WEEK IN WOMEN: Sexual Misconduct Allegations at CBS, Les Moonves is Out

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CBS announced Sunday that Les Moonves is out as chairman, president and chief executive officer of the network amid more allegations of sexual misconduct.

The news broke just hours after the New Yorker published another stomach-turning expose by investigative reporter Ronan Farrow in which six additional women accused Moonves of sexual harassment or assault in incidents that took place between the 1980s and the early 2000s. They include claims that Moonves forced them to perform oral sex on him, that he exposed himself to them without their consent, that he used physical violence or intimidation against them and that he retaliated and damaged their careers if they tried to turn away his unwanted advances.

Sunday’s New Yorker story followed its initial report published in July in which Farrow reported the allegations of six women, including actress and writer Illeana Douglas, who had professional dealings with him and told the journalist that, between the 1980s and the late 2000s, Moonves sexually harassed them.

Moonves and CBS will donate $20 million to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace, according to a news release from CBS.

The donation, which will be made immediately, has been deducted from any severance benefits that may be due Moonves following the CBS Board of Directors’ ongoing independent investigation led by Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton. According to the news release, Moonves will not receive any severance benefits at this time, other than certain fully accrued and vested compensation and benefits, and any payments to be made in the future will depend upon the results of the independent investigation and subsequent Board evaluation.

Reports of a potential $100 million-plus severance package for Moonves has generated criticism from advocacy groups, including Time’s Up. Some of the women who leveled allegations against Moonves in the New Yorker’s Sunday story expressed frustration and outrage over the idea of Moonves getting a hefty severance.

a tweet, Time’s Up called the announced $20 million donation “a first step … but far from a solution.”

“A $20 million donation is a first step in acknowledging that you have a problem, @CBS. But it is far from a solution. You have $180 million set aside to pay Moonves. Use that money instead to help women. Cleansing the company of this toxic culture demands real systemic change,” the tweet read.

Chief Operating Officer Joseph Ianniello will serve as CBS’ president and acting CEO, which the board conducts a search for a permanent successor. Ianniello, who joined the company in 2005, has been COO of CBS since June 2013. The chairman position will remain open pending the appointment of a permanent CEO, according to the news release.

Moonves’ departure, which is effectively immediately, is concurrent with the settlement of a legal battle that broke out in May between CBS and National Amusements Inc. over control of the company, according to Variety.

Under the terms of the settlement, which have been approved by the Boards of Directors of CBS and National Amusements, the parties agreed to dismiss their pending litigation in Delaware, according to the CBS news release. In addition, National Amusements confirmed that it has no plans to propose a merger of CBS and Viacom and has agreed that it will make no such proposal for at least two years after the date of the settlement.

“CBS is an organization of talented and dedicated people who have created one of the most successful media companies in the world,” said Shari Redstone, CBS vice chair and president of National Amusements, in a statement.

“Today’s resolution will benefit all shareholders, allowing us to focus on the business of running CBS – and transforming it for the future. We are confident in Joe’s ability to serve as acting CEO and delighted to welcome our new directors, who bring valuable and diverse expertise and a strong commitment to corporate governance.”

As part of the shakeup, five current independent directors and one National Amusements-affiliated director have stepped down from the CBS board, and six new independent directors have been elected. The six new independent board members are Candace Beinecke, Barbara Byrne, Brian Goldner, Richard D. Parsons, Susan Schuman and Strauss Zelnick. The following independent directors will remain on the board: Bruce Gordon, William Cohen, Gary Countryman, Linda Griego and Martha Minow. On behalf of National Amusements, in addition to Redstone, Robert Klieger remains on the board, according to the news release.

According to CNN Money>, Moonves, who had been with CBS since 1995, is the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to leave his job amid harassment allegations in the year since two investigations of Harvey Weinstein (one of them by Farrow) jump-started the #MeToo Movement.

In a statement issued Sunday evening, Moonves said he was “deeply saddened to be leaving the company.” According to Variety, Moonves has maintained that some of the encounters recounted in Sunday’s New Yorker story were consensual. Here is Moonves’ full statement, via Variety:

“For the past 24 years it has been an incredible privilege to lead CBS’s renaissance and transformation into a leading global media company. The best part of this journey has been working alongside the dedicated and talented people in this company. Together, we built CBS into a destination where the best in the business come to work and succeed.

Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am.  Effective immediately I will no longer be Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBS.

I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of directors and all of its employees.”

But Moonves might not be the only high-ranking CBS executive on the way out. Farrow’s Sunday story in the New York includes a new claim of misconduct against Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” who previously reported to Moonves as the chairman of CBS News. Sarah Johansen, a producer who was an intern at CBS in the 2000s, told Farrow that Fager groped her at a work party.

Last month, Farrow noted, six former employees said Fager had touched employees at company parties in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. Others said that Fager protected men accused of misconduct, including men who reported to him. CBS announced then that Fager would remain in his current position until an investigation by an outside law firm was completed.

-BAM

 

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