CBS' board of directors had already planned to meet today to talk about an upcoming quarterly stock market call and prepare for a stockholder's meeting, but a bigger issue landed on their agenda Friday afternoon when the New Yorker published an exhaustive investigation the company had dreaded for months.
Six women accused CBS CEO Les Moonves of sexual harassment going back to 1985. The CBS board could have suspended or fired Moonves but instead said it was hiring outside counsel that would conduct an independent investigation. The board also put off the Aug. 10 stockholders meeting while the investigation is underway. Wall Street hates surprises, so the stock dropped Friday when the story broke, then tanked another five percent Monday.
"He is a chairman who is synonymous with CBS. He is the last of the old school of network executives," Deggans said. "Moonves is involved with every part of CBS and he groomed everyone beneath him. There is nothing significant at the company that he does not have his fingerprint on."
Moonves, 68, has been CEO for two decades and board chairman since 2003. Deggans said Moonves "turned CBS around and made it a modern company."
How CBS covers its own story
CBS News has the unenviable task of reporting on its boss, but has run the story prominently. Friday, when the New Yorker ran the long-awaited story, CBS Evening News included a soundbite of Moonves at a Hollywood event at the height of the start of the #metoo movement in which Moonves urged employee education about sexual harassment.
The Friday story included actress and producer Illeana Douglas' allegations that in 1997, Moonves asked her if she was single then held her down and “violently kissed her.”
CBS Weekend News also reported the story that pointed out that the New Yorker story said that 19 current and former CBS news employees claimed former CBS News chairman and current "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager "allowed harassment in the news division." The New Yorker story quoted six former CBS employees as saying Fager would "get drunk" at company functions and touch them in ways that made them uncomfortable. Fager has denied the allegations.
This morning, even as the board of directors was gathering to meet, "CBS This Morning" included a nearly four-minute story by Anna Werner that detailed the allegations in the New Yorker. The story quoted the graphic details of the allegations against Moonves, a far different treatment than CBS gave the first reports of allegations against "CBS This Morning" anchor Charlie Rose when co-anchors expressed shock and dismay about the allegations. This time, there was no hint of any emotions. Instead, CBS stuck to straightforward reporting.
CBS quoted Moonves as saying:
"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."
Fager is more defiant, saying, "It is wrong that our culture can be falsely defined by a few people with an axe to grind."
Impact on CBS' future
NPR's Deggans pointed out that Moonves' future could affect his ability to fight Shari Redstone's control over CBS. Redstone is a major shareholder in both CBS and Viacom who wants to combine the companies; Moonves opposes the move. Media critic Ken Auletta told CNBC on Monday, "If she wants to replace him at some point, the odds are she has more leverage to do that now … Moonves is someone who, until now, just cannot be fired. He is fighting the person who owns the company and he was not fired."
In addition to the CBS TV network, the corporation owns local CBS owned and operated stations around the country, the Showtime cable network and the publisher Simon & Schuster. Viacom also has a wide range of TV holdings including Comedy Central, MTV, BET and the Paramount movie studio.
There was even a hint Friday that the takeover fight may have somehow played into the allegations. The CBS board said in a public statement:
"The timing of this report comes in the midst of the Company's very public legal dispute … While that litigation process continues, the CBS management team has the full support of the independent board members. Along with that team, we will continue to focus on creating value for our shareowners."
Redstone's attorney responded sharply:
"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."
One of the risks that the CBS board has to consider is how producers, directors, actors and actresses might react if the company does not respond strongly to the allegations against Moonves. We saw that kind of pushback in the days after Roseanne Barr came under fire for offensive comments.
The CBS board of directors is an interesting collection of legal, political and business insiders. CBS corporate filings show the board members and their backgrounds:
David R. Andelman: a senior partner associated with the law firm of Lourie & Cutler, P.C. in Boston since 1964. Andelman also serves as a director and treasurer of Lourie & Cutler. He is also a director of National Amusements Inc.
Joseph A. Califano Jr.: served as the United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1977 to 1979, and as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Assistant for Domestic Affairs from 1965 to 1969. Mr. Califano is founder and chairman emeritus of the board of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). He was senior partner of the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm Dewey Ballantine from 1983 to 1992.
William S. Cohen: served as the United States Secretary of Defense from January 1997 to 2001. He also served as a United States senator from 1979 to 1997, and as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1973 to 1979.
Gary L. Countryman: chairman emeritus of the Liberty Mutual Group since 2000. He served as chairman of Liberty Mutual Group from 1986 to 2000 and as chief executive officer from 1986 to 1998.
