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Les Moonves Lost His Job And His Payout For A Reason (And It Wasn't The Sexual Misconduct)

By Tori Preston | Industry | September 13, 2018 |

By Tori Preston | Industry | September 13, 2018 |


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Good news, folks! According to a new article in The New York Times, it sounds like deposed CBS tyrant/CEO Les Moonves is unlikely to receive that $100 million payout. No, that’s not just speculation. That’s coming straight from the board of directors!

Whatever the outcome of CBS’s continuing investigations, board members said that it’s all but certain that the company will pay Mr. Moonves nothing.

In the wake of those damning allegations of sexual assault and harassment compiled by Ronan Farrow in two separate exposés for the The New Yorker, Moonves was ultimately ousted from his position at CBS. But contractually he was due a windfall payday (to the tune of $180 million) for “termination without cause” — which, OK fine, they had some cause, so the board was figuring they’d cut him a check for about half that, then hold the rest pending an investigation. So what happened?

But then the board received new incriminating details from its lawyers. And fact-checkers from The New Yorker again contacted CBS with new allegations uncovered by Mr. Farrow, including on-the-record claims from six previously unnamed victims, who were outraged by reports that Mr. Moonves might walk away with a huge payout.

Directors at this point recognized that paying Mr. Moonves anything, let alone $90 million or more, was untenable. Given Mr. Moonves’s lack of candor, board members concluded that he could be terminated for cause, although they agreed to delay a decision on any severance until the investigation was complete.

While Farrow’s reporting covers the allegations from Moonves’s accusers, the Times report is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what’s been happening at CBS over the course of this year, and specifically what happened to turn Moonves’s staunchest allies (“I don’t care if 30 more women come forward and allege this kind of stuff. Les is our leader and it wouldn’t change my opinion of him,” said one board member, producer Arnold Kopelson) against him. When a couple of members of the board first heard that Farrow was digging into allegations of misconduct against Moonves back in January, they hired an investigator to look into matters. But it all seemed to take a backseat to the war being waged to dilute Shari Redstone’s voting power and her plans to merge CBS and Viacom. It wasn’t until July that the company realized Farrow was still working on the story, and in fact would be publishing the exposé imminently. Still, Moonves was facing a split board — many of whom backed him unconditionally, while others sided with Redstone. And that split, coupled with Moonves’s continued assertion that the allegations were either false or overstated, spared him from repercussions for weeks.

The first blow was the revelation that Moonves had failed to reveal to the investigators that one accuser had filed a complaint against him with the LAPD in late 2017 (Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb) — or rather, he claimed he DID tell them, but the records showed that to be a lie. Under pressure, Moonves then revealed that he was scrambling behind the board’s backs to silence another accuser who was threatening to go public… by finding her a job at CBS. Moonves’s deception on these counts eroded the trust of his supporters, and led them to finally agree he would need to leave. And even then, Farrow managed to get out a second exposé before the board could formally announce Moonves’s departure (and their settlement with Redstone).

In the end, it was the evidence that Mr. Moonves had misled his board — even more than the allegations of abuse from multiple women — that doomed him.

Corporate America, amirite? Ultimately the allegations of a dozen or so women, spanning decades, doesn’t quite measure up to the impact of one man lying to his cronies.



Tori Preston is deputy editor of Pajiba. She rarely tweets here but she promises she reads all the submissions for the "Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything" column at [email protected].



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