An investigation published Friday afternoon by The New Yorker claims that the CEO of CBS Corporation, Leslie Moonves, engaged in several instances of sexual misconduct. It also describes a culture in the news division that tolerated abusive behavior.
The story by Ronan Farrow cites six women with allegations against Moonves that date from the 1980s to the 2000s.
In one case, in 1997, the actress and writer Illeana Douglas told Farrow that Moonves assaulted her during a business meeting.
“In a millisecond, he’s got one arm over me, pinning me,” Douglas said. “What it feels like to have someone hold you down – you can’t breathe, you can’t move,” she said. Douglas told Farrow that Moonves was “violently kissing” her, and then, “aroused, pulled up her skirt and began to thrust against her.”
Douglas ultimately got away, but Douglas told Farrow that she lost her agent and future work with CBS as a result of the incident.
In a statement to The New Yorker, CBS said that Moonves acknowledges trying to kiss Douglas, but that “he denies any characterization of ‘sexual assault,’ intimidation, or retaliatory action.”
In another case, in 1985, the writer Janet Jones also described Moonves trying to kiss her during a business meeting at his office.
“He came around the corner of the table and threw himself on top of me. It was very fast,” Jones told Farrow. She said she pushed Moonves away and when she tried to leave, found his office door locked. She told Farrow she recalled Moonves unlocking the door from his desk or a nearby bureau, and said his assistant had left.
She told Farrow: “I just thought, Oh, my God. This wasn’t like a little momentary boo-boo. It was this well-thought-out thing.”
Jones told Farrow that Moonves later called her and threatened her career, saying “‘I’m warning you. I will ruin your career. You will never get a writing job. No one will hire you. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?'”
In a statement to The New Yorker, CBS said that Moonves has no recollection of the interactions with Jones.
Farrow spoke to four other women who described sexual misconduct by Moonves. Two described forcible kissing or touching, and two claimed they received unwanted advances.
In a statement to The New Yorker, 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 Corporation is the parent company of CBS News.
In a statement before The New Yorker story was published, CBS Corporation’s Independent Directors said they would investigate the claims. “All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously,” said the 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.”
Moonves’ wife, Julie Chen, who is also the host of the CBS show “Big Brother” and co-host of “The Talk,” issued a statement on Twitter supporting her husband: “Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”
Moonves, 68, joined the former CBS Corporation in 1995 as President of CBS Entertainment. He has been president and CEO of CBS Corporation since 2006.
Farrow also spoke to 30 current and former CBS employees who described a culture that tolerated harassment, gender discrimination, or retaliation. Reported instances touch on major divisions, including “CBS Evening News” and “60 Minutes.”
Farrow reported that Jeff Fager, Executive Producer of “60 Minutes,” protected men accused of misconduct, including men who reported to him. One former female senior producer told Farrow that Fager promoted another senior producer who had been physically abusive toward her and advised her to not go to human resources with her concerns. She also claims that Fager told her to apologize the other producer to “mitigate conflict in the office.”
Six former employees told Farrow that Fager would touch employees in ways that made them uncomfortable at company parties, and in one instance made a drunken advance toward one junior staffer.
In a statement to The New Yorker, Fager said, “It is wrong that our culture can be falsely defined by a few people with an axe to grind who are using an important movement as a weapon to get even, and not by the hundreds of women and men that have thrived, both personally and professionally, at ’60 Minutes.'” Fager went on to call the accusations “false, anonymous, and do not hold up to editorial scrutiny.”
Last year, CBS fired Charlie Rose as co-anchor of “CBS This Morning” after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct were detailed in an investigation by The Washington Post. Subsequent reporting raised questions about the response to those allegations by managers at CBS.
The story comes at a time when CBS is in a legal battle with Viacom. The two companies merged in 1999 and split up just a few years later, in 2005. Shari Redstone is a major shareholder in both media companies, and has been seeking to combine them again.
CBS owns the CBS TV network, cable network Showtime and the publisher Simon & Schuster. Viacom controls several major cable networks, including Comedy Central, MTV and BET, and movie studio Paramount.
Moonves has fought the merger.
The statement from the Independent Directors acknowledged the dispute. “The timing of this report comes in the midst of the Company’s very public legal dispute,” the statement from the directors said. “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.”
Shari Redstone issued a statement supporting an investigation into the allegations against Moonves and countering any claims that she played a role in the report: “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.”