime CEO Leslie Moonves that will see the executive step down from the company he has led for the last 15 years, CNN reported Sunday.

CNN media reporter Brian Stelter first reported the news of Moonves’ imminent departure, which is said to be part of a “global settlement” that is intended to “resolve months of litigation between Moonves and Shari Redstone.” Redstone is the controlling shareholder of CBS.

CBS spokesman Dana McClintock said he could not confirm the CNN report. TheWrap also attempted to reach a rep for Redstone’s National Amusements, Inc. and several CBS board members for comment on this story, though we did not immediately hear back. As a whole, the CBS board of directors had no comment on this story when we reached its spokesman.

Joe Ianniello, who has served as CBS’ COO since 2013, is expected to take over as interim CEO. During that period, it is expected that the CBS board will perform an external search for Moonves’ replacement as well.

Moonves’ exit comes two months after Ronan Farrow’s bombshell report in the New Yorker, in which six women accused the longtime media mogul of sexual harassment. On Sunday, a new report from Farrow in The New Yorker outlined accusations of sexual assault and harassment from six additional women.

In the first story, which was published in July, four women accused Moonves of forcibly touching or kissing them during business meetings. Two said the CBS CEO physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers.

The latest report on Sunday included allegations that Moonves forced women into unwanted sexual situations, including oral sex, and retaliated when they refused. One veteran television executive, Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, said that Moonves physically assaulted her in addition to coercing her into oral sex in the 1980s. Last year, she filed a report with the LAPD. The district attorney could not press charges due to the statute of limitations expiring.

Moonves also admitted in a story published by Vanity Fair on Sunday that he tried to kiss a doctor during a visit 19 years ago.

Dr. Anne Peters wrote about the incident in May in the Annals of Internal Medicine without naming the patient, whom she said twice “tried to force himself on me” and then “satisfied himself” in front of her after she rebuffed him. But Vanity Fair cited a source who said it was Moonves.

“The appalling allegations about my conduct toward a female physician some 20 years ago are untrue,” Moonves told Vanity Fair. “What is true, and what I deeply regret, is that I tried to kiss the doctor. Nothing more happened.”

All of the women, including actress and writer Illeana Douglas, told Farrow that they feared retaliation if they spoke out. One of the accusers, along with anti-sexual harassment coalition Time’s Up, also voiced their frustration at reports that Moonves may receive an exit package of up to $100 million, which would be mostly stock.

“This is a precedent-setting moment for CBS — and culture at large. A man accused of rigorously reported allegations of harassment should not be rewarded with a golden parachute,” Time’s Up said in a statement. “Rather than reward an alleged predator, this $100 million could fund the legal defenses of countless women and men facing workplace harassment and abuse across the country.”

On Sunday, however, CNBC reported that Moonves may leave the company “without any additional compensation.”

CBS had initially kept Moonves as CEO while hiring two law firms to investigate the accusations against Moonves as well as the larger culture within the company. The spokesman for one of those investigations confirmed to TheWrap that the investigation is ongoing.

Moonves’ exit ends a 23-year tenure with the company, which started in 1995 when he was named president of CBS Entertainment, joining from Warner Bros. He became chairman in 2003 and was named CEO in 2006, following the split of CBS and Viacom.

Unlike C-suite level executives at other media companies, Moonves was more heavily involved in the day-to-day programming decisions at CBS. During his tenure, CBS has been among the most stable broadcast networks, beating every other network among total viewers for the past 10 years (and 15 of the past 16 years), and spearheading the launch of CBS All Access, its subscription-based streaming service.

The Moonves settlement is expected to be announced along with the conclusion of an unrelated lengthy and nasty legal fight between the CBS board and National Amusements, Inc. In May, CBS filed a suit against Redstone and NAI, a family-run business that controls roughly 80 percent of the voting power in both CBS and Viacom.

CBS and Moonves argued that Redstone had shirked her duty to shareholders by pushing for a re-merger with Viacom, which CBS saw as potentially harmful to the value of the company.

Moonves and CBS also laid out a plan to issue dividends that would dilute Redstone’s control of the company altogether. A trial is set to begin on Oct. 3, though Stelter’s report of a “global settlement” between the parties may scratch that.

Tony Maglio contributed to this report.