It’s a stunning end for one of the most successful TV executives in the modern era.
After allegations of sexual misconduct against CEO Leslie Moonves had been reported by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker, the CBS board sought to negotiate his exit—including a severance package of up to $100 million. Moonves had overseen the network’s resurgence and was one of the highest paid executives in entertainment.
However, the news that Moonves might reap a historic windfall riled many in the industry.
“It’s completely disgusting,” one of the accusers, Jessica Pallingston, told The New Yorker about the reports of Mr. Moonves’s potential exit package, which had been reported last week to total more than $100 million. “He should take all that money and give it to an organization that helps survivors of sexual abuse.”
The pace of the board’s deliberations accelerated after Mr. Farrow contacted the board last week regarding his latest article, according to one of the people familiar with the negotiations.
In The New Yorker, Moonves responded to his accusers:
In a statement, Moonves acknowledged three of the encounters, but said that they were consensual: “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. 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.” Moonves declined to specify which three encounters he considered consensual.
The CBS board also responded to the accusations:
In separate statements, the CBS board of directors said that it “is committed to a thorough and independent investigation of the allegations, and that investigation is actively underway,” and the CBS Corporation said it “takes these allegations very seriously,” and called the board’s investigation “thorough” and “ongoing.”
The severance is on hold pending the results of that inquiry, CBS News reported.
The board is hoping to quell further criticism by donating a chunk of Moonves’ severance money to sexual assault activists.
The shakeup may position CBS for a sale. But the company is also facing some continued reputational risk. There is widespread scrutiny about the prospect of Moonves being paid tens of millions of dollars on his way out the door.
Moonves is one of the media world’s highest paid CEOs, so his severance package would normally be generous, even gargantuan.
But a huge payout to Moonves could stir shareholder ire in light of the disturbing harassment and assault allegations that have piled up against him.
With those optics in mind, CBS said Sunday night that Moonves and CBS will donate $20 million to organizations that support the #MeToo movement and other groups fighting for workplace equity for women.
Moonves still denies the veracity of the claims.
“Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am. Effective immediately I will no longer be Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBS,” Moonves said in a statement on Sunday.
CBS News reported on Moonves’ interim successor:
Joseph Ianniello, the current Chief Operating Officer and deputy to Moonves, will serve as interim CEO while the board searches for a permanent leader.
The move also concludes the legal dispute with majority CBS shareholder Shari Redstone and National Amusements Inc.
“Today’s resolution will benefit all shareholders, allowing us to focus on the business of running CBS – and transforming it for the future,” Redstone said in a statement. “We are confident in Joe’s ability to serve as acting CEO and delighted to welcome our new directors, who bring valuable and diverse expertise and a strong commitment to corporate governance.”
National Amusements agreed to avoid pressing for a merger of CBS and Viacom, which is also controlled by National Amusements, for at least two years.
Moonves’ departure is the latest in a series of exits by top executives accused of sexual harassment or misconduct as part of the national response to the #MeToo movement.
On Twitter, some felt Moonves’ departure isn’t enough to demonstrate that the industry takes sexual misconduct seriously.
19. How do you know nothing has changed in the media business? When Les Moonves is accused of a raft of horrific behavior and this is the way he is sent off by the board of directors. pic.twitter.com/EOEiTm43aQ
— Yashar Ali ð (@yashar) September 9, 2018
Before the latest round of allegations, many at CBS had vocally supported Moonves:
— Jo Ann Ross (@JoAnnRossCBS) July 28, 2018
Moonves’ statement also appeared on Twitter:
24. Statement from Les Moonves. pic.twitter.com/guTc9BUffQ
— Yashar Ali ð (@yashar) September 10, 2018
Others have condemned his behavior:
Les Moonves should be in prison. https://t.co/QyfaqiRBmw
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) September 10, 2018
What do you think of CBS’ crisis communications strategy and public statements, PR Daily readers?