CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves has been accused by at least six women of sexual harassment, in a culture allegedly shared by some top managers at the network, an exposé by The New Yorker has revealed.
Four of the six women told New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow that Moonves had tried to forcibly touch or kiss them, while the other two alleged victims revealed that the 68-year-old media executive, who played a significant part in the ongoing “Me Too” anti-harassment movement, attempted to physically intimidate them or threatened their careers.
One of the women, actress Ileana Douglas, who won an Emmy for Six Feet Under, described how Moonves tried to grab her and “violently kiss” her during a business meeting in 1997. “I couldn’t get him off me… the physicality of it was horrendous,” she said. “What it feels like to have someone hold you down—you can’t breathe, you can’t move.”
After his advances were not reciprocated, Moonves eventually fired the actress, telling her that she wouldn’t “get a f**king dime” of the money she was owed by the corporation, and that she would “never work at this network again.”
Another alleged victim, CBS producer Christine Peters, described how Moonves “put a hand up my skirt” to touch her underwear during another business meeting the executive had arranged. Moonves “was smart enough to not have anyone there. It was a setup,” Peters told the New Yorker.
Writer Janet Jones describes how Moonves “threw himself on top of [her]” in 1985. Following the incident, Moonves allegedly threatened the victim. “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?” Jones recalled.
Other women interviewed by Farrow recalled similar encounters with the CEO, noting that the 68-year-old “physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers.”
The alleged sexual harassment pattern does not end with Moonves, the report said. Thirty current and former CBS employees claimed they have been harassed and discriminated-against at the network, while in some cases male employees who participated in such misconduct got promotions. One of the allegations was made against Jeff Fager, the former chairman of CBS News, who allowed harassment to occur in the division.
While CBS acknowledged that it takes sexual harassment reports “very seriously,” the network noted that The New Yorker investigation fails to represent a “larger organization that does its best to treat its tens of thousands of employees with dignity and respect.”
Following the allegations, Moonves acknowledged “times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely.”
Moonves’ wife, Julie Chen, who he has been with since 2004, defended her husband. “Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader,” she said in a statement. “He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him.”
Moonves, who has been inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, has become a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017, after allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein were initially exposed by the New York Times and the New Yorker. In the wake of the scandal, last November CBS fired veteran news host Charlie Rose, over claims he had groped women.
CBS noted that it had received no misconduct claims against Moonves during his twenty-four years at the network but has promised an investigation after the report was published, pledging to “take appropriate action.”
“All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously,” CBS’ independent directors said in the statement. “The Independent Directors of CBS have committed to investigating claims that violate the company’s clear policies.”
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