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Saturday, 28 July 2018

Les Moonves, CBS Chief, Faces Inquiry Over Misconduct Allegations

Les Moonves, CBS Chief, Faces Inquiry Over Misconduct Allegations

Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of the CBS Corporation and one of the most powerful people in the media business, is facing an investigation after a report published on Friday revealed allegations of sexual harassment made against him by six women.

The CBS board of directors said in a statement Friday that it would investigate any allegations of misconduct, and that the claims, detailed in an investigative article in The New Yorker, would “be taken seriously.”

“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 statement said. The board plans to hire a law firm to conduct the review before it takes any action, the company said.

CBS shares fell by more than 6 percent Friday when news of the impending New Yorker article was reported.

The article, written by the investigative journalist Ronan Farrow, describes sexual harassment alleged by six women in the entertainment business against Mr. Moonves. It links the accusations to a broader culture of sexual harassment at CBS, with a special focus on CBS News.

Four women spoke to Mr. Farrow on the record, including the film and television actress Illeana Douglas. Ms. Douglas described a meeting with Mr. Moonves in 1997 during which, she said, he was “violently kissing” her while holding her down. “The physicality of it was horrendous,” she told The New Yorker.

Mr. Moonves, 68, began his career as an actor before recasting himself as a Hollywood producer and, later, as a network executive. Under his watch, CBS went from last place in the ratings to the most-watched television network, with hits like “The Big Bang Theory,” “Survivor” and “Young Sheldon.”

Mr. Moonves, who became the president of CBS Entertainment in 1995 and the chief executive of the company in 2006, draws an annual pay package of $69.3 million. But his role as company head has been in jeopardy because of his part in a continuing legal battle against CBS’s parent company, National Amusements.

In addition to Ms. Douglas, the women who made on-the-record accusations were the writer Janet Jones and the producers Christine Peters and Julie Kirgo. All of the women said Mr. Moonves had insisted on sexual favors and retaliated against them when they turned him down. The earliest allegations in the article date to the mid-1980s, and the most recent to 2006.


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In a statement that CBS had earlier shared with The New Yorker, Mr. Moonves said: “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.”

CBS, in a separate statement, said it “is very mindful of all workplace issues and takes each report of misconduct very seriously.”

It added, “We do not believe, however, that the picture of our company created in The New Yorker represents a larger organization that does its best to treat its tens of thousands of employees with dignity and respect.”

Mr. Moonves is married to Julie Chen, who has hosted several CBS shows. “I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement,” she said on Twitter.

Mr. Moonves is separately embroiled in a legal dispute with Shari Redstone, the head of National Amusements. Mr. Moonves and the CBS board have sued Ms. Redstone in an attempt to prevent the parent company from trying to merge the network with Viacom, which is also in the corporate family. The lawsuit will play out in court in October.

After the CBS board noted the timing of the New Yorker article relative to the legal dispute as part of its statement, Ms. Redstone denied that she had anything to do with Mr. Farrow’s work.

“The malicious insinuation that Ms. Redstone is somehow behind the allegations of inappropriate personal behavior by Mr. Moonves or today’s reports is false and self-serving,” a statement from her representative said. “Ms. Redstone hopes that the investigation of these allegations is thorough, open and transparent.”

CBS, for years the No. 1 broadcast network, has been one of the best-performing businesses in the media industry. Its success has largely been attributed to Mr. Moonves, who has been praised for his ability to select hit shows. He moves comfortably among Wall Street investors and Hollywood producers, speaking as easily about negotiating carriage fees as he does programming for prime-time audiences.

Two months ago, during the network’s rollout of its fall lineup before an audience of advertisers, Mr. Moonves stood on the stage of Carnegie Hall, basking in applause. Those in the crowd were under the impression that they might have been seeing the network’s leader for the last time, because of his battle against Ms. Redstone.

As technology giants like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Facebook have pushed into entertainment, media businesses have responded by bulking up through acquisitions. This year, Ms. Redstone asked the boards of CBS and Viacom to explore the possibility of a merger.

Mr. Moonves and the majority of the CBS board, however, concluded that a combination would not benefit CBS’s shareholders. The company has a far more robust business, while revenues at Viacom, which includes the cable networks Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central, have been shrinking over the last few years.

In May, CBS and Mr. Moonves lost one of the early rounds of the dispute when a judge ruled against CBS’s effort to reduce Ms. Redstone’s influence over the network. She, through her family company, controls nearly 80 percent of the company’s voting rights.

Issues over those rights and the leadership of CBS will be decided in the court case this year. That lawsuit had already put Mr. Moonves’s storied career at stake; if he loses, he may end up leaving the company.

The New Yorker piece also outlines allegations of sexual harassment by several women against a number of CBS News executives, including Jeffrey Fager, the former head of the news division and the current producer of “60 Minutes.” The story said CBS News executives were still promoted even after allegations of misconduct. The division had paid settlements to some of these women, the article said.

In November, CBS fired the anchor Charlie Rose after The Washington Post published an article in which multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. Mr. Rose had been a host of the CBS morning show since 2012. He joined the network’s “60 Minutes II” as a correspondent in 1999. After that show was canceled, he joined “60 Minutes” in 2008. (PBS also cut its longtime ties with Mr. Rose.)

Three of the women who made the accusations against Mr. Rose have since sued him and CBS, saying that they were sexually harassed while working for him and that the network did not do anything to stop it. CBS has said it was not aware of any allegations regarding Mr. Rose’s behavior until The Post published its article.

At the time, Mr. Rose expressed “embarrassment” for pursuing what he believed to be “shared feelings” with women who had accused him.

CBS News has retained law firm Proskauer Rose to conduct a separate investigation into claims of misconduct and said in a statement that “anyone raising a complaint is assured that he or she will be protected from retaliation.”

CBS News said that its investigation was continuing and that it was examining allegations made in the New Yorker article.

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