CBS Chair and CEO Leslie Moonves sexually harassed and physically intimidated women at the company, six women told The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow in an an expose published Friday afternoon. The descriptions in the piece—which involve instances of unwanted kissing, physical assault, and other sexual advances—span the course of three decades.
Six Feet Under actress Illeana Douglas, along with writer Janet Jones, producer Christine Peters, and a “prominent actress who played a police officer on a long-running CBS program” who was afraid to include her name, told The New Yorker that Moonves forcibly kissed or touched them during business meetings. Two other women—Emmy-winning writer Dinah Kirgo and Kimberly, a former child star who wanted to be referred to by only her first name—recounted rebuffed unwanted advances under the pretense of a business meeting. All the women believe that Moonves used his stature in the industry to retaliate against their careers after they didn’t go along with his advances.
The expose also touches on CBS’s workplace culture of complicity: 19 current and former employees told The New Yorker that Jeff Fager, a former chairman of CBS News and current executive producer on 60 Minutes, allowed harassment within his division. “It’s top down, this culture of older men who have all this power and you are nothing,” a producer, who preferred to remain anonymous, said. 60 Minutes producer Sophie Gayter—one of the women who said CBS News’ Charlie Rose had groped her, which led to the journalist’s firing in November—and another female employee told The New Yorker they were asked by their male superiors to complete mandatory sexual harassment training for them. Additionally, there were three six-figure settlements specific to employees of 60 Minutes. The payments also required the employees to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Moonves responded with a 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,” the statement reads. “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 news comes at a turbulent time for CBS—which saw company shares drop over six percent prior to the expose being published. Along with the Moonves accusations, CBS has been caught in a legal battle between Moonves and National Amusements Inc. president Shari Redstone for control and strategic direction of the company. Additionally, Moonves—who first joined CBS Corp. in 1995—is not the only prominent figure at the corporation facing allegations of unwanted sexual advances. Rose, formerly one of CBS News’ preeminent on-screen journalistic figures, was fired from the company in November after eight woman—all subordinates on his show or potential employees—said he groped their breasts and genitals, made lewd phone calls, or walked around naked in front of them.
In a statement made before the publication of The New Yorker piece, CBS did not move to change Moonves’s status as CEO of the company, and CBS’s board voiced their “full support” for the management team while an internal review is conducted.
“All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously,” the board said in a statement. “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 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.”
Moonves becomes the latest media titan at the center of reports of sexual impropriety. As women and men in Hollywood and other industries have come forward and shared their experiences of sexual harassment and assault during the #MeToo movement, the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and others have retreated from the public view. Weinstein is facing criminal charges.