Brow Beat

Stephen Colbert Addresses the Sexual Misconduct Allegations About His Boss, Les Moonves

Stephen Colbert sitting behind a desk.
“Everybody believes in accountability until it’s their guy.”
CBS

Stephen Colbert started his show Monday night with an Olympics-worthy spit take upon hearing that Les Moonves had been accused of sexual assault and harassment by six different women in a New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow. (Moonves has acknowledged making “some women uncomfortable by making advances” but, in a statement from CBS, denied allegations of sexual assault and workplace retaliation.) The main subject of Colbert’s monologue was Rudy Giuliani, but he promised to return to the subject, and later in the show, he did, delivering a somber monologue from his desk about the meaning of accountability.

Moonves, as the head of CBS, is Stephen Colbert’s boss, and the late night host went out of his way to acknowledge everything Moonves had done for him before saying he thought he would have to be held accountable for his actions:

I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I do believe in accountability. And not just for politicians you disagree with. Everybody believes in accountability until it’s their guy. And make no mistake, Les Moonves is my guy. He hired me to sit in this chair. He stood behind this show while we were struggling to find our voice. He gave us the time and the resources to succeed, and he has stood by us when people were mad at me. And I like working for him. But accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody, whether it’s the leader of a network, or the leader of the free world.

Colbert stops short of picking sides, taking no position on Moonves’ accusers or whether or not the network head should step down, but it’s hard to fault him too much: CBS has said Moonves will stay while they conduct an external investigation into the allegations, so he’s still Colbert’s boss. Colbert won’t be the last person who has to thread the needle between being a celebrity with a large platform and being the friend or employee (or both friend and employee) of someone facing these sorts of allegations. His focus on accountability seems like a good place to start.

Here are Stephen Colbert’s complete remarks:

Folks, before the break, I was over there. I made a few jokes about my boss being in trouble, and—are we still broadcasting? You know what, don’t tell me, I like a surprise. And here’s the thing. We’re coming up on one year of general awareness of the #MeToo movement. And I think that milestone is worth celebrating. But it’s hard to think of an appropriate anniversary gift when the entire Amazon wish list is just “Stop it!” By the way, women who wanted to “Stop it!” also searched for “Justice!”

And women over the past year have felt empowered to tell their stories in ways they haven’t before, which is an objectively good thing. Because—and it’s strange, to have to say this—powerful men taking sexual advantage of relatively powerless employees are wrong. We know it’s wrong now, and we knew it was wrong then. And how do we know we knew it was wrong then? Because we know these men tried to keep the stories from coming out back then. I don’t remember any ads in Variety saying, “Congratulations to me on all the butt I’m groping!”

That said, and this is obviously naïve on a certain level, the revelations and accusations of the past year, just in the entertainment industry alone, have been shocking. To me. To many of the women I know, it has brought a welcome sense of relief that something’s finally happening.

Now, as a middle-aged guy with some power in the entertainment industry, I may not be the ideal person to address this kind of systemic abuse. Who am I to judge? I’m a Catholic. Still. And when I go to confession, I have things to confess. First, that I don’t go to confession. And that just lied to you, for a bit.

But this weekend, some people asked me, probably because I work here, “What do you think is gonna happen?” I don’t know. I don’t know who does know. In a situation like this, I’d normally call Les. But over the past year, there’s been a lot of discussion of whether the disappearing of the accused from public life is the right thing to do. And I get that there should be levels of response. But I understand why that disappearing happens. Because there’s a JFK quote that I like and I cite a fair amount on this show, and it’s that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” And for so long, for women in the workplace, there was no change. No justice for the abused. So we shouldn’t be surprised that when the change comes, it comes radically. This roar is just a natural backlash to all that silence.

So I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I do believe in accountability. And not just for politicians you disagree with. Everybody believes in accountability until it’s their guy. And make no mistake, Les Moonves is my guy. He hired me to sit in this chair. He stood behind this show while we were struggling to find our voice. He gave us the time and the resources to succeed, and he has stood by us when people were mad at me. And I like working for him. But accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody, whether it’s the leader of a network, or the leader of the free world. We’ll be right back.