CBS & Leslie Moonves face major backlash amid sexual abuse cover-up allegations

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Summary

On July 31, Ronan Farrow reported on the most recent wave of allegations against powerful men in the wake of the #MeToo movement which Farrow played a big role in starting. Leslie Moonves, Chairman and CEO of CBS, was the most powerful CEO to face allegations of sexual assault. Six women came forward to Ronan and accused Moonves of sexual harassment. Moonves responded to the claims by saying that, “I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career” (Farrow, 2018, July 31). The allegations weren’t just lodged against Moonves, however. In the article, many people, both anonymous and not, come forward and say that Moonves created a corporate culture where sexual harassment was allowed, and men who committed acts of sexual harassment or assault were promoted (Farrow, 2018, July 31). They allege that many shows were run by men who either committed these acts themselves, turned a blind eye or supported the men who committed them. CBS said before the article was released that they were investigating the claims, then released the following statement:

“CBS is very mindful of all workplace issues and takes each report of misconduct very seriously. We do not believe, however, that the picture of our Company created in The New Yorker represents a larger organization that does its best to treat its tens of thousands of employees with dignity and respect. We are seeing vigorous discourse in our country about equality, inclusion and safety in the workplace, and CBS is committed to being part of the solution to those important issues” (Rice, 2018).

For a time, it seemed Moonves would remain large and in charge. Amid stock prices dropping and shareholders suing CBS, Les Moonves was still CEO. It seemed that #MeToo could only go so high, and that he would stay in his position, or at least receive a hefty severance package if forced out by shareholders, and little to no actual punishment for his actions. This changed on September 9th, when Farrow posted a follow-up article in the New Yorker with six new allegations. The article also included new allegation of misconduct against Jeff Fager, executive producer of “60 Minutes” (Farrow, 2018, September 9). Many people were outraged that Moonves severance package was reported to be $120 million (Steinberg, 2018). After these additional allegations, CBS finally took action. The update to Farrow’s story summarizes their response:

Three hours after the publication of this story, CNN reported that Moonves would step down from his position at CBS. Later the same day, CBS announced that Moonves had left the company and would not receive any of his exit compensation, pending the results of the independent investigation into the allegations. The company named six new members of its board of directors and said it would donate twenty million dollars to organizations that support the #MeToo movement and workplace equality for women. The donation will be deducted from any severance payments that may be due to Moonves.

Public backlash against Moonves and CBS has been abundant, especially after the most recent article by Farrow. It’s gone so far that Julie Chen, Moonves’ wife, has stepped down from her position on The Talk. While it is upsetting that another woman’s career has been hurt by Moonves’ actions, her continuation to support and defend Moonves has not made her popular in the eyes of the public.

Reaction

Overall, I have a very negative reaction to CBS’ handling of the situation. For starters, they didn’t do much after the initial allegations came out against Moonves. This, coupled with the Charlie Rose incident doesn’t look good for CBS. It points to a corporate culture that does not protect its employees and allows sexual predators to succeed at the company. It points to suppression of stories from victims. The initial response by CBS was bad, as it denied any wrongdoing, and steered the conversation away from the incident and towards the broader conversation. It wasn’t until more allegations and public outcry came that they took any action. While their response to the second article by Farrow was better, with them donating money to the movement and naming new members of their board, it still wasn’t great. Les Moonves stepped down from the company, they never fired him, which doesn’t look good on their part. CBS is not being fully transparent. They aren’t sharing how exactly they will change things so employees are protected in the future, if the new members of the board are diverse and committed to ending workplace sexual harassment/assault or the names of which organizations the $20 million will be donated to.

CBS did not put out a statement on social media, instead releasing an official statement the old-fashioned way. Looking at all this, both statements, their inaction and lack of transparency, it seems that CBS is attempting to sweep all of this under the rug. The public, however, is still talking.

For many people, I think the various allegations against individuals in power at CBS, as well as their handling of the situations, particularly Leslie Moonves, leaves a bad taste in their mouth. I think many people will continue to call for change in CBS and ask for other companies to learn from their mistakes and not protect sexual predators. I don’t think, however, that CBS will be negatively impacted long-term by this. They are a large company, and most people don’t have an emotional tie or loyalty to a network these days. People care about individual shows, and for younger generations, Moonves isn’t a big name. While I do think Moonves’ reputation itself is ruined, I don’t know that I can say the same about CBS. Their stock prices were hit when the initial

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story came out, however, as you can see above, it began to rise again in early September, and only faced a slight drop when the second wave of allegations came out and Moonves stepped down. The first drop definitely hurt them, but today their value is higher than it was 6 months ago. While I do think this was a wakeup call to many, especially potential shareholders, overall, I think it will be Netflix and Hulu that has a larger impact on their company value than this situation.


Page Principles

Tell the Truth: CBS and Les Moonves did not tell the truth. They did not open up about the allegations, they were not transparent with their handling of the situation and have tried to pivot with discussions about the broader #MeToo movement. Their response to the second wave of allegations shows that they are not being fully transparent with the public about their next steps. CBS could improve public opinion by having another investigation into how their corporate culture has contributed to the various allegations against male employees, and then sharing those findings and actively working towards changing their culture.

Prove it With Action: CBS has proved that they do not protect their employees or take allegations very seriously. This entire situation has uncovered that they do the exact opposite, as it points to a corporate culture that promotes sexual predators and hurts victims who speak up.

Listen to Stakeholders: CBS has not listened to their stakeholders, which is why they have a lawsuit against CBS. According to the Hollywood Reporter, there is a current class-action lawsuit against CBS. Gene Samit is “suing in New York federal court with the contention that CBS promulgated its ethical standards in proxy statements and then failed to disclose information that would have a material impact on its business” (Gardner, 2018).


Sources

Farrow, R. (2018, July 31). Les Moonves and CBS Face Allegations of Sexual Misconduct. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/08/06/les-moonves-and-cbs-face-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct

Farrow, R. (2018, September 10). Leslie Moonves Steps Down from CBS, After Six Women Raise New Assault and Harassment Claims. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/as-leslie-moonves-negotiates-his-exit-from-cbs-women-raise-new-assault-and-harassment-claims

Gardner, E. (2018, September 19). CBS Hit With Shareholder Suit Over Leslie Moonves Sexual Harassment Allegations. Retrieved from https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/cbs-hit-shareholder-suit-les-moonves-sexual-harassment-allegations-1137677?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=THR Breaking News_now_2018-08-27 10:53:16_jkonerman&utm_term=hollywoodreporter_breakingnews

Rice, L. (n.d.). Leslie Moonves responds to misconduct allegations: ‘I may have made some women uncomfortable’. Retrieved from https://ew.com/news/2018/07/27/leslie-moonves-statement-misconduct-allegations/

Steinberg, B. (2018, September 10). CBS Sets Aside $120 Million for Moonves Severance, Investigation Report Will Not Be Disclosed. Retrieved from https://variety.com/2018/biz/news/cbs-moonves-120-million-severance-harassment-investigations-1202934778/

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