As CBS looks to find its footing after being rocked by a series of scandals, acting CEO Joseph Ianniello and other top executives took questions from employees on Tuesday about the company’s culture and future plans.
In the first of two planned live-blog sessions on the company’s internal employee web portal, Ianniello was asked Tuesday, “What will the company do with the $120 million it no longer has to pay out to Les Moonves?” — a reference to the amount of severance pay that had been due Moonves, ousted last year as CEO amid sexual-assault allegations, under his contract. The CBS board of directors voted in December to deny Moonves the $120 million, setting up a likely legal battle with the disgraced exec.
Ianniello thanked the questioner, then wrote, “Our priority is to continue to invest billions of dollars into the company in the form of our people and content. That’s the priority today and moving forward. Separate from that, there is an ongoing legal process regarding the $120 million that is yet to be determined.”
Moonves has continued to insist that workplace sexual encounters he engaged in were consensual. His attorney has publicly criticized the CBS board’s decision to deny him his severance, but has not yet challenged the decision legally. Moonves’ contract calls for any such dispute to go to arbitration.
Ianniello and other executives also fielded questions about the company’s corporate culture. One employee took aim at the forum of the live blog, which identified employees submitting questions by name, and suggested that an anonymous forum might be better. Ianniello wrote, “As you know, this is one of several feedback vehicles we have utilized as part of the ongoing conversation about our culture.” He continued, “We acknowledged that this forum was meant to be an open dialogue, unlike our survey which was anonymous. We are aware that some people are concerned about communicating in an open environment and plan to do more anonymous surveys in the future.”
Executives did not respond to several questions about CBS News, though Ianniello did promise that he would answer more queries on Wednesday in a second live-blog session. CBS News chief David Rhodes stepped down this month and was replaced by veteran producer Susan Zirinsky. The news division is also currently facing backlash after revealing a 2020 presidential election coverage team that doesn’t include black reporters or producers. CBS News subsequently announced that it will reveal additional campaign-team members at a later date.