CBS Corp.’s board of directors will meet Monday to consider the fate of chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves and set the details on the investigation into allegations that Moonves sexually assaulted and threatened women over the years.
The board is expected to meet via teleconference around midday Eastern time. The meeting was already on the board’s schedule because CBS will release its second-quarter earnings on Thursday and is scheduled to hold its annual shareholders meeting on Friday in Pasadena, Calif. on Aug. 10.
The board members are sure to discuss the explosive allegations published last Friday by the New Yorker. It is believed that Moonves will face pressure from some members who have to date backed him to voluntarily take a leave of absence while the investigation is conducted. Sources say board members see that as preferable to the possibility of the board voting to suspend him. The allegations against the longtime chairman-CEO sent CBS’ stock price plummeting 6% on Friday.
Board members are also expected to try to settle on the law firm to be retained to conduct the investigation into the allegations against Moonves and claims in the New Yorker story that CBS management tolerates harassment and abusiveness in the broader culture of CBS, particularly within CBS News. A source familiar with the situation said board members are determined to ensure that the probe goes beyond the allegations against Moonves and into the story’s claims about the culture at CBS.
Given the drama surrounding the company, it’s also possible the board will consider postponing the Aug. 10 annual meeting. That gathering was already delayed from May 18 because of the lawsuit that CBS filed on May 14 against its controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone’s National Amusements Inc. (NAI).
The 14-member CBS board has become deeply divided among the 11 independent members who have staunchly backed Moonves and the three members who represent NAI’s interest, Redstone and attorneys Robert Klieger and David Andelman.
With the support of the 11 independent members, CBS has mounted a long-shot legal bid to dilute Redstone’s voting control over the company. At present NAI controls about 80% of voting shares in CBS. The lawsuit claims Redstone has violated her fiduciary duty to all CBS shareholders by pursuing a plan to reunite CBS with its former parent company, Viacom, which NAI also controls.
The independent board members issued a statement backing Moonves and his management on Friday, before the New Yorker story was published, and pledging to mount an investigation into the claims. The expose by Ronan Farrow detailed accusations that Moonves forced himself on multiple women, including actress Illeana Douglas, and then threatened to hurt their careers after he was rebuffed.
The gravity of the allegations almost certainly will force the board to take some tougher action on Monday. Amid the heightened cultural sensitivity to sexual harassment concerns, it would be hard for the board to justify keeping Moonves in his post while a probe is ongoing.
Moonves and Shari Redstone have become bitter adversaries amid the tussle for control of CBS. On Friday, a rep for Redstone issued a statement calling for a “thorough, open, and transparent investigation” into the allegations. She also bristled at the “malicious insinuation” in some media reports that Redstone played a role in bringing the New Yorker story to light in order to weaken Moonves’ position in the legal case.