Twelve women accused Moonves of sexual misconduct. CBS cast his ouster as a business decision.
In the end, it might have been CBS’s business considerations — not the credible allegations of sexual misconduct from at least 12 women — that cost Les Moonves his job as the chair, president, and CEO of CBS.
Moonves, 68, exited the company on Sunday after spending more than two decades at the network. The announcement of his departure came hours after Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker published a story outlining new allegations of sexual misconduct against Moonves. Six women described scenarios in which the executive forced them to perform oral sex, exposed himself, and threatened professional retaliation if they rebuffed his advances.
But if Moonves’s departure is the direct result of Farrow’s reporting, CBS isn’t saying so. Instead, the network has cast it as one part of a wide-ranging corporate settlement intended to resolve litigation between CBS and Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of both CBS and Viacom. Redstone has been engaged in a highly publicized back-and-forth with Moonves over the future of the company for months.
The network’s announcement was all about these broader business considerations. It promises a donation to the #MeToo movement and alludes to an ongoing investigation, but it doesn’t mention the allegations against Moonves and the women who made them. The company’s announcement of his departure even contains a thank you.
What the network hasn’t done is send an outright message that Moonves’s alleged disturbing and harassing behavior is unacceptable and has no place at CBS, or apologize to the women who have accused him. Nor has the board explained how it plans to address a corporate culture in which the network’s president and one of its biggest stars, Charlie Rose, were both harassing women for decades.
(A CBS representative declined to comment, but in a statement on Sunday after Farrow’s story, the company said it “takes these allegations very seriously” and was conducting a “thorough investigation” of the matters, which is ongoing.)
“I’ve been somewhat hesitant in heralding the reasons behind this decision too much,” Angelo Carusone, president of nonprofit media watchdog Media Matters for America, told me. “I think it is for them more about addressing a business decision than it is about addressing some issues about sexual misconduct and harassment.”
Porter Bibb, a longtime media analyst based in New York, agreed: “The reason they made this settlement is that they would like this whole matter now to go away.”
The Moonves exit is part business, part #MeToo
CBS’s Sunday announcement is just as much about a bitter, public battle over the direction of the company as it is about the Moonves allegations. Redstone, a media executive at the helm of media company National Amusements and a vice chair of CBS and Viacom, has been for months engaged in a public battle with CBS and Moonves.
The daughter of Sumner Redstone, the former CBS and Viacom chair who stepped down in 2016, Shari Redstone had pushed for CBS and Viacom to merge, which Moonves resisted. In May, CBS sued the Redstone family, which is the company’s controlling shareholder, for independence. Its board, stacked with Moonves allies, voted to dilute Redstone’s voting power and thus reduce her ability to influence the company’s decisions.
As part of the deal announced Sunday, six members of CBS’s board of directors (all men) stepped down, and six new members (three men, and three women) were appointed. National Amusements pledged not to propose a merger for at least two years.
The CBS statement makes no mention of why the directors were ousted, whether it was tied to their potential inaction surrounding Moonves or corporate culture issues within CBS. Farrow’s Sunday reporting indicates that at least some of CBS’s board members had been alerted to a criminal complaint filed by one of Moonves’s accusers late last year.
All of the directors but one who stepped down had voted to dilute Redstone’s CBS voting power and were presumably Moonves allies.
It’s not clear if the directors who stepped down knew about the complaint. The CBS board has been slow to act on accusations of sexual harassment within the company.
The company is the subject of multiple class-action lawsuits from shareholders over the board’s inaction on its corporate culture issues, Bibb told me, including one filed in August relating directly to Moonves’s alleged sexual harassment.
CBS likely is reforming its board in part because of how it’s treated the allegations. But the company didn’t say so — nor did it expand on any steps it might take to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
When Rose was fired in November 2017, CBS moved much more quickly than it did with Moonves. The day after the Washington Post published the allegations, Rose was fired, and CBS reporters reached out to one of the accusers to confirm her story.
CBS News president David Rhodes said in a statement that despite the journalist’s contributions, “there is absolutely nothing more important … than ensuring a safe, professional workplace” at CBS. It was more of a public address of the matter than what CBS said in its overhaul announcement on Sunday.
Joe Ianniello, former chief operating officer of CBS who will take over for Moonves as interim CEO, used similar language in a memo to employees obtained by Deadline. He said the “core of any company is its culture” and said the company wants to make it “abundantly clear that CBS has a steadfast commitment to diversity, inclusion, and a safe and positive work environment.”
The memo does not make any direct mention of Moonves, except for to say that his departure comes at a time “when we are operating from a position of great strategic strength.”
CBS’s board was slow to take action on Moonves
Read more here: CBS gave Les Moonves a graceful exit he didn’t deserve