Six women tell The New Yorker that CBS chief Les Moonves sexually harassed them

The New Yorker has ...

Posted: Jul 28, 2018 8:30 PM
Updated: Jul 28, 2018 8:31 PM

The New Yorker has published an investigation that details allegations of sexual misconduct, intimidation and retaliation against longtime CBS president and CEO Les Moonves.

Six women told New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow that Moonves sexually harassed them. CNN has not independently confirmed the allegations.

One of those women, the actor Illeana Douglas, told The New Yorker that Moonves called her into his office in 1997 while she was working on a pilot for CBS and asked to kiss her.

The magazine reports that Douglas tried to turn the focus back to work, but that Moonves grabbed her.

"In a millisecond, he's got one arm over me, pinning me," Douglas told the magazine, which reported that Moonves was "violently kissing" her and then "pulled up her skirt and began to thrust against her."

Douglas told the magazine that she rebuffed his advances. She recalled that Moonves later berated her during rehearsals for the project, and at one point called her at home and told her that she would "never work at this network again," according to the article.

The New Yorker article cites additional incidents, including one from the writer Janet Jones. The magazine said Jones alleged that she had to "shove Moonves off her after he forcibly kissed her at a work meeting."

The article also reported that 30 current and former employees said other inappropriate behavior happened elsewhere at the company, including CBS News and its flagship program "60 Minutes."

In a statement to The New Yorker, Moonves said, "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."

According to the magazine, CBS said in a statement that Moonves acknowledges trying to kiss Douglas, but that "he denies any characterization of 'sexual assault,' intimidation, or retaliatory action," including berating her on set and personally firing her from the pilot project.

The New Yorker article also quotes CBS as saying that it 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," the company said in its statement.

CNN has obtained the statements from Moonves and CBS.

Related: CBS thrives despite Sumner Redstone's Viacom turmoil

The article also includes allegations that "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager made unwanted advances. It cites six former employees who told The New Yorker that Fager, "while inebriated at company parties, would touch employees in ways that made them uncomfortable."

Fager denied the allegations to the magazine, saying in a statement that "it is wrong that our culture can be falsely defined by a few people with an axe to grind who are using an important movement as a weapon to get even, and not by the hundreds of women and men that have thrived, both personally and professionally, at '60 Minutes.'"

He added in the statement, "A majority of our senior staff are women. All of them worked their way up the ranks and are now managers of our broadcast. Half of our producers and a majority of our associate producers are women. It is a challenging place to do well and promotions are earned on merit and are not based on gender."

CNN has obtained the statement from Fager.

Farrow, the reporter who wrote the article, rose to new prominence recently after he detailed accusations of rape and misconduct against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. (Weinstein, who was fired from his company and has been criminally indicted for sexual assault, has denied the allegations.)

The CBS independent board of directors on Friday said in a statement released several hours before The New Yorker article was published that the board will review the claims. When that investigation is finished, the board will "take appropriate action," it said.

"All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously," the statement said.

Farrow discussed his reporting Friday night on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront."

"You're dealing with both an individual who is at the top of his game, and on whom many, many other power people depend for their livelihoods," Farrow said, "And also a corporation that is at the apex of our culture."

Although Farrow's article was not released until Friday evening, news of its imminent publication sent shock waves through the market. CBS stock began dropping after The Hollywood Reporter reported that the article was forthcoming. It closed down more than 6%.

Moonves has been running CBS for more than a decade, and is credited with turning it into the most-watched broadcast network on television for 15 of the past 16 years.

During the CBS annual Upfronts presentation in May, in which network executives pitched ad buyers on the upcoming TV season, the audience gave Moonves a standing ovation.

The company's dominance has not always been a sure thing. When owner Sumner Redstone, the media mogul, split CBS from his other company Viacom in 2006, Viacom was expected to become the more powerful player. Instead, CBS has outperformed its corporate sibling by leaps and bounds.

Related: CBS crisis comes to a head as Moonves and Redstone fight for network's future

Moonves has been very well compensated for his company's success. He received $68.4 million in 2017 for his role as chief executive and chairman of the board of directors. That made him one of the highest-paid CEOs in the country last year, according to an Equilar review of S&P 500 companies.

"Moonves provides strong consistent leadership, particularly in light of the breadth of his institutional knowledge of all aspects of the Company's businesses," CBS said in its annual proxy filing. It gave a nod to his "stellar reputation" with investors.

The company has however been hit by scandal and controversy in the past several months.

CBS fired star anchor Charlie Rose last November after The Washington Post identified eight women who claimed Rose engaged in "unwanted sexual advances." In another investigation published this spring, The Post reported that there were even more allegations than previously described, and that at least some of them had been reported to management at CBS News.

Rose admitted some of his actions were "inappropriate," though he has denied other allegations. CBS News told The Post that it had no human resources complaints about Rose, but that it changed its policies since the allegations against Rose were made public.

For the past few months, Moonves also has been locked in a bitter battle over CBS with the Redstone family, which has controlled the company for decades.

Tensions between Moonves and Sumner Redstone's daughter, Shari, boiled over after she pushed CBS to consider merging with Viacom, effectively reversing the public breakup from more than a decade ago.

CBS resisted a deal, and later took Shari Redstone to court to dilute her controlling stake in the company.

That court case is still pending, and it is unclear whether the allegations against Moonves will affect it. In its statement Friday, the CBS board said that it will "continue to focus on creating value for our shareowners."

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, before The New Yorker's article was published, a representative for Shari Redstone said, "The malicious insinuation that Ms. Redstone is somehow behind the allegations of inappropriate personal behavior by Mr. Moonves or today's reports is false and self-serving. Ms. Redstone hopes that the investigation of these allegations is thorough, open and transparent."

--CNN's Dylan Byers and Brian Stelter contributed to this report.

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