Leslie Moonves’ tenure at CBS Corp. is expected to end within the next 24 hours as new allegations of sexual assault and harassment surface in an investigative report by Ronan Farrow.
CBS and controlling shareholder National Amusements Inc. are also said to be nearing a settlement of the legal battle that has raged for the past four months over control of CBS.
The swirl of events that have enveloped Moonves during the past six months amount to a dizzying reversal of fortune for one of the industry’s most prominent and successful executives. Moonves had enjoyed an unparalleled run of success in a famously turbulent business, which only magnifies the impact of his abrupt fall from grace. Moonves is the high-ranking media industry titan to have been forced out by allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.
Moonves is expected to resign by Monday morning, if not sooner. He had been due a massive severance package, but that agreement will not be sorted out until the results of an existing CBS internal investigation is concluded. According to the Wall Street Journal, some of the $100 million-plus in Moonves’ severance package will be donated to charities focused on combatting sexual harassment, including Time’s Up.
The settlement of the lawsuit CBS filed against NAI in May is said to include provisions designed to ensure the company has some autonomy from NAI to pursue M&A opportunities and avert a merger with Viacom — the push by NAI that sparked the legal fight.
CBS also plans to also overhaul its 14-member board of directors, with six new directors signing on. Richard Parsons, former Time Warner chairman, was already slated to join the panel but his formal election has been held up by the legal brawling in Delaware Chancery Court.
Joe Ianniello, CBS’ chief operating officer, is expected to be named interim CEO as Moonves departs. The board is expected to mount a search for a new CEO.
The investigative report published Sunday by the New Yorker about Moonves includes allegations against the CBS Corp. chairman-CEO from six women who say they had disturbing encounters with Moonves, with some claims going back to the 1980s through the early 2000s.
Phyliss Golden-Gottlieb, a former executive who worked with Moonves at Lorimar Television in the 1980s, alleges that Moonves forced her to perform oral sex on him. Golden-Gottlieb also described an incident in which Moonves, angry over a work-related issue, threw her against a wall. She said he then began to retaliate against her on the job.
Golden-Gottlieb said she made no complaint at the time because she was a single mother supporting two children. Last year, as the #MeToo movement spread, Golden-Gottlieb said she sought to pursue criminal charges with Los Angeles police. According to the New Yorker, police found her claims credible but opted not to pursue charges because the statute of limitations has expired. The New Yorker report raised the question of whether Moonves was forthcoming with the CBS board of directors about the existence of the criminal investigation last year.
In a statement to the New Yorker, Moonves said some of the encounters described in the story were consensual, but did not specify which. Daniel Petrocelli, an attorney for Moonves, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday morning.
“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,” Moonves told the New Yorker. “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. I can only surmise they are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation, and my career. Anyone who knows me knows that the person described in this article is not me.”
The allegations come about six weeks after Farrow published his first New Yorker expose on Moonves on July 27. The report forced CBS’ board of directors to hire two law firms to launch an internal investigation of Moonves’ conduct.
In a statement, CBS cited the ongoing investigation and would not comment on Moonves’ status. Multiple sources say the announcement of his resignation from the company he has helped lead for 23 years is coming by Monday.
“CBS takes these allegations very seriously. Our Board of Directors is conducting a thorough investigation of these matters, which is ongoing,” CBS said in a statement. A representative for the CBS board reiterated the focus on the investigation in a separate statement. “The CBS Board of Directors is committed to a thorough and independent investigation of the allegations, and that investigation is actively underway,” a spokesman said.
Industry observers were surprised that Moonves remained in place after the initial Farrow report. The allegations in Sunday’s report — incorporating not only sexual misconduct but violence and a concerted effort to retaliate against those who rebuffed him — have made it virtually impossible for the board of directors to not take action.
Moonves already has been negotiating an exit agreement with the CBS board, given the pressure created by the initial Farrow report. Reports that the talks have been focused on a severance package of $100 million or more have spurred outrage among many observers. The Time’s Up advocacy group issued a statement on Thursday blasting CBS for considering such a sum in light of the allegations.
Makeup artist Deborah Green and former Lorimar executive Deborah Morris told Farrow of experiencing sexually aggressive behavior from Moonves and having him retaliate after being rebuffed. Writer Linda Silverthorn said she had consensual encounters with Moonves in the 1980s when he was an executive at 20th Century Fox. Six years later, when she went his Warner Bros. office for a professional meeting, he exposed himself and coerced her to touch him in a sexual manner.
Jessica Pallingston, who worked as an assistant to Moonves when he was at Warner Bros. Television in 1994, described a hotel room encounter in which he tried to coerce her to have sex. After she started shaking as a result of a panic attack, he backed off, according to the New Yorker. But Moonves continued to attempt to grope her at times, and was also hostile to her later when she encountered him through her work for other Warner Bros. executives.
Massage therapist Deborah Kitay said Moonves propositioned her repeatedly when she worked for him, at his office and his home, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The story also cites former executives who worked at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C. who noted a history of complaints about sexual behavior from Moonves when he would receive massages at the hotel.
Moonves responded to the first story with a statement expressing regret for having “made some women uncomfortable by making advances.” Last month, Moonves hired prominent litigator Petrocelli to represent him in connection with CBS’ internal probe.