Brow Beat

More Women Accuse Les Moonves of Sexual Misconduct; Moonves Expected to Step Down at CBS

CBS executive Les Moonves.
Les Moonves, hanging out in Sun Valley at a 2017 conference for extremely wealthy people.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Les Moonves, the chairman and CEO of CBS, is expected to step down from the company on Monday, CNN reports, after another blockbuster New Yorker story from Ronan Farrow brought new allegations of sexual misconduct to light. The news follows an earlier Farrow story about Moonves that included six accusers; his follow-up adds six more, plus an indeterminate number of hotel massage therapists whose stories were told by their one-time boss. In a statement, Moonves denied the accusations while characterizing his relationship with three of the women as consensual. He did not specify which three.

When the first story broke, CBS announced that Moonves would remain in his job while the company conducted an internal investigation. Now the company’s board of directors is expected to announce the terms of a settlement on Monday, which will also mark the end of a long struggle between Moonves and Shari Redstone, the company’s controlling shareholder, over a potential merger with Viacom. The terms of his exit are unknown, but his contract entitles him to as much as $180 million for termination without cause, and as Farrow told CNN that, a few days ago, the board was “still talking about potentially letting him leave with a very generous exit package, up to the neighborhood of $100 million.” *Update: The Los Angeles Times is now reporting that Moonves is expected to resign later on Sunday without any severance, while CBS’ board is overhauled in a separate settlement, adding six new members in exchange for an agreement not to merge the company with Viacom for at least two years.

Here are the newest allegations against Les Moonves:

• Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, a television executive who worked with Moonves at Lorimar in the 1980s, says that in 1986 he invited her to a workday lunch, drove her to “a secluded area” instead, then physically forced her to perform oral sex, pulling her head onto his penis. Although Golden-Gottlieb was shaken enough to throw up after the incident, she didn’t report him at the time, because she feared for her career. Golden-Gottlieb avoided being alone with Moonves from then on, but in 1988, she says, he exposed himself to her in his office, stepping out, ostensibly to get a glass of wine, and returning with no pants and an erection. The next day, she says he physically assaulted her, throwing her against an office wall during a dispute over who was supposed to receive a particular memo. Professional retaliation followed: Golden-Gottlieb describes being forced to move offices constantly whenever Moonves found “a darker space, or a place downstairs or something.” Golden-Gottlieb says Moonves “absolutely ruined my career.”

• Jessica Pallingston, who worked as a temporary assistant to Moonves in the spring of 1994, when he was president of Warner Bros. Television, was sent to work with him in a hotel suite. After asking her a number of personal questions, Moonves offered her wine; Pallingston, a writer who hoped to break into the entertainment industry, accepted. He then asked her for a neck and shoulder massage, but made her stop, unhappy with her massage skills. Pallingston saiys the conversation then turned to her sexuality, specifically whether or not she was attracted to powerful men, and Moonves explicitly offered her a quid pro quo. “I could help you with your writing. I could help you, and if you do something nice for me, I could do something nice for you.” Then he kissed her aggressively and asked her to perform oral sex on him, to which she mumbled assent. “He pushed my head down, hard. It was very violent, very aggressive. There was real hostility in it.” Afterward, Pallingston says she fended off further advances while suffering a full-on panic attack; for the rest of the assignment, she characterized his behavior as “a little gropey, but not much.” A year later, assigned to work with Moonves again, she says she refused his advances and saw him turn cold and hostile, yelling obscenities and, on one occasion, had phone sex in front of her. A year after that, Pallingston was working for another executive when, she says, Moonves called her a “cunt” over the phone. Pallingston, who left the television industry to write books, says her experience with Moonves “played a number on my head, especially in terms of self-worth, professionally.”

• Deborah Green, a freelance makeup artist, says she was doing Moonves’ makeup and hair for a CBS promotional video in the early aughts when he stood up from his chair, grabbed her, and kissed her. “He stuck his tongue down my throat.” When she shoved him away, he fled to an adjoining bathroom, then fired her, telling her to take her things and leave. Although she decided not to report the incident at the time for fear of jeopardizing future freelance assignments, she was never hired to work with CBS executives again.

