Taking Back Our Stolen History
Les Moonves, Chairman and CEO of CBS, Resigns Following Allegations of Sexual Assault
Les Moonves, Chairman and CEO of CBS, Resigns Following Allegations of Sexual Assault

Les Moonves, Chairman and CEO of CBS, Resigns Following Allegations of Sexual Assault

Facing multiple sexual misconduct allegations and fearing his career as an entertainment titan was over, Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, destroyed evidence and misled investigators in an attempt to preserve his reputation and save a lucrative severance deal, according to a draft of a report prepared for the company’s board.

The report, by lawyers hired by the network, says the company has justification to deny Mr. Moonves his $120 million severance. Mr. Moonves reigned as one of Hollywood’s most successful and celebrated executives for decades before being forced to step down in September after allegations by numerous women.

The report, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times, says Mr. Moonves “engaged in multiple acts of serious nonconsensual sexual misconduct in and outside of the workplace, both before and after he came to CBS in 1995.” The report includes previously undisclosed allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

The lawyers who conducted the inquiry wrote that they had spoken with Mr. Moonves four times and found him to be “evasive and untruthful at times and to have deliberately lied about and minimized the extent of his sexual misconduct.”

[Here are four takeaways from the report.]

Mr. Moonves shaped the television landscape for more than 30 years. Even before his CBS tenure, he had an outsize role in producing shows like the 1980s sitcom “Full House” and the 1990s megahits “ER” and “Friends.” At CBS, he turned around a moribund network with audience-friendly smashes like “Survivor,” the police procedural “C.S.I.” and its multiple spinoffs, and sitcoms like “How I Met Your Mother” and “Big Bang Theory.” For the past decade, CBS has been the most-watched network.

But in September, Mr. Moonves’s run at the network ended in ignominious fashion when he negotiated his exit shortly after 12 women told The New Yorker that he had sexually harassed or assaulted them. Since then, the possibility that he could still receive his lucrative exit package has infuriated many people.

CBS’s board hired two law firms, Debevoise & Plimpton and Covington & Burling, to conduct an independent investigation to determine, in part, if Mr. Moonves violated the terms of his employment agreement. That would allow the company to fire him for cause and withhold his severance.

“Based on the facts developed to date, we believe that the board would have multiple bases upon which to conclude that the company was entitled to terminate Moonves for cause,” the report says.

Andrew J. Levander, Mr. Moonves’s lawyer, said Mr. Moonves “denies having any nonconsensual sexual relation” and “cooperated extensively and fully with investigators.”

As part of their investigation, the lawyers wrote that they had interviewed 11 of the 17 women who they knew had accused Mr. Moonves of misconduct or harassment and found their accounts to be credible. Most of the alleged incidents occurred many years ago.

Investigators are expected to present the 59-page report to CBS’s board ahead of the company’s annual meeting next week. The copy viewed by The Times was drafted in late November and could be adjusted before it is presented to the full board.

“No findings have been reported to the board,” a spokesman for the investigators said on Tuesday. “The board has reached no conclusions on this matter. The investigators and the board are committed to a thorough and fair process.”

He added, “Our work is still in progress, and there are bound to be many facts and assessments that evolve and change as the work is completed.”

The board is unlikely to make any determinations on the fate of Mr. Moonves next week, according to two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss board business. The company had previously said it expected to conclude the investigation by the end of January.

Investigators wrote that they had found that Mr. Moonves “received oral sex from at least 4 CBS employees under circumstances that sound transactional and improper to the extent that there was no hint of any relationship, romance, or reciprocity (especially given what we know about his history of more or less forced oral sex with women with whom he has no ongoing relationship).”

Lawyers were not able to speak directly with these women, but determined that “such a pattern arguably constitutes willful misfeasance and violation of the company’s sexual harassment policy.”

Investigators wrote that they had received “multiple reports” about a network employee who was “on call” to perform oral sex on Mr. Moonves.

“A number of employees were aware of this and believed that the woman was protected from discipline or termination as a result of it,” the lawyers wrote. “Moonves admitted to receiving oral sex from the woman, his subordinate, in his office, but described it as consensual.”

The woman did not respond to the investigators’ requests for an interview.

Mr. Levander, Mr. Moonves’s lawyer, said Mr. Moonves had “never put or kept someone on the payroll for the purpose of sex.”

CBS declined to comment.

Mr. Moonves’s marriage in 2004 to Julie Chen, now the host of “Big Brother,” appears to have been a “bright line” after which his sexual misconduct seemed to have stopped, according to the report.

The report also details what CBS’s board and management knew about Mr. Moonves’s conduct, and how they reacted to it.

[A failure to act earlier is likely to haunt CBS, James Stewart writes.]

