On Monday’s CBS This Morning, anchor Norah O’Donnell offered the first public comment from the network on the forced resignation of her now former boss, Leslie Moonves. Moonves stepped down as chairman, president and CEO of CBS Sunday night, after the New Yorker revealed that a total of 12 women had come forward with sexual misconduct allegations. The New Yorker published its first bombshell expose on Moonves in late July, after an investigation by journalist Ronan Farrow alleged that Moonves had subjected several female colleagues to unwanted kissing and touching, and that their careers suffered when they rebuffed his advances.
“Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility,” O’Donnell said during the broadcast.
This is the second time in less than a year that O’Donnell has had to address sexual misconduct allegations made against a male colleague at CBS; in November, she and co-host Gayle King discussed similar allegations against Charlie Rose, who was also ousted by the network. It appears to have become a trend in network news to give female anchors the responsibility of announcing the departures of male colleagues accused of sexual assault, harassment and other misconduct. In November, Today’s Savannah Guthrie announced that her longtime co-anchor, Matt Lauer, had been fired by NBC, just minutes after learning the news herself. And in April 2017, Fox News anchor Dana Perino stepped in to host Bill O’Reilly’s show and addressed his sudden departure from the network after it was revealed he had been accused of sexual misconduct by several women.
To O’Donnell’s point, while the #MeToo movement has been a reckoning for men who abuse their power to subjugate women, most — including Rose, Lauer and O’Reilly — have refused to take responsibility and have instead denied any wrongdoing. Moonves is no different. Hours after agreeing to resign from CBS, Moonves responded to the latest round of allegations by the New Yorker with his own denial.
“Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am,” Moonves said in a statement, noting his resignation is effective immediately. “I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company.”
Farrow’s follow-up article, published Sunday night, reveals that six more accusers came forward, including one woman who allegedly filed a criminal complaint with the Los Angeles Police Department in 2017, accusing Moonves of “physically restraining her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, and of exposing himself to her and violently throwing her against a wall in later incidents.”
After the initial spate of allegations this summer, Moonves released a statement in which he admitted that he “may have made some women uncomfortable” in the past, but dismissed any implication that he had committed sexual assault.
“Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely,” Moonves said in the statement. “But I always understood and respected… that ‘no’ means ‘no’.”
In response to the New Yorkers’ latest allegations, Moonves told the magazine, “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. … 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.”
Upon accepting Moonves’s resignation, CBS Corporation announced that it would be donating $20 million “to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace.” The money will be donated immediately, according to the company’s official press release, but ultimately will be deducted from any severance benefits Moonves receives.
According to a CBS This Morning source, Moonves has been offered an $80 million separation package, all in CBS stock; however, even if he accepts, the agreement is still pending “the results of the independent investigation and subsequent Board evaluation.” For now, Moonves “will not receive” anything beyond “certain fully accrued and vested compensation and benefits” — which undoubtedly is still quite a large chunk of change, given that Moonves was reportedly Hollywood’s highest paid executive, earning an estimated $69.3 million in 2017 alone.
While removing men like Moonves, Lauer, Rose and O’Reilly from their powerful positions is no doubt the right thing to do, the extremely lucrative severance packages that accompany their forced retirements hardly seem like punishments. That’s especially true when you consider how many women have been left to break the news and pick up the pieces.