Brow Beat

Report Shows Les Moonves’ Alleged Misconduct Was Worse Than We Thought

No matter what you imagined would be in it, it’s worse.

Les Moonves, arriving at a conference in the summer of 2017.
Bye, Les! Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The New York Times got its hands on a draft version of the report produced by the independent investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against disgraced CBS CEO Les Moonves, and whatever you were imagining, it’s worse. According to the Times, which covered the story via the simultaneous publication of a reported piece from Rachel Abrams and Edmund Lee, a summary of the four main takeaways from the draft report, and an opinion piece from James B. Stewart, the lawyers that CBS hired to look into Moonves’ past not only concluded that Moonves had “engaged in multiple acts of serious nonconsensual sexual misconduct in and outside of the workplace, both before and after he came to CBS in 1995,” but that Moonves lied, misled investigators, and destroyed evidence during the course of the investigation. What’s more, the report concludes that board members, high-ranking CBS executives, and rank-and-file employees were aware of allegations against Moonves—in the case of the now-deceased board member Arnold Kopelson, since as far back as 2007—and did little or nothing about them.

Although the reporters did conclude that Moonves’ sexual misconduct came to an end in 2004 when he married Julie Chen, knowledge of Moonves’ behavior was still widespread enough in 2018 that multiple employees told the investigators about another CBS employee who was believed to be “on call” to provide Moonves with oral sex, and thus unfireable. The woman in question did not respond to investigators’ requests for an interview, but Moonves admitted to receiving what he described as consensual oral sex from her in his office, despite the fact that she was his subordinate. (The fact that Moonves’ behavior was apparently an open secret casts a terrible light on the board’s initial decision to stand by Moonves until his conduct had been investigated; Moonves didn’t resign until September, after a second round of sexual misconduct allegations.) Through his lawyer, Moonves reiterated his denial of all allegations of nonconsensual sex. A spokesperson for CBS’s board told the New York Times that the investigation was still in progress, and no conclusions had yet been reached.

The upshot of the draft report, which documents what James B. Stewart describes as an “epic failure of corporate governance,” may actually be good news for CBS, at least in the short term: Moonves, who resigned, was contractually entitled to a $140 million severance payment, which was dropped to $120 million when CBS promised to donate $20 million of it to #MeToo movement–affiliated organizations after Moonves resigned. If the final investigation concludes that Moonves could be terminated for cause, CBS can refuse to pay his severance. That’s exactly the conclusion the draft report reaches, pointing to “willful misfeasance and violation of the company’s sexual harassment policy.” In practical terms, here’s what that kind of misfeasance meant for female CBS employees, according to the draft report:

[Moonves] received oral sex from at least 4 CBS employees under circumstances that sound transactional and improper to the extent that there was no hint of any relationship, romance, or reciprocity (especially given what we know about his history of more or less forced oral sex with women with whom he has no ongoing relationship).

If that weren’t enough, the report also concludes that despite a contractual obligation to cooperate with the investigation, Moonves conducted what sounds like the saddest cover-up in the world, giving investigators his son’s iPad instead of his own and deleting texts from manager Marv Dauer. Dauer did not delete his end of the exchange, and the New York Times reported last week on what certainly looks like a plan to get new work for one of Dauer’s clients, actress Bobbie Phillips, in exchange for her silence about an incident in 1995 in which Moonves allegedly exposed himself to her during a business meeting, then forced her to give him oral sex.*

The draft report is bad news for CBS employees and board members who knew of Moonves’ behavior and failed to report it, according to Times columnist James B. Stewart. Theoretically, corporate officers have a duty to the company’s shareholders, not its executives, which makes Arnold Kopelson’s apparent decision to not tell anyone else on the board about the sexual assault allegations that were brought to him in 2007 something a million times worse than a monstrous personal moral failure: an act of corporate malfeasance. Over the summer, Kopelson, who won a Best Picture Academy Award for producing Platoon, reportedly responded to the allegations—again, allegations he’d apparently been aware of for more than a decade—with the following soundbite:

I don’t care if 30 more women come forward and allege this kind of stuff. Les is our leader and it wouldn’t change my opinion of him.

Points for honesty, if nothing else. (Kopelson won’t have to wrestle with these revelations; he died in October at the age of 83.) Stewart also mentions two board members, Charles Gifford and Bruce Gordon, who apparently made it clear to Moonves that they didn’t want to hear any specific details about rumors of sexual misconduct, perhaps because they, too, would have had a duty to disclose what they knew. If that’s how board members were behaving, it’s no wonder the company’s culture trickled down to other employees like Gil Schwartz, the communications director who, according to the report, drafted a resignation letter for Moonves after becoming aware of one of the more serious allegations against the CEO about a month before he resigned but never told anyone on the board after Moonves didn’t sign it.
David F. Larker, director of Stanford business school’s Corporate Governance Research Initiative, explained how indifferent or actively hostile management can create a culture of silence:

These situations put people in a very tough position. They may have a duty to disclose, but they’re understandably afraid of losing their jobs. The history of whistle-blowers is not very encouraging.

The Times reports that Moonves was paid more than $1 billion for his work at CBS between 2006 to 2017.

Correction, Dec. 5, 2018: This post originally misidentified actress Bobbie Phillips as Bonnie Phillips.