CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves is leaving the network amid allegations of sexual misconduct

By Emily Strohm
September 09, 2018 08:04 PM
Advertisement
Variety's Innovate Summit, Los Angeles, USA - 29 Nov 2017
Credit: Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Leslie “Les” Moonves is no longer the chairman and CEO of CBS following allegations of sexual misconduct, the network announced on Sunday.

CBS and Moonves, 68 — who has been married to The Talk and Big Brother host Julie Chen, 48, since 2004 — “will donate $20 million to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace,” CBS said, adding that the donation will be made immediately.

“Moonves will not receive any severance benefits at this time (other than certain fully accrued and vested compensation and benefits),” the network said, explaining that any future payments are contingent upon investigations into the allegations against Moonves and the board’s approval.

Moonves will be temporarily replaced by chief operating officer Joseph Ianniello, the network said.

“For the past 24 years it has been an incredible privilege to lead CBS’s renaissance and transformation into a leading global media company. The best part of this journey has been working alongside the dedicated and talented people in this company. Together, we built CBS into a destination where the best in the business come to work and succeed,” he said in a statement to Variety. “Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am. Effective immediately I will no longer be Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBS. I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of directors and all of its employees.”

In a Ronan Farrow piece published hours earlier by The New Yorker, six additional women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault, including forced oral sex, exposing himself without consent, and the use of physical violence and intimidation to keep them quiet. The women said the incidents took place between the 1980s and early 2000s, Farrow reported.

“The appalling accusations in this article are untrue. What is true is that I had consensual relations with three of the women some 25 years ago before I came to CBS,” Moonves said in a statement to The New Yorker, reportedly declining to indicate which of the encounters he believed were consensual. “And I have never used my position to hinder the advancement or careers of women. In my 40 years of work, I have never before heard of such disturbing accusations. I can only surmise they are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation, and my career. Anyone who knows me knows that the person described in this article is not me.”

RELATED VIDEO: CBS CEO Les Moonves Accused of Sexual Misconduct by 6 Women, Including Actress Illeana Douglas

In Farrow’s first piece on Moonves, published July 27, six women — including actress Illeana Douglas and writer Janet Jones — who professionally dealt with Moonves between the 1980s and late aughts accused him of sexual misconduct.

“Six women who had professional dealings with him told me that … Moonves sexually harassed them. Four described forcible touching or kissing during business meetings, in what they said appeared to be a practiced routine. Two told me that Moonves physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers,” Farrow writes in his piece. “All said that he became cold or hostile after they rejected his advances, and that they believed their careers suffered as a result.”

In a statement to The New Yorker in July, Moonves admitted to acting inappropriately in the past.

“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,” he said.

“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,” he continued.

Following the new allegations on Sunday, Time’s Up said in a statement, “Six more women have made bone-chilling allegations of abuse, harassment and retaliation against Les Moonves. We believe them. These new allegations are in addition to the previous six women who have already bravely spoken out and detailed horrific behavior from Moonves. Nineteen current and former CBS employees have also alleged that former CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager condoned sexual harassment in his division.”

The statement continued: “These allegations speak to a culture of toxic complicity at CBS, where the safety of women was continuously ignored to protect the careers of powerful men and the corporation. The CBS Board of Directors has an obligation to move swiftly and decisively to create a safe work environment for all and rid the company of this toxic culture.”

Time’s Up added, “CBS, as you sit in a room debating next steps to rectify the damage done, remember that the world is watching. We will accept nothing less than full transparency of the investigation’s findings, a commitment to real change across all levels of CBS management and no reward for Les Moonves.”

Moonves’ wife Chen defended her husband on Twitter following the first round of allegations in July.

“I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the late ’90s, and I have been married to him for almost 14 years. Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader,” she tweeted.

“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,” the statement reads.