Leslie Moonves, the chairman of the board, president, and CEO of CBS, has been accused of sexual misconduct by six women.
The New Yorker published an investigative report Friday by Ronan Farrow — who won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his reporting on sexual assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — alleging that Moonves acted inappropriately between the 1980s and the late aughts. Four women described forcible touching or kissing during business meetings, and two accused Moonves of physical intimidation and said he threatened to derail their careers if his advances weren’t reciprocated.
“What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating,” actress and writer Illeana Douglas tells Farrow.
In the article, 30 current and former CBS employees detail to Farrow a negative workplace culture, with men accused of sexual misconduct getting promoted while the company settled complaints with women. It’s unclear what, if anything, Moonves had anything to do with these alleged instances.
Moonves released the following statement: “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.”
The lengthy piece in the New Yorker thoroughly details the claims brought by the six women.
Douglas alleges Moonves made unwanted, physical advances toward her when they were discussing her pilot, Queens, in 1997. “He interrupts me to ask me am I single,” Douglas, who was Martin Scorsese’s longtime partner, recalls. Moonves allegedly asked to kiss her, saying, “It’ll just be between you and me. Come on, you’re not some nubile virgin.” Before she could answer, he supposedly grabbed her.
“In a millisecond, he’s got one arm over me, pinning me,” she tells Farrow, claiming Moonves began “violently kissing” her, holding her down on the couch with her arms above her head. “What it feels like to have someone hold you down — you can’t breathe, you can’t move,” she recalled. “The physicality of it was horrendous.”
Douglas was ultimately fired from the pilot, which she believes was retribution for denying his advances. In a statement, CBS said that Moonves acknowledges trying to kiss Douglas, but that “he denies any characterization of ‘sexual assault,’ intimidation, or retaliatory action,” including berating her on set and personally firing her from Queens.
Later Friday, Douglas released a statement. “Real change will occur when victims of sexual assaults are not stigmatized as whistle blowers, or people with some kind of agenda for coming forward. Real change will occur when opportunities to work at companies where assaults have occurred are no longer condoned,” she said. “Speaking for myself, real change will occur when I can walk through the front doors of CBS and resume the creative and working relationship that was so tragically cut short in 1997.”
Farrow’s interviews with the other five women offered similar accounts.
In 1985, writer Janet Jones alleges he “threw himself” on top of her during her first pitch meeting and when she didn’t reciprocate, he threatened her career. (CBS said that Moonves has no recollection of this interaction.) Producer Christine Peters and a prominent actress, who wished not to be named for fear of reprisal, both described situations of forcible touching and when they denied Moonves, they believe they missed out on career opportunities. The incidents supposedly occurred in 2006 and 1995, respectively. Writer Dinah Kirgo and a child star referred to only as “Kimberly” both claim they, too, turned down propositions and in doing so, missed out on business opportunities. Moonves either denies or has no recollection of any of these women’s claims.
According to CBS, there have been no misconduct claims or settlements against Moonves during his 24 years at the network. However, the company announced earlier today that it is looking into the accusations.
“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. 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 network said in a statement.
CBS added: “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.”
The “very public legal dispute” mentioned in the statement refers to the litigation between Moonves and Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder in both CBS and Viacom. The two have been fighting for control of the company, with CBS and Moonves blocking Redstone from merging the companies. Some within CBS believe that Redstone might have contributed information for the article, according to the Los Angeles Times, a claim she vehemently denies.
Moonves, 68, has been married to CBS television personality and The Talk co-host Julie Chen, 48, since 2004. Chen posted a statement on Twitter standing by her husband.
CBS shares dropped more than 5 percent Friday ahead of the article, clearly showing how much Wall Street values Moonves, whose future is uncertain.
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