said it would investigate allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Executive
putting him on the hot seat at the same time he is locked in a legal battle with the media company’s controlling shareholder.
The accusations surfaced in a New Yorker article published Friday. It reported that six women who had professional dealings with Mr. Moonves between the 1980s and late 2000s claimed he sexually harassed them.
One actress and writer,
alleged that Mr. Moonves sexually assaulted her in a 1997 meeting at his office, holding her down on a couch and violently kissing her. The article also cited accusations that Mr. Moonves made advances in business settings, including unwanted touching.
The article painted a picture of systemic harassment problems at CBS and a culture up to the top that tolerates it.
The company in a statement said it takes “each report of misconduct very seriously. 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.” CBS shares fell by more than 6% Friday.
Mr. Moonves said in a statement that he recognized “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.”
In a statement Friday night, Ms. Douglas said “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.”
A group of CBS directors said that after the investigation concludes, the board will “promptly review the findings and take appropriate action.”
The investigation comes at a sensitive time for CBS, which is engaged in a legal battle with National Amusements Inc., a holding company that has nearly 80% voting stakes in CBS and
National Amusements President
has pushed to merge them despite resistance from Mr. Moonves and his management team.
CBS said in a statement that the “timing of this report comes in the midst of the Company’s very public legal dispute.”
A spokeswoman for Ms. Redstone, who is vice chairman of CBS, said in a statement that “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. Ms. Redstone hopes that the investigation of these allegations is thorough, open and transparent.”
CBS directors earlier this year moved to issue a dividend that would reduce National Amusements’ voting power to under 20%, but National Amusements took steps to block the measure by changing the company’s bylaws to require approval of a supermajority of directors in such situations. The fight is playing out in a Delaware court and is expected to go to trial this fall.
Rumors that Mr. Moonves was about to become the latest media figure felled by allegations of sexual misconduct began circulating last winter. Ms. Redstone began raising the issue of the rumors with CBS board members in December, but received no indication that any action was taken, according to people familiar with the matter. “That speaks to whether the board was providing proper oversight,” said one person familiar with her thinking, echoing charges that she has made in legal filings in the court battle with CBS.
CBS’s board is looking to hire a law firm to conduct the probe, another person familiar with the situation said.
Friday’s New Yorker story, which was written by
also accuses CBS News executive
of inappropriate behavior and of turning a blind eye toward accusations of harassment within the division. Mr. Fager oversees the news magazine “60 Minutes” and was a former chairman of CBS News.
Specifically, the New Yorker said Mr. Fager had a reputation for “getting really handsy,” according to one former “60 Minutes” producer quoted in the story. The story also said Mr. Fager protected other men who had been accused of misconduct.
Mr. Fager denied the allegations to the New Yorker. Asked for comment, CBS News referred to Mr. Fager’s denials in the story.
CBS on Friday said it previously retained attorney
of Proskauer Rose LLP to conduct an independent investigation of alleged misconduct at CBS News. It said the probe was continuing and included investigating allegations in the New Yorker story.
a producer who described to the New Yorker a meeting in which Mr. Moonves put his hand up her skirt, said she decided to come forward to help other professional women. CBS told the New Yorker that Mr. Moonves denies any inappropriate touching or conduct during the meeting.
“I wanted to say, look, it’s not only just actresses. It’s women in the corporate world that have to deal with this,” Ms. Peters said in an interview.
Mr. Moonves, who has been CEO since 2006, has been lauded for his savvy in the entertainment industry and on Wall Street. During his tenure, CBS has typically been the most-watched broadcaster in the industry, even as it has battled viewership erosion like most TV networks. He has slimmed down the company over the past few years to focus more on content production and distribution, shedding the CBS radio and billboard units.
Mr. Moonves began his show-business career as an actor before transitioning into production. He rose to the top of Warner Bros. Television; shows developed on his watch there included “Friends” and “ER.”
CBS hired Mr. Moonves in 1995 turn around its struggling prime-time lineup and he climbed the ranks. Mr. Moonves is known for being very involved in programming and casting decisions at the network and its pay-TV channel Showtime.
Mr. Moonves has been married to CBS on-air personality
Mr. Moonves is the second high-profile CBS personality to face accusations of inappropriate conduct.
was fired as an anchor on “CBS This Morning” last year after allegations surfaced in Washington Post articles that he made inappropriate advances toward women who worked for him.
Mr. Rose said on Twitter after the Post reports that he behaved “insensitively at times,” but also said he didn’t believe all the allegations were accurate. An attorney for Mr. Rose called the accusations in the lawsuit meritless.