• Deborah Morris, who was a junior executive at Lorimar in the late 1980s, says Moonves offered her a career quid-pro-quo, asking her what sort of material possessions she wanted; she didn’t take him seriously at first because “I didn’t think anybody could be that corrupt.” Morris refused Moonves’ request for a kiss at a late-night meeting and fled his office, but a few months later, he offered her a ride to her car in his Porsche, unexpectedly stopped and tried to kiss her, to which she responded by hitting him in the chest and jumping out of his car. Morris described the incident to representatives of her company’s legal and HR teams without naming Moonves, but was discouraged from filing a report. “Who’s going to believe you? You’re no one,” she recalls a woman in the legal department telling her. “And that was pretty much the end of my career,” Morris told the New Yorker. Frozen out of meetings, she eventually left the entertainment industry for the Bay Area.

• Linda Silverthorn, a screenwriter, says Moonves made a similar proposition to her when she worked as his assistant at Fox in 1984: career help in exchange for sex. Silverthorn says she accepted his advances and had a consensual sexual relationship that lasted about a month before she ended it. She saw Moonves as a valuable professional contact and remained friendly with him, but in 1990, as her screenwriting career began to heat up, she met with him to discuss a development deal. Rather than talk business, she says, Moonves closed his door, kissed her, exposed himself, and guided her hand to his penis. Silverthorn, in her words, “just got it over with,” after which Moonves told her he didn’t have any work to offer her.

• Debra Williams, who was the spa director of the Washington D.C. Four Seasons Hotel in the late 1990s, described a repeating pattern where Moonves would order massages in his suite, then drop his towel and proposition the massage therapists, independent contractors who would show up in Williams’ office “shaken.” She eventually reported his conduct to the hotel’s rooms director, who confirmed her story but requested anonymity; he contacted Moonves and told him he had to stop or the hotel would cut him off.

• Deborah Kitay described a similar pattern of behavior when she worked as a massage therapist for Moonves in the late 1990s. “Bottom line is, every time I went up there for about a year and a half to two years, he would ask me to work higher up his leg in a way that was clearly sexual.” Kitay says Moonves asked her to tough his penis on one occasion, and exposed himself to her on another, repeatedly propositioning until she told him she was attracted to women. Moonves’ behavior, she says, was a major reason she left massage therapy entirely.

Moonves responded to the accusations with a statement suggesting he was the victim of a coordinated character assassination:

The appalling accusations in this article are untrue. What is true is that I had consensual relations with three of the women some 25 years ago before I came to CBS. And I have never used my position to hinder the advancement or careers of women. In my 40 years of work, I have never before heard of such disturbing accusations. I can only surmise they are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation, and my career. Anyone who knows me knows that the person described in this article is not me.

Weirdly enough, Moonves would not specify which of his accusers were the three he said he had consensual relations with. It’s possible that his new accusers, most of whom no longer work in the entertainment industry, had very strong feelings about his feud with Shari Redstone and decided to put their thumb on the scale, but several told Farrow they came forward after Moonves responded to the first wave of allegations with a statement that emphasized how important consent was to him:

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.

Deborah Kitay found that part of his statement laughable, telling Farrow, “It was a weekly thing. And I said no every time.” Deborah Morris was blunter:

His statement was incredible. Absolutely incredible. It made me sick. He’s cunning. He’s calculating. And he’s a predator.

Jessica Pallingston and Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, on the other hand, say they decided to come forward out of solidarity with the #MeToo movement. Pallingston, watching other women talk about the abuse and harassment they’d endured, told Farrow she realized, “I don’t have to be embarrassed.” Golden-Gottlieb, who says she is still afraid of Moonves, said the women in the #MeToo movement “gave me courage,” and made her feel like she “had to” speak out about Moonves. She’s not optimistic, however, about the possibility of systemic change, pointing at the failure of CBS’ board to do anything about Moonves until they were forced to:

They don’t care about me. I can’t do anything for them. The whole world is only about money, nothing else. 

Update, 6:20 pm: The Los Angeles Times reports that Moonves is now expected to resign later Sunday without any severance. In a separate deal, six new members will be added to the board of directors, in exchange for an agreement from the Redstone family’s investment firm, National Amusements, to not pursue a merger with Viacom for two years.