UPDATED with a statement from CBS Less than 24 hours after the CBS Board of Directors let Les Moonves stay in his job despite sexual misconduct allegations, the CEO and other executives were accused of destroying evidence in the the media company’s increasingly pitched battle with Shari Redstone and her family run National Amusements for corporate control.
In a potentially stunning and heavily redacted filing in Delaware that was unsealed this morning, Moonves, CBS COO Joe Ianniello and others are accused of using the self-destructing messaging app TigerText to communicate and “the systematic deletion of highly relevant documents…over a two year period.”
“The NAI Parties bring this motion in response to the CBS Parties’ recent admission that relevant evidence has already been destroyed, including after the CBS Parties filed suit, and to protect against the significant risk that additional spoliation could occur,” the July 23 filed 15-page emergency motion declares (read it here). “Once confronted, the CBS Parties acknowledged the use of the self-destructing messaging system,” it adds damningly, claiming that until the use of TigerText became known on July 18 the Moonves run company tried to keep the lid on it for the lawsuit now scheduled for an October trial start.
CBS issued a statement, saying its executives were simply following the advice of the media company’s security team after the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment disgorged emails that made public private conversations and business deals.
“Tiger Text was implemented by CBS’s Information Security Group for cybersecurity reasons following the Sony hack, and was not developed or used for any nefarious or sinister communications as some have alleged,” the media company said in a statement.
In the clearest spotlight, Moonves and Ianniello’s use of TigerText would wipe out any record of their conversations related to the board’s vote back in May to change CBS Corporation’s bylaws and other details relevant to the courtroom fight with Redstone and NAI, as well as elements of discussions around a merger with Viacom. The timing of their use of TigerText back in and around November 2015 comes a year after the giant Sony hack that spewed boatloads of internal documents and damaging communication online.
“In my opinion, based on information provided to me to date, CBS did not deploy the TigerText application in an acceptable business use manner that would result in an enhancement to its overall cybersecurity protection,” said BlurVoyant’s Global Head, Cyber Forensics and Incident Response Austin P. Berglas in a significantly redacted declaration that accompanied the filing made last week (read it here).
TigerText is one of a class of self-destructing messaging apps that gained popularity among the suit-and-tie set after the Sony Pictures hack.
On the company’s website, TigerConnect touts features including secure messaging — in which messages automatically delete after a set period of time, errant messages can be retracted before or after they’ve been read (removing all traces of a message from a conversation) and documents can be shared.
The timing of today’s unsealing certainly has a provocative edge as it so closely follows the CBS Board’s unorthodox and much derided decision to keep Moonves in his post during independent investigations in the sexual misconduct claims and the company’s overall culture. On Monday, the Board also shifted its already previously shifted annual shareholder meeting to a TBD date.
Including Moonves and Redstone, the CBS ruling body’s gathering was planned ahead of the release of quarterly earnings on Thursday, but clearly took on a heightened sense of urgency over the weekend after the New Yorker dropped an article on July 27 where six women came forward with claims against the CEO. In the Ronan Farrow penned article, the women assert that Moonves had forced himself on them and then retaliated professionally when he did not get the result he was allegedly seeking.
“I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances,” Moonves was quoted in response in the New Yorker piece. “Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely. But I always understood and respected—and abided by the principle—that ‘no’ means ‘no,’ and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career.”