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CBS CEO Les Moonves accused of sexual misconduct amid ‘culture of impunity’

The New Yorker is reporting that CBS CEO Leslie Moonves allegedly kissed and touched women against their will, and threatened to retaliate against women who wanted to report the behavior. The article also alleges misconduct at CBS News and 60 Minutes, and by executive producer Jeff Fager. Moonves has denied the allegations. Ronan Farrow joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his reporting.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, new allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct at CBS at the highest levels, and the culture that allowed the behavior.

    That is the focus of an investigation by "The New Yorker" magazine that is out this evening.

    It reports that Leslie Moonves, the CEO of CBS and one of the most powerful people in entertainment, allegedly kissed and touched women against their will. The cases go back to the 1980s. The article also alleges that Moonves physically intimidated two women or threatened to derail their careers.

    The article also alleges sexual harassment at its famed program "60 Minutes" and said that its executive producer, Jeff Fager, allowed it to go on there and at CBS News. Moonves has denied any assault, and said he never misused his position to harm anyone's career.

    CBS says there had been no misconduct claims or settlements against Moonves.

    Ronan Farrow, the writer, is again the writer and reporter on the story, and he joins me now.

    Ronan, spell out for us, what did you find? What are the main allegations against Les Moonves?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    Over the course of eight months, Judy, six women did an incredibly tough thing, overcoming what they described as profound fear of retaliation, to tell me about a range of sexual misconduct, up to and including two cases that both of those women described as sexual assault, in which they both said they were pinned down and had to struggle to escape an encounter.

    And what's important here, Judy, is that they're speaking about this because they were concerned there was a culture of impunity around Les Moonves.

    And dozens of other employees, former and current, across CBS backed up that account, and said that the company knew about charges of harassment and retaliation and that Mr. Moonves continued to promote some of the men at the heart of those allegations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can you — what can you tell us about who is making these charges?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    So, these are obviously sources who went through a long process of struggling with whether to come forward and what the ramifications would be for their careers.

    They include, for the women making allegations against Mr. Moonves specifically, the actress and writer Illeana Douglas, the writer Janet Jones, the producer Christine Peters.

    You know, these are people with prominent careers in Hollywood who are formidable in their own rights. But they all said that they feared that their careers had been profoundly damaged after they rebuffed Mr. Moonves' advances.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me share with our audience a statement that we just received from Les Moonves. And I believe we're going to put it up on the screen.

    He said, "I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. 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."

    So he is saying, yes, that there may have been actions that were misunderstood, but not what your reporting suggests.

  • Ronan Farrow:

    And, obviously, anytime there's a story like this, the commitment here is to fairness. And that statement from Mr. Moonves is prominently in that article.

    And, you know, we explored every aspect of his response to this and CBS' response. These are women backed by, in some cases, multiple eyewitnesses accounts, multiple people they told at the time, trails of paper, for instance.

    In Illeana Douglas' case, there was a settlement with CBS after this incident. She said she was fired for the incident.

    So, this does appear to be and is described by many of the sources as a pattern, and it extends both to Mr. Moonves and also, as I said, to some of these executives that he championed and promoted, like Jeff Fager, who ran the news division under him for a time and now runs "60 Minutes."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, in the article you write, you say that 30 current and former CBS staffers said the behavior extended beyond Moonves to the corporation, including CBS News and "60 Minutes." And, of course, its executive producer was Jeff Fager.

    So, what did you find about the corporate culture, the culture at CBS News?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    Over and over again, individuals, ranking from assistants up to powerful executives at the company, said that they knew of instances in which people had complained of harassment, and there had been no negative repercussions for powerful men who were the subjects of those allegations, and, indeed, in which women making those allegations were managed out of their jobs.

    Now, look, when you talk to dozen and dozens and dozens of people around a corporation, you get all the sides of the story. And there are certainly people at this company that have had good experiences, and there are certainly divisions that are not affected by these kinds of allegations.

    But there are a significant number of occurrences here. And they are manifested in litigation and in internal processes and in a string of NDAs, Judy, nondisclosure agreements that we obtained and reviewed, that suggests that at every level of this company there were people were complaining about a culture of impunity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what does that say? What are you saying you believe, based open your reporting, was going on there, that the word was going out from people at the very top that this kind of behavior is acceptable?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    I think, you know, you and I have both worked in large organizations in the news business and in media.

    It is rarely that overt, Judy, but certainly people said that, by example, there were powerful men who were engaged in this kind of behavior, who were subject to allegations widely known and who were continually promoted in spite of that.

    And that does have a powerful effect on corporate culture. We talk to, in this story, multiple experts and lawyers who try sexual harassment cases who said, you know, the culture at the top really does set the tone and really can have echoes throughout even a corporation as large as CBS.

    So, we're careful not to draw any speculative inferences here. But I can say that there are a large number of these cases across this company. And I think this story is important because it affords us an opportunity to look at not just a fallen producer, like a Harvey Weinstein, someone who used to be in a position of apex power, but a company that still is in a position of primacy and is a really important institution, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Ronan, I see that CBS corporate put out a statement that the independent directors have committed to investigating these claims.

    Is it your understanding that they are going to follow up on your reporting?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    They say that in that statement. And I think that that will be a source of cautious optimism for a lot of the sources in this story, but also a source of some skepticism, because these are claims that, in some cases, people have been trying to report within this company and without for years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, right now, Les Moonves still occupies the position of CEO; is that right?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    That's correct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Ronan Farrow with "The New Yorker," thank you very much.

  • Ronan Farrow:

    Thank you, Judy. Always a pleasure.

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