Private messages exchanged between the two executives, made public as part of CBS’ ongoing legal battle with its controlling shareholders, the Redstone family, portray Moonves and Ianniello as more than just close colleagues. Instead, they depict two confederates in a high-stakes corporate war.
“I will have your back to the end!” Ianniello messaged Moonves after a pivotal May 13 vote by a Special Committee of the CBS board, which recommended a stock dividend that would dilute the Redstone family’s voting control over the media company. The messages also included matching Godfather references and commiseration about Shari Redstone, head of National Amusements, as well as a promise from Ianniello to his boss: “This way you are not alone.”
The court ordered portions of the private exchanges made via TigerText, an ephemeral messaging application that’s akin to Snapchat, to be shielded from public view.
However, many of these redacted remarks could be extracted from a court document using off-the-shelf editing tools within Adobe’s software. Variety was the first to discover this document glitch, which Deadline subsequently replicated.
Moonves and Ianniello appeared to favor the disappearing TigerText app, which automatically deletes messages, over more permanent email communications as they traded thoughts on sensitive topics. In one exchange from October 2017, Moonves forwarded an email from Redstone to Ianniello concerning a possible transaction between CBS and Verizon.
“After exchanging three brief emails about Ms. Redstone, Mr. Ianniello asked Mr. Moonves if he was ‘getting tiger text on flight,’ to which Mr. Moonves responded, ‘Yes.’ At that point, the email chain between Mr. Ianniello and Mr. Moonves went silent,” according to one redacted portion of one court document.
The pair’s Tiger talks resumed two days before CBS and a Special Committee of the board went to court, seeking a temporary restraining order against Redstone to prevent her from blocking a planned vote that would dilute her voting power over the company. Ianniello encouraged Moonves to gird for battle with the company’s controlling shareholder.
Redstone had pushed CBS to explore a merger with its struggling corporate sibling, Viacom. The family’s holding company, National Amusements, has a controlling stake in both companies.
Ianniello raised the possibility of Redstone taking action — including replacing board members — if CBS rejected the combination.
“Stock will plummet, but she will blame you,” Ianniello wrote to Moonves. “Either way, there is no avoiding turbulence. This way you are not alone.”
“You are taking away [Redstone’s] whole life,” Moonves remarks, later that same day.
“Viacom is her life,” Ianniello responds. “She has nothing to do with our company. BTW — for her troubles, we will make her an ext(ra) billion. She still has a toy in Viacom, has her board and has her guy to run it.”
After the Special Committee of the CBS board voted to approve a share diminish National Amusements’ control over the company, Moonves evokes a famous line from The Godfather to signal the company was going to war with Redstone.
“Mattresses tomorrow am,” Moonves writes to Ianniello, on the eve of CBS’ filing for a restraining order against Redstone.
“We won’t forget the cannoli too!” Ianniello responds.
“And take the gun,” Moonves adds. “We need it.”