CBS has announced the hiring of two law firms that will conduct an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against CEO Les Moonves.
Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton will also probe allegations that the company culture at CBS tolerated and even promoted abusive behavior, CBS said.
Both sets of allegations were reported by The New Yorker on July 27.
Author Ronan Farrow spoke with six women who accused Moonves of sexual misconduct or sexual assault, with the time of the alleged instances spanning from the 1980s to the 2000s.
Actress and writer Illeana Douglas said that in 1997 Moonves arranged a one-on-one meeting with her while she was under a contract that paid her $300,000 to only appear on CBS shows.
The meeting turned out to be planned for Moonves to make unwanted advances on her, Douglas alleged, saying that he was “violently kissing” her and pinning her arms above her head.
“What it feels like to have someone hold you down—you can’t breathe, you can’t move,” she said. “The physicality of it was horrendous.”
She said she made flattering jokes to disarm him and get away, but not long after that, she said Moonves arranged to have her fired.
CBS acknowledged in a statement that Moonves acknowledges trying to kiss Douglas, but “denies any characterization of ‘sexual assault,’ intimidation, or retaliatory action,” according to The New Yorker. A lawyer for Douglas, considering a lawsuit, called CBS and was able to secure a settlement.
Another woman, writer Janet Jones, alleged that Moonves kissed her at a work meeting, necessitating her to shove him away.
Thirty current and former CBS employees also asserted that the culture at the company tolerated harassment, gender discrimination, or retaliation at different parts of the company, including “60 Minutes.”
CBS and Moonves Respond
CBS said that Moonves would not step down as CEO.
“Mr. Moonves will have no role in the investigation and is entirely recused from it,” the CBS Corporation Board said in a statement. “The Board took no further action at this meeting pending discussion with counsel as to appropriate next steps.”
Moonves, 68, said that he recognized he’d made some women uncomfortable but denied any misconduct.
“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,” he told The New Yorker.
“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.”
Moonves’s wife, Julie Chen, who also works for CBS, said in a statement that she supports her husband.
“Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted husband, and inspiring corporate leader,” she said.
“He has always been a kind, decent, and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”
How Farrow Got the Story
Farrow said he was approached by Douglas after he published the first of his series of stories about Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused by dozens of women of sexual assault, rape, and misconduct and has been charged with sexually assaulting three women.
“She did an incredibly brave thing by getting the ball rolling on this. From there, it was a process of a lot of painstaking searching in dark corners where people had buried these stories,” Farrow told Variety.
Farrow noted that Moonves has been a public defender of the #MeToo movement, which followed the fall of Weinstein.
“A sexual assault, and then I was fired.” 6 women accuse Les Moonves, CBS chief and titan of television, of sexual misconduct and retaliation—and dozens more describe a culture of impunity across his company. My 8 month @newyorker investigation: https://t.co/QjBFXY3870
— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) July 27, 2018
He also said he didn’t know if there were more stories but felt obligated to look into it.
“I never go into a reporting role with a preconception about what I’m going to find. I think Illeana had a sense, as many of these women did, that there was something practiced in what they witnessed,” he said.
“As it became clear this was a pattern, many of them felt there was an obligation on their part to try to speak to protect the next women who came along and walked into CBS. They felt this was not just about Mr. Moonves but a culture of impunity around Mr. Moonves.”