In a second board meeting in three days, CBS’s directors hired a pair of high-powered law firms to investigate claims of sexual harassment against embattled Chairman and CEO Les Moonves but once again stopped short of putting him on leave while the probe takes place.
According to an official statement, the investigation will focus not only on the allegations six women raised against Moonves in the New Yorker article but also look more broadly at possible misconduct at CBS News.
The media company’s directors are moving swiftly to demonstrate their seriousness in examining the damaging allegations. A special committee of the board, comprised of former NAACP President Bruce S. Gordon, restaurateur Linda Griego and Los Angeles-based entertainment lawyer Robert N. Klieger, will oversee the investigation.
Moonves will have no role in the investigation and is entirely recused from it.
Here is the statement:
At its meeting this afternoon, the CBS Board of Directors unanimously approved the retention of Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton to conduct a full investigation of the allegations in recent press reports about Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves, CBS News and cultural issues at all levels of CBS. At Covington & Burling the investigation will be led by Nancy Kestenbaum, and at Debevoise & Plimpton it will be led by Mary Jo White.
To help facilitate the investigation, a Special Committee of Board members has been formed comprised of Bruce S. Gordon, Linda Griego and Robert N. Klieger. Mr. Moonves will have no role in the investigation and is entirely recused from it. The Board took no further action at this meeting pending discussion with counsel as to appropriate next steps.
The Board noted that it takes these allegations seriously and is committed to acting in the best interest of the Company and all of its shareholders, and is confident that the employees of CBS will continue to perform at a high level as this process unfolds.
In addition, the Board took action today to appoint Bruce S. Gordon to serve as Lead Independent Director of the Board of Directors.
Neither the Board nor the Company expects to comment further on this matter at this time.
The attorneys named to head the investigations have extensive experience in civil litigation and white collar crime.
Kestenbaum served for nine years as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York before joining Covington. Her biography describes her as being involved in corporate internal investigations and defending institutions and officers, directors and executives in grand jury, SEC and regulatory investigations.
Debevoise & Plimpton was recognized as the “White Collar Firm of the Year” and senior chair White has been inducted into the “Hall of Fame” by the publication Benchmark Litigation, recognizing her decades of work prosecuting and defending a wide range of white collar criminal and civil cases. She has served as Chair of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Moonves will remain at the helm of CBS while attorneys examine claims that the long-time television executive had made unwanted sexual advances during business meetings, and retaliated after being rebuffed.
The executive acknowledged in the New Yorker article that he may have made some women uncomfortable with his advances, but added, “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.”
A number of prominent female initially stepped forward to voice their support for the executive following publication of the damaging New Yorker magazine expose.
But the executive is under mounting pressure, as one prominent institution, USC School of Cinematic Arts, sought to distance itself from the executive and the Time’s Up organization unambiguously voiced support for the accusers and demanded a “full, transparent and expedient investigation.”
By midday Wednesday, the besieged Moonves voluntarily exited the Anita Hill-led Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace.
Moonves is perhaps one of the most influential figures in entertainment, credited with reviving the once laggard CBS television network into a broadcasting powerhouse. Over the course of his tenure, the network has commanded top ratings and produced such hits as The Big Bang Theory, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, SURVIVOR, Everybody Loves Raymond and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Before joining CBS in 1995 as president of entertainment, Moonves was president of Warner Bros. Television, where his team developed such hit shows as Friends and ER and supplied the largest number of programs to network television for nine consecutive years.
The 68-year-old executive is married to Julie Chen, co-host of The Talk.