Les Moonves Should Have Kept His Mouth Shut, And Other Key Takeaways From The Shake-Up At CBS
Well, it’s been coming for awhile but now it’s official: Les Moonves is out as chairman/CEO of CBS Corporation. The announcement came just hours after a second exposé by Ronan Farrow, published by The New Yorker, revealed additional allegations of sexual assault and harassment from six new women. Additionally, the rumored $100 million exit package Moonves is set to receive is being withheld pending the results of an “independent investigation” into the allegations, and CBS will be donating $20 million to “one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace” (which will be deducted from any severance package the Board of Directors approves for Moonves).
While this is a huge step forward in the story that has been developing since Farrow’s first bombshell report landed several weeks ago, it’s by no means the end. In fact, this isn’t even a story that’s just about Les Moonves! The upset at CBS is about toxic corporate culture, and hypocrisy, and digging a deeper hole for yourself with your own words — and there are a lot of moving parts aside from the ousting of one man. Here, then, are a few key points to keep in mind:
The Other Shake-Up At CBS
The announcement of Moonves’s departure was only one part of a larger announcement, regarding the settlement of a lawsuit between CBS and National Amusements, Inc. and the restructuring of the Board of Directors. NAI, which is run by Shari Redstone and owns a controlling interest in both Viacom and CBS, reportedly has been interested in pursuing a merger between the two companies — a move that Moonves and his supporters on the Board have been fighting against, to the point where they were pursuing legal action to dilute NAI’s voting interest in CBS. As part of this settlement, NAI has confirmed that it will not pursue a merger for at least two years, and the Board has been restructurd with six positions changing hands. And this is in addition to the Redstone family drama that’s been unfolding behind the scenes between Shari and her father Sumner (which Vanity Fair has recently covered).
It’s also worth pointing out that the timing of the announcement was hardly coincidental. CBS had to know The New Yorker would be running this damning follow-up, and took action to protect itself. The ousting of Moonves may be a well-deserved reckoning, but it’s also just one part of a larger corporate battle — one that has nothing to do with sexual harassment in the workplace.
About That “Independent Investigation”…
In the not-at-all-unusual trend of hiring investigation firms that aren’t as independent as one might expect (see: Loeb & Loeb, hired by AMC to investigate the claims against Chris Hardwick despite having ties to Hardwick’s in-laws, the Hearst family), CBS has apparently appointed third-party law firms to investigate the claims against Moonves. Here’s what insiders are saying about them, according to Farrow:
The board appointed two law firms, Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton, to investigate the allegations against Moonves. A number of individuals whom the firms have asked to interview said that they were concerned about the independence of the two firms, given the large amount of legal work they do for CBS. “If you knew how much money these firms were making from the mergers and acquisitions and the business side of CBS, there’s no way you’d think they’re impartial,” one former executive who occupied senior positions on the CBS and Viacom legal teams told me. (Representatives for both law firms declined to comment.)
Though Moonves may be out, his severance package is still up in the air. And if he isn’t paid, there is every chance he could take CBS to court (I’d imagine). The question is, what is the best outcome for CBS — and do they have the sway to influence the “investigation” they’re paying for in the first place. Considering the difficulty of investigating allegations that happened behind closed doors between two people over a decade ago, and the fact that the details of the investigation don’t need to be made public… well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be shocked if Moonves gets his payday after all.
Moonves Brought This On Himself
If you read Farrow’s latest article, you might notice a funny thread connecting several of women who came forward for the follow-up report: they were inspired because of the statement Moonves released in response to the first exposé (which was included in that article). He said (emphasis mine):
“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. 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.”
His claim that he has always respected the idea of “no means no” was specifically cited by several of the women as the thing that made them want to speak up with their own allegations.
Deborah Morris, a former junior executive who worked with Moonves at Lorimar and saw her career suffer after she spurned his advances:
Morris said that Moonves’s response to last month’s allegations of sexual abuse, proclaiming his commitment to the principle of “no means no,” had frustrated her. She had told Moonves no numerous times, but said he continued his advances. “His statement was incredible. Absolutely incredible. It made me sick,” she told me. “He’s cunning. He’s calculating. And he’s a predator.”
Deborah Kitay, a former massage therapist who claims she was repeatedly harassed by Moonves when he was a client:
Years later, she was convicted of a count of wire fraud for participating in a deceptive real-estate scheme. Knowing that her criminal history might be publicized, Kitay only stepped forward when she heard about Moonves’s statements regarding consent. “It was a weekly thing,” she said of Moonves’s alleged sexual advances. “And I said no every time.”
But even the alleged victims who didn’t cite his statement showed Moonves’s words to be hollow. So many of them saw their careers impacted by his actions — either directly, or because they chose to leave their fields after being disillusioned by their experience with him.
Don’t Forget Jeff Fager
Both of Farrow’s reports include allegations against Jeff Fager, an executive producer at CBS News’s 60 Minutes. He has a reputation for getting handsy at company parties, in addition to protecting other men who have been accused of misconduct at CBS News. He is now being investigated, though he still holds his position — a reminder that the toxic culture at CBS didn’t solely reside in the CEO’s office, and won’t be resolved by Moonves’s exit.
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