Article Charges Moonves With History of Harassment

A bombshell article in the New Yorker quotes six women charging CBS CEO Leslie Moonves with sexual harassment.

In the story, written by Ronan Farrow, 30 other current and former employees at parts of CBS, ranging from CBS News and its 60 Minutes program to the cable network Pop, charge they were sexually harassed.

Former CBS News chair and current 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager was accused by six former employees of touching employees in ways that make them uncomfortable while Fager was inebriated at company parties.

Reports that the story would be published sent CBS stock down more than 6% to $54.01 a share because of concern Moonves might have to step down, hurting the value of the company.

CBS’ independent directors said the charges would be investigated. They also noted that the charges come at a time when CBS and Moonves are in a legal battle for control of the company with the family of ailing media mogul Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari Redstone.

Related: Shari Redstone Sues Moonves Over Ownership Dilution Move

"The malicious insinuation that Ms. Redstone is somehow behind the allegations of inappropriate personal behavior by Mr. Moonves or today's reports is false and self-serving,” a spokesman for Shari Redstone said. “Ms. Redstone hopes that the investigation of these allegations is thorough, open and transparent."

In a statement to the magazine, Moonves said:

“Throughout my time at CBS, we have promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees, and have consistently found success elevating women to top executive positions across our company. 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. This is a time when we all are appropriately focused on how we help improve our society, and we at CBS are committed to being part of the solution.”

Related: CBS Says It Will Challenge Amendments to Bylaws

According to CBS, there have been no misconduct claims and no settlements against Moonves during his 24 years at the network.

The allegations against Moonves in TheNew Yorker are based on incidents that happened from 1985, before he was at CBS, through 2006.

Among the accusers of Moonves is actress and writer Ileana Douglas, who was fired from the comedy Queens after rejecting advances from Moonves that included unwanted kissing in 1997.

After getting paid $50,000 for appearing in the pilot, Douglas’ $300,000 holding deal was canceled. She received the remaining $250,000 after she complained about what happened with Moonves and was cast in a mini-series Bella Mafia.

Related: CBS Cuts Ties to Charlie Rose

In a statement, CBS told The New Yorker that Moonves acknowledges trying to kiss Douglas, but that “he denies any characterization of ‘sexual assault,’ intimidation, or retaliatory action,” including berating her on set and personally firing her from Queens.”

The other women accusing Moonves in the article included writer Dinah Kirgo, producer Christine Peters, writer Janet Jones, a former child star identified only by the first name Kimberly, and an actress who played a police officer on a long-running CBS program.

In some of these cases, CBS told the magazine Moonves did not recall the incidents.

Moonves’ wife, Big Brother host Julie Chen, said she stood by him.

“I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the late ‘90s, and I have been married to him for almost 14 years,” Chen Tweeted. “Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”

Many of the other allegations came from current and former CBS News staffers.

In addition to the complaints against Fager, the magazine said:

· Last summer, Erin Gee, who worked at CBS for more than 15 years, filed a lawsuit alleging that an executive director at CBS Evening News urged her to have sex with a co-worker with whom she was having difficulties in order to “break the ice,” and that she was demoted after complaining about gender discrimination. In May, a magistrate judge in New York criticized CBS for failing to save emails from the time of Gee’s allegation."

· In 2015, a CBS reporter, Kenneth Lombardi, alleged in a lawsuit that a CBS News supervisor texted him links to pornography, and that a senior producer had grabbed his crotch. Lombardi claimed that when he complained to a manager she replied, “Never bring up gender discrimination again!”

TheNew Yorker reviewed three six-figure settlements with 60 Minutes employees who have filed complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination. The women who received those payments were required to sign nondisclosure agreements that prevented them from speaking about their experiences, with penalties for any breach. Several other women who have made allegations against CBS News declined to speak with Farrow on the record, citing nondisclosure agreements.

In a statement, Fager said, “It is wrong that our culture can be falsely defined by a few people with an axe to grind who are using an important movement as a weapon to get even, and not by the hundreds of women and men that have thrived, both personally and professionally, at 60 Minutes."

He added that “a majority of our senior staff are women. All of them worked their way up the ranks and are now managers of our broadcast. Half of our producers and a majority of our associate producers are women. It is a challenging place to do well and promotions are earned on merit and are not based on gender.”

The article also noted that earlier this year, Leslie Isaacs, a VP at Pop, a cable network owned by CBS and Lionsgate, filed a lawsuit alleging that CBS was aware of a hostile workplace at the channel.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.