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CBS CEO Les Moonves is accused of sexual harassment by 6 women

Dozens more describe a disturbing network culture in which bad actors were sometimes shielded from consequences.

Les Moonves
Tara Ziemba/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Another powerful media figure is at the center of #MeToo allegations.

Les Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, faces sexual harassment allegations from at least six women, who said the network titan groped or forcibly kissed them, often during what the women had believed were professional meetings. The accusations, which span the 1980s to the 2000s, were detailed in an exposé by the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow. Two of the women also said they were retaliated against for not acquiescing to Moonves’s overtures.

“What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating,” actress and writer Illeana Douglas, who said Moonves “violently kissed her” and held her down in his office in 1997, told the New Yorker. At the time, Douglas had been working on a pilot for the network; soon after the encounter she was fired from the show. She eventually “settled out” with the network, according to the New Yorker, and was then invited to a do a different project.

“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.”

Five other women described similar encounters, either of Moonves forcibly kissing or touching them, or having to rebuff his advances during what should have been business or professional meetings. Christine Peters, a veteran producer, went to pitch Moonves in 2006 on a film studio for the network. During the pitch meeting, she told the New Yorker, Moonves moved in next to her and slid his hand up her skirt. “I remember sitting in the car and just crying,” Peters told the New Yorker. “I worked my whole life to be here and I just lost my opportunity.”

Farrow’s investigation, the existence of which had leaked earlier Friday, sent CBS’s stock tumbling. The report indicts the broader culture at CBS — particularly CBS News — which a former female employee described as a “frat house.”

Farrow spoke to 30 current and former employees who described sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct from other male bosses and producers across the company beyond Moonves, including 19 current and ex-employees who said harassment took place at the network’s premier news program, 60 Minutes, under former CBS News chair and current executive producer Jeff Fager.

Moonves, whose name has been associated with CBS for decades, will now face an inquiry, CBS’s board of directors said Friday, ahead of Farrow’s article.

Moonves did not categorically deny the allegations in a statement to the New Yorker:

“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.”

Julie Chen, the CBS TV show host and news anchor who is married to Moonves, stood by her husband’s statement:

CBS said no misconduct claims had been made against Moonves during his nearly two-decade tenure. It also contested Farrow’s portrait of the company as one that shielded misconduct and protected offenders. “CBS is very mindful of all workplace issues and takes each report of misconduct very seriously,” the network told the publication.

CBS fired anchor Charlie Rose last year amid allegations of sexual harassment from multiple women, including both CBS and PBS employees. These latest disturbing allegations against Moonves signal that the network is not yet done with its #MeToo reckoning.