Six women accused CBS chief Les Moonves of sexual harassment in a New Yorker story published Friday.
Four women accused the CEO of forcible touching or kissing them during business meetings, and two said the media exec physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers. All six women, including actress and writer Illeana Douglas and writer Janet Jones, said they feared retaliation if they spoke out, said the story, written by Ronan Farrow.
“What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating,” Douglas told Farrow. “He has gotten away with it for decades,” Jones said in the story. “And it’s just not O.K.”
The story states that thirty current and former employees of CBS told Farrow “that such behavior extended from Moonves to important parts of the corporation, including CBS News and ’60 Minutes.’” Farrow reports that nineteen current and former employees said Jeff Fager, the former chairman of CBS News and the current executive producer of “60 Minutes,” allowed harassment within the network’s news arm.
“Throughout my time at CBS, we have promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees, and have consistently found success elevating women to top executive positions across our company,” Moonves said in a statement provided to TheWrap, first published in the New Yorker story.
“I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely. But I always understood and respected — and abided by the principle — that ‘no’ means ‘no,’ and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career. This is a time when we all are appropriately focused on how we help improve our society, and we at CBS are committed to being part of the solution.”
According to Farrow’s story, CBS says there have been no misconduct claims and no settlements made against Moonves during his twenty-four years at the network.
The New Yorker story also included this response from CBS, provided to TheWrap after publication:
“CBS is very mindful of all workplace issues and takes each report of misconduct very seriously. We do not believe, however, that the picture of our company created in The New Yorker represents a larger organization that does its best to treat its tens of thousands of employees with dignity and respect. We are seeing vigorous discourse in our country about equality, inclusion, and safety in the workplace, and CBS is committed to being part of the solution to those important issues.”
Earlier Friday, the network said it was opening an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct, in anticipation of the New Yorker piece, though it was not made clear who was under review.
“All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously. The Independent Directors of CBS have committed to investigating claims that violate the Company’s clear policies in that regard,” the statement said. “Upon the conclusion of that investigation, which involves recently reported allegations that go back several decades, the Board will promptly review the findings and take appropriate action.”
The statement continued: “The timing of this report comes in the midst of the Company’s very public legal dispute. While that litigation process continues, the CBS management team has the full support of the independent board members. Along with that team, we will continue to focus on creating value for our shareowners.”
Moonves has led CBS into a battle against Shari Redstone for control of the company. CBS sued Redstone, who owns a controlling 80 percent stake in CBS and Viacom, in May in an attempt to dilute the power Redstone wields over CBS through her family company National Amusements.
Redstone, for a while, had been trying to convince Moonves and CBS to merge with sister company Viacom. The two sides are expected to meet at a hearing over the dispute in October.
Farrow addressed CBS’ point about the “timing” of his report within the New Yorker story, writing: “All of the women making allegations against Moonves began speaking to me before the current lawsuits, in independent interviews carried out during the past eight months. All said that they were not motivated by any allegiance in the corporate battle. But several felt that this was an opportunity to examine a workplace culture that many of the women in this story described as toxic.”
Hours before the story was published, Redstone denied the “malicious insinuation” that she is “somehow behind” the accusations of misconduct against Moonves, just after shares of CBS Corp. stock fell nearly 7 percent during intraday trade on Friday.
“The malicious insinuation that Ms. Redstone is somehow behind the allegations of inappropriate personal behavior by Mr. Moonves or today’s reports is false and self-serving,” a representative for the vice-chairwoman of CBS and Viacom, said in a statement to TheWrap. “Ms. Redstone hopes that the investigation of these allegations is thorough, open and transparent.”
The New Yorker and Farrow rocked the entertainment industry last fall after several women accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. The report, alongside a similar New York Times article just days before, set off a widespread reckoning against sexual misconduct in the workplace, and propelled the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Weinstein was hit with three sexual assault charges in New York earlier this month.