Charles K. Gifford: chairman emeritus of Bank of America Corporation since February 2005. He was chairman and chief executive officer of BankBoston prior to its 1999 merger with Fleet Financial Group and became president and chief operating officer of the combined companies.
Leonard Goldberg: president of Mandy Films, Inc. and Panda Productions, Inc., both independent television and film production companies, since 1984. He is executive producer of the CBS television series "Blue Bloods." He was president of Twentieth Century Fox from 1987 to 1989. From 1972 to 1984, he partnered with producer Aaron Spelling to launch various television series and made-for-television movies. Prior to that, Goldberg served as vice president of production at Screen Gems (now Columbia Pictures Television) from 1969 to 1972. During the years 1961 to 1969, he served in various positions with the ABC Network, advancing to head of programming.
Bruce S. Gordon: served as president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from August 2005 to March 2007. In December 2003, Gordon retired from Verizon Communications where he had served as president, retail markets group since June 2000.
Linda M. Griego: has served since 1986 as president and chief executive officer of Griego Enterprises, Inc., a business management company. For more than 20 years, she oversaw the operations of Engine Co. No. 28, a prominent restaurant in downtown Los Angeles that she founded in 1988. From 1990 to 2000, Griego held a number of government-related appointments, including deputy mayor of the city of Los Angeles.
Robert N. Klieger: a partner in the Los Angeles law firm Hueston Hennigan LLP. Klieger’s practice focuses on complex civil litigation and counseling in the areas of entertainment and intellectual property. Klieger represents motion picture studios, broadcast and cable television networks, production companies, video game publishers and high net worth individuals in the media and entertainment space.
Arnold Kopelson: co-chairman and co-president of Kopelson Entertainment, through which he produces films and television programs and finances the acquisition and development of screenplays, since 1979. Prior to that, he practiced entertainment and banking law, specializing in motion picture financing.
Martha L. Minow: has taught at Harvard Law School since 1981 and served as dean of the Harvard Law School from 2009 through June 2017.
Doug Morris: the chief executive officer of Sony Music Entertainment who has held leadership positions with Universal Music Group, Warner Music U.S. and Atlantic Recording Group.
In November, Moonves said Farrow's investigation into Harvey Weinstein and the movement that followed was a "watershed moment." He told Variety, "I know that’s become a cliche and a lot of people have spoken about it over the last short period of time. It’s important that companies educate — have an ability to have a dialogue to know what’s going on.” He said then that the entertainment industry was shocked by the allegations but that, “It’s important that a company’s culture will not allow for this. And that’s the thing that’s far-reaching.”
That quote may come back to haunt him if the internal investigation confirms the complaints against him.
CBS' corporate filings say the company has "zero tolerance" for sexual harassment in the workplace.
"CBS expects all directors, officers and employees to observe the spirit as well as the letter of the harassment-free workplace policy. For example, you may not do any of the following:
- Ask for dates, or make sexual advances, where it is clear, or becomes clear, that the overture is unwelcome.
- Threaten or engage in retaliation after an overture or inappropriate conduct is rejected or in response to the good faith reporting of such conduct.
- Engage in any conduct or speech of an overtly sexual nature, whether welcome or unwelcome.
- Engage in inappropriate or threatening physical conduct, such as unwanted touching or impeding or blocking another person’s movements."
Julie Chen, Moonves' wife, is an anchor on the CBS midday network show "The Talk." On Monday's show, Chen said, "Some of you may be aware of what’s been going on in my life for the past few days. I issued the one and only statement I will ever make on this topic on Twitter. I will stand by that statement today, tomorrow, forever.”
This is the statement she posted on Twitter:
— Julie Chen (@JulieChen) July 27, 2018
Moonves' alma mater isn't waiting for CBS' investigation. Bucknell University removed Moonves from parts of its website and there are no longer details of his 2016 commencement address there.
Bucknell president John Bravman said in a note, "Bucknell will not stand for sexual misconduct – on campus or beyond."
Lesson for journalists: Good work produces more tips
Ronan Farrow told CNN's Reliable Sources that one of Moonves' accusers, Illeana Douglas, "Called me, in fact, the day after that first Harvey Weinstein story I wrote and told me her story, and we've been carefully investigating since."
Journalists have been in awe of the 30-year-old reporter's bombshell after bombshell stories, proving again that great work often produces the kind of tips that lead to other important stories. Farrow told CNN, "If you present yourself to the world as somebody who's aggressively pursuing the truth in a certain trench, you're going to start getting tips too."