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As Les Moonves departs, sexual misconduct allegations raise wider questions about CBS culture

CBS chairman and chief executive Leslie Moonves is stepping down after several more women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct across a 20-year span. Amna Nawaz learns more about the allegations from Ronan Farrow from The New Yorker, then discusses the future of CBS with Meg James of the Los Angeles Times.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The chairman and chief executive of CBS, Leslie Moonves, is stepping down, as several more women have come forward to accuse him of sexual harassment or assault.

    As Amna Nawaz reports, his departure marks a dramatic downfall for one of the television industry's most powerful men.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The 68-year-old Moonves has been at CBS since 1995 and chairman and CEO since 2003.

    The accusations against him cover a 20-year span from the 1980s to the 2000s. And Moonves reportedly began negotiating the terms of his departure weeks ago, after a "New Yorker" report earlier this summer featuring accusations made against him by six separate women.

    The New Yorker published a second report this weekend with six new allegations of misconduct or assault by Moonves. Within hours of the story's publication, the company announced his departure.

    The reporter behind both of those reports, Ronan Farrow, joins me now.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour," Ronan.

    And I want to begin by asking you about those dozen women across both reports. Give me a sense of what stood out to you about their stories and consistencies you saw across what they told you.

  • Ronan Farrow:

    Well, on the — often, in a body of reporting like this, there is a point at which you realize there are too many stories with too many similarities in the fact pattern for it to be coincidental.

    These were not women that were in touch with each other. There was no coordination. And yet they were producing uncannily similar details about alleged misbehavior by Les Moonves.

    The other overriding impression you come away with talking to these women is just how serious the misconduct was. I mean, we are talking about multiple allegations that would meet the Department of Justice's definition of rape, potentially, multiple allegations of serial sexual assault, forced oral sex.

    And, finally, there is a theme running through these stories of retaliation, women claiming that their careers were destroyed after they rejected Les Moonves.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's worth mentioning, of course, in response to your report, late on Sunday, Mr. Moonves released a statement.

    I want to read that in part. He says — quote — "The untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am. I'm deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization."

    I want to ask you about the CBS response, though, not to this story, Ronan, but your first one. Back then, they said that there were no settlements or claims of misconduct that they knew about during Mr. Moonves' time with them.

    In this report, you talk about a criminal complaint that was filed by one woman last year.

    Did the CBS board not know about that?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    We report in this latest article that a portion of the CBS board knew about that dating back to late January.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, they did in fact know about that one.

    But tell me a little bit about the investigation now. There are two law firms that have been appointed to both conduct investigations. You have been talking to folks inside CBS. What do they make about how these investigations might turn out?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    It's worth pointing out that these investigations are being led by reputable law firms and by two attorneys at each firm. There's — there's a woman in charge of this that I think commands respect.

    That said, there are significant questions from these sources in the stories about the impartial nature of the investigation. As long as the board was in place, as it was a few days ago, with a majority of its members very much predisposed to be in favor of Mr. Moonves, people within the company said, we are not prepared to speak to these investigators in a lot of cases, because they felt that there was no universe in which there would be an outcome that actually held anyone to account, and they feared that they might be retaliated against for speaking.

    And that's partly because of the board on the — but it's also because this is not just Les Moonves they were complaining about. This is a broader culture and a story of men allegedly protecting each other within the company.

    That includes Jeff Fager, the former head of CBS News, who is still there. So there are women within CBS News saying they're still reluctant to speak to investigators because of that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, to that point about that broader culture you reported on both times, do you get the sense that the investigation is looking into those possibilities, into the broader culture? Do you think that there could be similar additional behavior uncovered?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    If these — this firm is — the two firms are doing their jobs, then that's exactly what they're looking at.

    It has been stated publicly that they are looking at the problems at CBS News. We spoke to an executive on one of these stories who said that the writ of these firms specifically includes the allegations against Fager, as well as those against Moonves.

