The report by Ronan Farrow, who also wrote one of the two stories that brought down predatory producer Harvey Weinstein, alleges that over a period of more than two decades Moonves groped, forcibly kissed and/or made sexually aggressive comments to women during what they thought were business meetings and then retaliated against them when they didn't give in to his advances.
"All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously," CBS' board of directors said in a statement obtained by TV Guide after the news broke that the story was coming. "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."
Moonves gave the New Yorker the following statement: "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."
Actress Illeana Douglas, who was nominated for an Emmy for her role on Six Feet Under and also starred in Goodfellas, says Moonves forced himself on her during a meeting in 1990s. Later, she says Moonves berated her performance in a pilot for the CBS comedy Queens, and that CBS backed out of an exclusive deal after she was let go from the show. Douglas says she was later cast in a new CBS miniseries after she threatened to sue Moonves. TV writers and producers Janet Jones and Christine Peters are among the others who have accused Moonves of sexual harassment and retaliation. The report also cites an unnamed actress from a popular, long-running CBS show in the 1980s as an accuser.
Moonves has been with CBS since 1995, was named CEO of the CBS Corporation since its current iteration was founded in 2006, and has been Chairman of CBS since 2016. Under his leadership, CBS went from last place to the most-watched network for nine consecutive years. He is the highest-paid executive in Hollywood, earning nearly $70 million in 2017. He has been married to CBS television personality Julie Chen since 2004.
Chen released a statement on Twitter. "I've have known my husband Leslie Moonves since the late '90s, and I've been married to him for 14 years. Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted father and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him."
The story also alleges that a culture that is hostile toward women is prevalent at CBS, including the continued employment of NCIS: New Orleans producer Brad Kern after more than one sexual harassment investigation, looking the other way when complaints about Charlie Rose's behavior were reported, and the alleged conduct of 60 Minutes executive producer and former CBS News chair Jeff Fager. Fager allegedly gets "handsy" at company parties, protects and promotes male staffers accused of misbehavior and pressured the Washington Post into withholding reporting on him.
Fager told The New Yorker, "There's a reason these awful allegations have not been published before — despite the efforts of a few former employees who did not succeed at 60 Minutes. It is because they are false, anonymous, and do not hold up to editorial scrutiny."
"The timing of this report comes in the midst of the Company's very public legal dispute," CBS' original statement continued. "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." Moonves is currently caught up in a fight for control over CBS with Shari Redstone, the majority shareholder of CBS and Viacom who wants to merge the two companies, a move Moonves is resisting. Redstone denied that she had anything to do with the report. CBS shares were down after news of the story broke.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS.)