In one case, Dr. Anne Peters, who saw Mr. Moonves for a consultation in 1999, told the lawyers that he had tried to kiss her and masturbated in front of her. Dr. Peters said she had later told Arnold Kopelson, a film producer who was a friend, about the incident in an attempt to dissuade him from joining the CBS board in 2007.

“She recalls Kopelson responding that the incident had happened a long time ago and was trivial, and said, in effect, ‘We all did that,’” the investigators wrote. They added that Dr. Peters had tried to discuss the incident with Mr. Kopelson, who died in October, on several other occasions, and pushed him to come forward with the information after the #MeToo movement gained momentum.

The investigators said that they had been unable to speak with Mr. Kopelson and that there was no evidence that he had ever spoken to anyone, including Mr. Moonves or fellow board members, about the accusation. Dr. Peters did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

The report also details Mr. Moonves’s handling of an accusation involving the actress Bobbie Phillips. Ms. Phillips claimed that he had forced her to perform oral sex during a meeting in 1995. Over the last year, Mr. Moonves tried to help her get work in order to keep her from speaking publicly, as first reported by The Times.

Last December, Ms. Phillips’s manager, Marv Dauer, warned Mr. Moonves that she was “making noises” about going public, and heavily implied that Mr. Moonves should try to find her some acting work, according to what Mr. Moonves told investigators. Mr. Moonves pushed CBS’s head of casting to find a role for Ms. Phillips, and she was ultimately offered a small part on the action-adventure series “Blood and Treasure,” which she turned down.

Marv Dauer is the manager of Bobbie Phillips, an actress who accused Mr. Moonves of sexually assaulting her in 1995. Credit: Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

Mr. Moonves told lawyers for CBS in January, and again in August, that an unnamed actress had accused him of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. But he did not disclose that the manager had pushed him to find her work, or that Mr. Moonves had used CBS resources to do so. Investigators also discovered that Mr. Moonves had deleted many of his hundreds of texts with Mr. Dauer, and handed over his son’s iPad instead of his own.

The report says Mr. Moonves told the lawyers that he did not try to get work for anyone else connected with Ms. Phillips. The lawyers identified this as untrue. Mr. Moonves had tried to get work for the actress Eva LaRue, another client of Mr. Dauer’s.

As part of his contract with CBS, Mr. Moonves was required to cooperate fully with the network’s investigation.

Because of his run of successes, Mr. Moonves became one of the industry’s highest paid and most respected executives. He has drawn an annual pay package worth $69.3 million. From 2006 to 2017, Mr. Moonves’s total compensation, including salary and stock awards, totaled more than $1 billion, according to Equilar, a research firm that gathers data on executive pay.

But his fall from Hollywood’s highest echelon was all but sealed after the board found out about his attempts to appease Ms. Phillips.

In September, shortly after The New Yorker published an article in which six women accused Mr. Moonves of misconduct, the CBS board negotiated a settlement with Mr. Moonves, including a $20 million donation to one or more organizations that support equality for women in the workplace. The company hired a consulting firm to help choose which organizations should receive the money, but Mr. Moonves also has to agree on the recipients. That amount has already been set aside and is considered a deduction from Mr. Moonves’s total settlement of $140 million.

The CBS board had already enlisted the two law firms to lead an inquiry into the claims against Mr. Moonves and the wider workplace culture at the network in August, after six women accused Mr. Moonves of misconduct in an earlier article by The New Yorker.

The board hired Nancy Kestenbaum of Covington & Burling and Mary Jo White of Debevoise & Plimpton to conduct the inquiry. Ms. White led the Securities and Exchange Commission during the Obama administration and was previously the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. Ms. Kestenbaum was also a federal prosecutor with the same district.

Even before the misconduct allegations emerged, Mr. Moonves had been under intense pressure. He waged an audacious legal battle against CBS’s controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone, to prevent a pending merger with its sister company Viacom, which she also controls.

Mr. Moonves is the latest high-powered entertainment figure to be ousted from his perch in the #MeToo era. The movie producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused by scores of women of sexual assault. Matt Lauer stepped down as the anchor of NBC’s most valuable news program, “Today,” after several women alleged sexual harassment. Charlie Rose of CBS and PBS left the airwaves after multiple women implicated him. And Fox News saw the departures of the founding executive Roger E. Ailes and its top-rated host, Bill O’Reilly. All of those men have denied any nonconsensual sexual activity.

Many of the men who have been toppled spent years determining what TV shows, movies and news programs millions of Americans watched daily. The allegations go back years — in some cases even decades. And the wave of scandals is a stark reminder of how male-dominated the entertainment and news industries remain, especially in their upper ranks.

Source: NY Times

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