    There is some cautious optimism now, Amna, now that the board has changed, six members have been replaced, now that Moonves is out of power. But there are still a lot of questions for a lot of employees at CBS who are frightened to speak.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Ronan Farrow, reporting on this continuing.

    And congratulations on your reports. Thanks, as always, for making the time.

  • Ronan Farrow:

    Thank you, Amna.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    To learn more about what CBS' reaction has been and what lies ahead for the media giant, I'm joined by Meg James of The Los Angeles Times.

    Meg, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    I want to ask you about the timing of some of what we have seen from CBS. It wasn't really until the second report from Ronan that decisive action was taken. What's been happening in the CBS boardroom for the last several weeks since the allegations first surfaced?

  • Meg James:

    Well, the CBS boardroom has been very fraught over the last few weeks.

    Some of the board members were quite taken aback by the charges that Ronan's first article back in July exposed. I think a lot of the board members — some are older gentleman — felt like these were going to be just casual flings, and that the allegations themselves went back decades.

    So they weren't really that concerned, or at least it didn't appear that they were that concerned, until after the first story hit. And then, a few days later, CBS said, like, yes, we're taking these allegations very seriously.

    And then a few days after that, they hired two very prominent law firms to investigate not only the charges against Mr. Moonves, but the culture at CBS, CBS News, and all of CBS Corp.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There was an FCC filing yesterday by CBS as part of another agreement I want to ask you about in a moment.

    But my reading of it is that unless the board ultimately decides, pending the investigation results, to fire Mr. Moonves for cause, he is now and will continue to work for them for up to a year in an advisory capacity. He also stands to get paid $120 million.

    Can you explain to us how that would work?

  • Meg James:

    Yes, Mr. Moonves had renegotiated his contract more than a year ago. So there were provisions in place for him to be paid a pretty lucrative settlement when he left CBS.

    He's been in charge of the company for more than 12 years. He's been incredibly successful, one of the most successful executives in all of Hollywood. And the board rewarded him with this very lucrative contract, which allowed a production deal and considerable stock and option and other compensation when he left.

    The board is now in a very uncomfortable position. They have a contract with Mr. Moonves every requires them to pay him out. They have not fired him yet. But they want to wait until after this investigation is completed. And then they will decide what portion of that $120 million, if any, will be paid to Mr. Moonves now.

    The $20 million that is going to go to groups supporting MeToo and women's equality in the workplace, that money is going to come right out of whatever they would pay Mr. Moonves. It will likely be negotiated, I suspect, in the coming weeks when the findings are complete, and CBS can really look at the totality of the charges.

    So there's a lot of legal implications that come from this review. And I think CBS, in their filing early this morning or late last night, just made that clear, that they're going to put $120 million in a trust account, and that will be sealed up until they can figure out how much, if any, Moonves is entitled to.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meg, there was another legal battle playing out in the background, this one involving the former parent company of Viacom, sort of a battle for control there. That was settled this weekend.

    Do we have any sense that the board's foot-dragging in dealing with Mr. Moonves and these specific allegations, was any of that wrapped up in the turmoil over that battle?

  • Meg James:

    A little bit.

    I mean, it was separate from the sexual harassment charges. But last fall, Shari Redstone, who is one of the controlling shareholders of CBS, as well as Viacom, the other media company, started making — agitating for changes on the board.

    And I believe that Ms. Redstone felt like the CBS board needed a refresh, it needed new board members with different experience. And that's what was a compromise that they came to over the weekend, was that they would install six new board members in an attempt to ensure the board would have independence, not only from Ms. Redstone, but also from CBS management.

    I think that there was a feeling that the previous board, the one that was just replaced, was a little too close to Moonves. And that was part of the rough and tumble between Shari Redstone and Les Moonves, and he had had the support of the board, of course, until yesterday.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Until yesterday, when everything changed there. A media giant has now forever changed.

    Meg James of The Los Angeles Times, thanks for your time.

  • Meg James:

    Thank you very much.

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