In July of 2018, the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow completed a detailed investigation, centering on sexual misconduct allegations from six women against CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves.
The women claimed that Moonves had propositioned and/or had forcible physical contact with them, threatened retaliation against those who had rejected him, and otherwise maintained a workplace in which sexual harassment went unabated.
Allegations put forth by the women suggested that a toxic culture existed at CBS. When the allegations went public, Moonves responded at the time with an acknowledgement that he was responsible for making “some women uncomfortable.” However, he denied claims that he had harmed the careers of those who had resisted him.
It looked as though Moonves was on his way to weathering the #MeToo storm. CBS had launched an investigation into the allegations in Farrow’s report. However, Moonves was allowed to remain on the job while the investigation of sexual misconduct proceeded, unlike many other figures who had been accused of sexual impropriety.
Then, like a series of aftershocks after an earthquake, an additional six women stepped forward, via reporting by Farrow, with accusations against Moonves.
The most recent alleged incidents of sexual misconduct purportedly took place over a span of 30 years from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
The additional claims against Moonves by the second group of women contain more serious allegations than those reported by Farrow earlier in the year. This latest set of allegations includes incidents in which the entertainment executive is alleged to have forced victims to engage in sexual activity, exposed himself to alleged victims, or used physical violence and intimidation against them. Some of the women also claim that Moonves retaliated against them professionally after they refused to comply.
Some of the more recent accusers have chosen to go on the record and shed their anonymity, including a television executive whose claims date back to the 1980s and a former assistant who recounted an incident from 1994.
In a statement to the New Yorker, Moonves acknowledged that three of the encounters occurred and claimed they were consensual. He flatly denied using his position in a retaliatory way to interfere with the careers of the women.
Under the circumstances, options appear to be limited in this case. The relevant statute of limitations does not allow a proceeding using criminal law, and obtaining witnesses and/or documents from thirty or forty years ago poses a great deal of difficulty.
What really caused Moonves’s tenure at CBS to end, prior to the conclusion of the investigations, were reports in numerous media outlets that negotiations were taking place concerning a proposed exit package for the television executive that involved a large dollar amount.
The most recent accusers were prompted in part to come forward due to the public reports of Moonves’s exit package, which was said to be valued at approximately $100 million.
“Many of the women found that very, very frustrating,” Farrow told CNN. “They felt this was a board that has let a powerful man who makes a lot of money for this company, in the words of one person, ‘get away with it.’”
The end result is that six weeks after Farrow published the first allegations against him and twenty-three years after he first joined CBS, Moonves has been forced out of the network.
However, the previously reported $100 million payment package to Moonves is likely to be eliminated or drastically reduced, due to the increased potential culpability relating to the allegations of the second group of women as well as the cumulative effect of the allegations of all twelve accusers.
CBS’s leverage against Moonves has been significantly increased because the company is now able to claim that the executive may be terminated “for cause.”
Significantly, the exit agreement reportedly also includes a settlement of the litigation between Moonves and Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of both CBS and Viacom. Moonves and Redstone had been in a heated legal battle over whether to combine CBS and Viacom, with Redstone urging a merger and Moonves resisting such a move.
With Moonves gone, the merger is highly likely to take place in the very near future.