UPDATE: In the wake of several sexual misconduct allegations, CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves has recused himself from the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, a spokeperson told Variety. Moonves was originally slated to serve as one of the commissioners for the Anita Hill-helmed commission. The announcement follows the news that Moonves was also suspended from the USC School of Cinematic Arts Board of Councilors on Wednesday.
“The school takes the recent allegations very seriously and will discuss further action when the Board convenes in October,” USC said in a statement.
In a new New Yorker story by Ronan Farrow, six women, including actress Illeana Douglas, accuse CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves of sexual misconduct. The allegations against Moonves span over two decades, and involve unwanted kissing and touching that occurred more than 20 years ago, as well as other claims that occurred more recently.
Douglas’ allegation stems from her time on the CBS sitcom Queens. She shared explicit details with Farrow about an alleged encounter with Moonves, who she claims was “violently kissing” her and holding her down on a couch in his office. “It was physically scary,” Douglas told Farrow. “He says, ‘We’re going to keep this between you and me, right?'”
The actress was later replaced on Queens and had her holding deal with CBS terminated without compensation, which Douglas said was the result of her rejecting Moonves’ advances. Soon after, Douglas’ manager and agency both let go of her as a client because she had “burned all my bridges at CBS.”
She later detailed the situation to several people, including Martin Scorsese, who she had been in a relationship with and who “urged her to be cautious about taking legal action against such a powerful person.” Scorsese did put Douglas in contact with his law firm and attorney Bill Sobel. “I believed Illeana. What happened to her was reprehensible,” Sobel told Farrow.
After confronting CBS Business Affairs, Sobel helped Douglas recoup some of her owed salary; CBS also offered the actress in a miniseries called Bella Mafia, which Douglas perceived as a secretive way to “settle out” with the actress. “I go from being sexually assaulted, fired for not having sex with Les Moonves, fired by everyone, to ‘We are going to pay you in full and we also want you to be on this miniseries,’ ” Douglas said. “My understanding is, this is what they were going to do in exchange for not suing.”
Writer Janet Jones, producer Christine Peters, “a prominent actress who played a police officer on a long-running CBS program” and a former child actress named Kimberly also recounted similar Moonves incidents to Farrow for the New Yorker piece.
Moonves said in a statement following the article’s publication, “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.”
Moonves has been married to CBS personality Julie Chen since 2004; Chen co-anchors CBS’s The Talk on weekday mornings, and is the host of the reality show Big Brother, which is currently in its 20th season and airs three days per week. Chen defended her husband and boss with a statement on Twitter: “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. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”
As news of the impending story began to circulate on Friday, CBS released a statement that indicated the network was already aware of the allegations against Moonves, though it did not name him directly.
“All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously,” the statement reads. “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 went on to note the timing of the allegations coincides with “the Company’s very public legal dispute,” referring to ongoing litigation between CBS and Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder in both CBS and Viacom. Back in 2006, Viacom split its businesses into two companies, with Moonves helming the newly formed CBS Corp. as its CEO and president. Redstone — has pushed to re-merge the two companies, which CBS and Moonves have resisted, and the parties are currently locked in multiple mutual lawsuits. CBS’s statement doesn’t get into those particulars, but by noting the timing, the network’s implication seems to be that the allegations against Moonves and/or the publicizing of them could be connected to the company’s legal battle.
That’s unlikely to improve the public’s confidence in the company’s promise to take allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and, if warranted, take appropriate action against abusers, particularly those holding as much power as Moonves. In November, the network fired Charlie Rose after The Washington Post reported that eight women had accused the “CBS This Morning” host Charlie Rose of sexual misconduct; a followup report in May alleged that network managers had been warned about his behavior at least three times between 1986 and 2017. The story provoked an additional 27 accusers to come forward, 14 of them former colleagues at CBS.
Farrow won a Pulitzer Prize for his New Yorker story breaking Harvey Weinstein’s alleged history of rape and sexual harassment, which resulted in the movie producer’s career downfall and pending prosecution on multiple sexual assault charges. Farrow has written similar stories about Eric Schneiderman and President Donald Trump.