CBS Chief Les Moonves Accused Of Sexual Misconduct By Six Women In New Yorker Exposé

Les Moonves

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Six women have come forward to accuse CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves of sexual misconduct in a much-anticipated exposé by New Yorker magazine.

Investigative reporter Ronan Farrow interviewed the women who allege that, between the nineteen-eighties and the late aughts, they were sexually harassed by Moonves and suffered professionally after rebuffing his advances.

Four described forcible touching or kissing during business meetings, in what they said appeared to be a practiced routine, Farrow reports.

“What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating,” actress and writer Illeana Douglas said in the New Yorker account, which published today online and will appear in the August 6 & 13, 2018 print issue.

All of the women who spoke with Farrow said they feared retaliation by Moonves, who is among the industry’s most powerful and well-compensated executives.

“He has gotten away with it for decades,” said writer Janet Jones, who told the New Yorker that she had to shove Moonves off her after he forcibly kissed her at a work meeting. “And it’s just not O.K.”

Over the course of an eight-month investigation, Farrow interviewed dozens of current and former CBS employees, who said misconduct extended from Moonves to important parts of the corporation, including CBS News and 60 Minutes, where Jeff Fager, the former chairman of CBS News and the current executive producer of the network’s flagship investigative broadcast, allowed harassment in the division.

Farrow won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by another Hollywood powerhouse, Harvey Weinstein. The now disgraced producer faces multiple rape charges.

“I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances,” Moonves told the New Yorker. “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.”

CBS issued a statement saying it takes allegations of workplace misconduct seriously, but added, “We do not believe, however, that the picture of our company created in The New Yorker represents a larger organization that does its best to treat its tens of thousands of employees with dignity and respect.”

The media company made note of the timing of the article, which comes in the midst of an increasingly acrimonious legal battle with Shari Redstone and National Amusements in which the board is seeking to diminish the role of its controlling shareholder. Redstone had been the chief proponent of recombining corporate siblings CBS and Viacom, a merger the CBS board ultimately rejected.

Farrow takes pains to point out that the timing is a coincidence: All of the women making allegations against Moonves began speaking to him before the current lawsuits, in independent interviews carried out over the course of months.

Douglas, who would later receive an Emmy nomination for her role in HBO’s Six Feet Under, met Moonves in the late 1990s. The executive, who at the time headed CBS Entertainment, said he was a fan of her work in the Martin Scorsese films Cape Fear and Goodfellas, and signed her to a deal with the network.

She was cast in the comedy Queens, and, shortly before production began on the pilot in 1997, Douglas was called to meet Moonves at his office. She tried to discuss the script, she said, but Moonves was interested in something else.

The actress claimed he pinned her down on the couch and began “violently kissing” her. She managed to overcome her fear when Moonves, aroused, pulled up her skirt and began to thrust against her, Douglas told the New Yorker.

“At that point, you’re a trapped animal,” she told Farrow. “Your life is flashing before your eyes.”

After rebuffing his advances, Douglas said Moonves removed her from the series and said she would “never work at this network again.” Her agent, Patrick Whitesell, who at the time was at Creative Artists Agency, dumped her. Only after hiring an attorney did Douglas collect the money CBS owed her, and received an offer to appear in a miniseries, Bella Mafia.

Douglas told The New Yorker she believes that the incident “derailed any future career I would have had at CBS.”

Moonves, in a statement, acknowledged trying to kiss Douglas, but denied “any characterization of ‘sexual assault,’ intimidation, or retaliatory action.”

A decade earlier, aspiring screenwriter Janet Jones met Moonves in his office for a pitch meeting. She arrived to meet him at 20th Century Fox, briefcase in hand, wearing a pantsuit, ready to talk about her screenplay. He offered her a glass of wine and made unwanted sexual overtures.

“He came around the corner of the table and threw himself on top of me. It was very fast,” Jones told the New Yorker, saying Moonves began trying to kiss her. Jones said that she struggled, and shoved Moonves away hard, yelling, “What do you think you’re doing?” Moonves responded, “‘Well, I was hitting on you.'”

Jones recounted the experience to producer Mike Marvin, who said he confronted Moonves about his behavior. Not long afterwards, Jones said she received a threatening call from Moonves who told her, “I will ruin your career. You will never get a writing job. No one will hire you.”

CBS told The New Yorker that Moonves has no recollection of these interactions.

Two other women described Moonves forcibly touching or kissing them during business meetings, including producer Christine Peters, who said Moonves “put a hand up my skirt” during a meeting to discuss female audiences.

A prominent actress who played a police officer on a long-running CBS program, who was too frightened of reprisals to use her name, told The New Yorker Moonves had confessed, over a luncheon meeting, that he had a “crush” on her — but nothing offensive happened when she told him she was in a relationship.

Years later, when Moonves was named president of CBS Entertainment, she received a call from CBS Business Affairs to informe her that her series deal with the network had been terminated. She called to express shock, and he requested a lunch meeting in his private dining room at the office.

Over the meal, Moonves once again expressed his attraction for the actress. She got up to leave, and went to give the executive a peck on the cheek.

Moonves, she said, grabbed her and forcibly kissed her: “He shoved his tongue down my throat. I mean shoved,” the actress told The New Yorker. “He had approached me to go to bed with him twice, but he did it politely,” she said. “But this time he just stuck his tongue down my throat.”

Two other women told The New Yorker their career opportunities evaporated after rejecting Moonves’ unwanted advances.

Dinah Kirgo, who won an Emmy as a writer for The Tracey Ullman Show, said she met Moonves in the early 1980s, when he was an executive at Saul Ilson Productions.  She and her sister and producing partner, Julie Kirgo, met with Moonves to discuss a TV deal. He subsequently invited her to a private dinner — an invitation she rejected, noting, “I don’t think your wife would appreciate us having that kind of dinner.” Moonves, through the network, said he didn’t remember any such discussion or invitation.

Afterward, Kirgo’s agents told her they had received reports that she had a reputation for being difficult to work with, the New Yorker reports.

“It’s very insidious, what he did,” Kirgo told Farrow.

A former child star whom The New Yorker identifies only by her first name, Kimberly, was introduced to Moonves by a friend who was a member of the executive’s staff who was interested in helping her re-establish her career. When the friend went to the bathroom, Moonves said, “Let’s just get a hotel room. Let’s just do this.”

The actress said she was scared by the sexual overture, made in the middle of a business meeting, which struck her as well-practiced. CBS said Moonves had no recollection of the meeting.

CBS’s independent directors issued a statement prior to the article’s publication, saying it would investigate the allegations.

“Upon the conclusion of that investigation, which involves recently reported allegations that go back several decades, the Board will promptly review the findings and take appropriate action,” the directors said in a statement.

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