On Sunday, Leslie Moonves, CEO of the CBS Corporation, resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. The initial accusations emerged in a July article by reporter Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker, which detailed the claims of six women. Four said that Moonves forcibly kissed or touched them, while the other two explained “physical intimidation” and threats to ruin their careers. All six women believe their careers suffered as a result of their rejection of Moonves’s advances.
One alleged victim, actress Ileana Douglas, claims she was assaulted in a private meeting with Moonves in March 1997. He allegedly pinned her to the couch and forcibly kissed her before she refused further advances and left the room.
Douglas alleges that Moonves later scolded and threatened her for her poor performance during rehearsals for Queens, a CBS show then in the works (Douglas explains that she was overwhelmed by Moonves’ presence at the rehearsals and could not focus). Moonves allegedly called her to say that she would not receive “a f—ing dime” of her earnings. Douglas was fired soon thereafter and offered $125,000 once she threatened legal action, with an additional $250,000 for her appearance in a miniseries. She agreed and has since never entered into a TV deal with CBS again.
Other women, including a screenwriter, a producer, and actresses, allege similar encounters throughout the past three decades. They claim that they met with Moonves to discuss possible jobs or business deals. Moonves reportedly placed his hand up their skirts, grabbed and kissed them, and/or invited them to have sex with him. After refusing, many of them never heard from CBS again.
Moonves’s departure coincided with the release of another controversial report of misconduct by Farrow. In the article, TV executive Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb recounts how Moonves drove her to a secluded area on the premise of a lunch date, where he forced her to perform oral sex. Two years later, in 1988, Golden-Gottlieb claims Moonves exposed himself to her in his office. The next day, he allegedly threw her against a wall for not sending a memo to another executive. In 1994, Jessica Pallingston claims that she arrived at Moonves’s hotel suite to introduce herself as his new assistant. He asked her for a massage, asked sexual questions, forced her to perform oral sex, and groped her breasts. At least four other women allege similar encounters, including two massage therapists.
In response to the controversy, CBS has pledged an immediate $20 million donation to organizations which support the #MeToo movement, taken directly from Moonves’s severance pay.
Yet the corporation’s generosity may mask a history of complicity in its employees’ misconduct. In fact, the corporation is tangled in a web of allegations, reports, and attempts to trailblaze corporate handling of such cases. Less than a year ago, CBS television host Charlie Rose was fired amid sexual misconduct allegations from 27 women, and today 60 Minutes producer Jeff Fager is under scrutiny for inappropriate touching.
Although he denies the allegations, Moonves admits past consensual relationships with three of the women and says he may have made others “uncomfortable” in the past. In a statement upon his resignation, he said, “Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am.” Moonves helped found the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. If the accounts are true, Moonves is a hypocrite; his commission does not show progressivism, but deceit.
Moonves’s alleged actions should nevertheless be seen as a precedent. He is the first network executive to be accused of misconduct and, despite scores of resignations and terminations of powerful men based on misconduct allegations, he will not be the last.
His resignation is one of the first steps in destroying the toxic culture in business that encourages such behavior. If potential abusers see that even the highest man with the heftiest paycheck is fallible, they will not perceive the safety in numbers needed to commit crime.
Many of the women who participated in Farrow’s expose attest to a “boys’ club” at CBS, and the Moonves debacle portrays such an atmosphere perfectly.
Few defy those who are most powerful and the powerful protect those like them. However, being cooperative, even for a time, does not make victims acquiescent nor does it make them weak. Some of these women had children or business partners who were depending on their success. All were focused on their professional advancement at a time when few women were among their colleagues. Each of these women has strength, intelligence, and talent that even Moonves’ influence could not touch.