New investigation accuses CBS chief Les Moonves of sexual misconduct

A new investigation from journalist Ronan Farrow tracks sexual misconduct accusations against Les Moonves, the influential 68-year-old chief executive officer of CBS, by six women. Farrow’s articles detailing extensive sexual assault and harassment from Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein won him a Pulitzer Prize for public service, and kickstarted the backlash against sexual harassment and abuse that later spawned the #MeToo movement.

The investigation was published in The New Yorker this evening, following a leak earlier today to The Hollywood Reporter, which published news of Farrow’s imminent report and immediately caused CBS stock to drop more than 5 percent. CBS released a statement earlier today saying it took the claims seriously and would be opening an internal investigation.

Farrow’s article includes on-the-record statements from Moonves’ alleged victims, as well as interviews with 30 current and former CBS employees. Farrow’s sources claim Moonves’ behavior and attitude toward sexual harassment set the tone for programs like 60 Minutes and CBS News, the former of which fired its long-time host Charlie Rose after dozens of women came forward accusing Rose of sexual misconduct.

The report claims Moonves groped, forcibly kissed, and propositioned several women who were working on or proposing CBS projects, then threatened them or retaliated against them when they resisted his advances. It also suggests he may have aided in the promotion of other CBS employees who committed similar acts.

Moonves gave a lengthy statement to The New Yorker owning up to having “made some women uncomfortable,” actions he regrets. But Moonves denies having ever attempting to hinder anyone’s career:

Throughout my time at CBS, we have promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees, and have consistently found success elevating women to top executive positions across our company. 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. This is a time when we all are appropriately focused on how we help improve our society, and we at CBS are committed to being part of the solution.

CBS also released its own statement, which does not for some reason repeat the earlier promise to investigate the allegations. The company also claims that there were no misconduct cases opened against Moonves, and no settlements related to his workplace behavior:

CBS is very mindful of all workplace issues and 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. We are seeing vigorous discourse in our country about equality, inclusion, and safety in the workplace, and CBS is committed to being part of the solution to those important issues.

While the New Yorker investigation did not find any settlements directly related to Moonves, its interviews with his accusers and with others in the company suggest a pattern where some women were afraid to speak up because of the potential consequences to their careers, and those who did were systematically ignored and silenced.

CBS is currently locked in a legal battle with shareholder Shari Redstone, who is trying to merge CBS and Viacom back into a single entity, a move Moonves is resisting. (CBS was spun out from Viacom in 2006, seven years after Viacom acquired CBS. The two have operated as separate entities while the holding company of billionaire Sumner Redstone, Shari Redstone’s father, has controlled majority stakes in both companies.)

Farrow explicitly writes in his article that he began discussing claims of sexual misconduct against Moonves before lawsuits were filed between Redstone and CBS over the proposed merger, in order to dispel any accusations that the allegations are financially motivated. Shari Redstone also gave a statement to CNBC denying any involvement with the allegations, saying she “hopes that the investigation of these allegations… is thorough, open and transparent.”