The potential $120 million exit package for ousted CBS boss Les Moonves is looking more shaky after a bombshell New York Times story detailing the former CEO’s efforts to outrun and evade investigations into his sexual misconduct.
A lengthy article posted this afternoon and bylined by three Times writers captures the increasing anxiety by Moonves as allegations from his past came to light.
CBS declined to comment on the story’s revelations. Because the September exit of Moonves is still fresh, and investigations into his conduct are still ongoing, there are apt to be repercussions from the piece.
The article centers on the link between Moonves and talent manager Marv Dauer, who has spent three decades representing up-and-coming clients including Bobbie Phillips, an actress who was 25 when she signed with Dauer. He arranged a meeting in 1995 with Moonves, who was then president of Warner Bros. Television and already the corporate force behind hits like ER and Friends. During the meeting, Phillips says he exposed himself and tried to force her to have oral sex.
In a statement to the Times, Moonves said, “I strongly believe that the sexual encounter with Ms. Phillips more than 20 years ago was consensual.” A publicist for Moonves did not immediately reply to messages from Deadline seeking further comment.
Along with the specific allegations by Phillips, the story repeats a series of text messages exchanged in 2017 and 2018 between Moonves and Dauer as the scope of the investigations became clear. Moonves deleted them from his iPad, investigators discovered, but Dauer kept them on his end. He also gave sworn statements about the text exchanges to the two law firms investigating Moonves.
“I think I’ll be O.K., But if Bobbie talks, I’m done,” Moonves texted Dauer early on. A Times reporter, the story explained, had begun making calls after getting a tip soon after the #MeToo movement accelerated last fall that Moonves should be considered vulnerable in the new climate. It would be several months before the New Yorker‘s Ronan Farrow would publish two separate articles that proved to be the undoing of the mogul.
As Times reporters logged calls to Dauer, the manager continued to try to show his loyalty to the CBS boss by not responding to them, the Times said. When he told Moonves he had not answered the phone when they called, the ex-CEO replied, “Thanks. Praying.” Then, a few days later, he responded to a similar report with two words: “This sucks.”
The text exchanges and other details revealed by the Times also show a pattern of Moonves allegedly trying to tap-dance through the investigations while also trying to cast Phillips in a plum role in an effort to win her silence. She had quit acting for a time, but then returned to it and Moonves is described as making his push to find a part in order to “make amends” for his conduct, the report said.
Dauer also played a key role in the dynamic, maneuvering to secure potential casting opportunities for a longtime client. Moonves, according to the story, initially proposed a role paying $1,500 on a show from last spring’s pilot season called Blood and Treasure, eventually raising the offer to $5,000.
Dauer told the Times he no longer manages Phillips. “I don’t know how I got in the middle of this,” he said. “All I know is that I’m a key witness with $120 million at stake. I can’t even imagine a sum of money like that.”
He also denied attempting to blackmail Moonves. “I wouldn’t even know how to blackmail someone,” he said. “Not in my wildest dreams. Yes, I did try to get my clients parts. That’s my job. That’s what managers do.”
The findings of the outside law firms’ probe into Moonves’ conduct will not be made public, per the settlement he reached with CBS. But their conclusions will determine whether he is entitled to the $120 million payout.
The Times piece lands during a time of transition for CBS. The company is being led by an acting CEO (Joe Ianniello) and an interim board chairman (Strauss Zelnick). At the company’s annual shareholder meeting in New York on December 11, a raft of new board members will be elected. The search for a permanent CEO is not expected to conclude until early in 2019.