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Report Details Sexual Harassment Allegations Against CBS CEO Les Moonves

Jul 28, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

CBS has long been the most watched television network in America. But a drama is playing out off the air following an expose published in The New Yorker late yesterday in which CBS CEO Les Moonves is accused of sexual misconduct by six women. The story's by Ronan Farrow and also details harassment by others at the network, including the news division. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us. David, thanks for being with us.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And let me say at the outset that I'm a special contributor to "CBS Sunday Morning." Tell us what The New Yorker story details.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Ronan Farrow spoke to six women and a bunch of corroborating figures who contemporaneously knew about these episodes. But these six women allege, in various forms, sexual harassment. And they also allege, in some cases, certain kinds of retribution by Moonves against women who did not respond eagerly to his advances. In two cases, the actor and writer Illeana Douglas and the writer Janet Jones described what, you know, essentially sounded like sexual assault.

SIMON: Unfortunately, you've had to cover a number of these stories over the past year, including Roger Ailes at Fox and Harvey Weinstein, a previous Ronan Farrow report. How is this different? How is it the same?

FOLKENFLIK: I don't think it does violence to the seriousness of the charges leveled here, to say they don't quite rise to the severity of Harvey Weinstein who's been investigated in several jurisdictions. Charges are being levied against him here in New York City for the accusation of sexual assault that he now faces. But what Moonves is accused of is serious, both the physicality of it, the unwanted and unsolicited nature of what he did and also the significance of retribution in a number of circumstances.

Christine Peters was up for - or she thought she was up for a job to head up a CBS Studios and suddenly found herself in an impossible situation after she rejected his advances. So this is a pretty serious one. And part of it's serious because of the role that Les Moonves has played in leading the network and the company significantly to financial success, to robust financial success but also being personally involved in managing the talent and being a tastemaker in sort of what shows and what films to pursue.

SIMON: What does the article detail about charges in the news division and, we've got to say, the honored show "60 Minutes" and its executive producer?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the article by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker makes an argument that there's a link between that and a question of past tolerance and incidents of sexual harassment against women within the news division. Charlie Rose famously, of course, was dismissed last year after allegations rose about his behavior towards younger, female colleagues. But the executive producer, the much-lauded executive producer of "60 Minutes," Jeff Fager, himself was accused of tolerating sort of a "Mad Men" atmosphere at "60 Minutes." And there were two senior producers no longer with the show against whom accusations were lodged over the years - but also that he himself at times got in a sense - I think the word was handsy at certain instances and that there was one instance in which a woman felt very uncomfortable by his behavior toward her. He denies those allegations vigorously. And CBS News and CBS have said they don't tolerate harassment and that they have a culture there that takes such concerns very seriously.

SIMON: Accusations come at a really difficult time for CBS, don't they?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's happening amid a fight that's playing out in the boardroom and in the courtroom. The controlling owner of CBS is really Shari Redstone. She's the daughter of the patriarch of it who's now a bit out of the picture, Sumner Redstone. But Shari Redstone effectively, through a holding company, National Amusements, has control of CBS and of its former parent company, Viacom. She's been seeking to combine them. Moonves has been such a powerful figure that while chairman and CEO, he's been essentially blocking her with a board that's pretty loyal to him from taking it over. So this is a very delicate moment for him corporately as well.

SIMON: Les Moonves had a statement.

FOLKENFLIK: Yes. He said that he acknowledged making advances in the past but that he always accepted the proposition that no means no and that he regretted tremendously what he did. He's claimed there's no retribution. CBS Corporation, although, you know, being in sort of Moonves' thrall for the past couple of decades, has said corporately it's going to investigate thoroughly and independently and that the directors are going to figure out what to do once those findings are in.

SIMON: NPR's David Folkenflik, thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.