One of Hollywood’s most powerful executives is being investigated by his own company, it emerged on Friday, over accusations of unwanted kissing and touching.
Leslie Moonves, the 68-year-old CEO of American broadcast giant CBS, was targeted by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ronan Farrow, son of Mia Farrow, for an article in The New Yorker. Farrow is credited as being a key player in bringing the Harvey Weinstein scandal to light.
CBS shares fell six per cent on the news that the company is investigating the claims made against Mr Moonves.
“All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously,” the network stated.
“The Independent Directors of CBS have committed to investigating claims that violate the Company’s clear policies in that regard. Upon the conclusion of that investigation, which involves recently reported allegations that go back several decades, the Board will promptly review the findings and take appropriate action.”
The allegations are said in part to involve instances of unwanted kissing and touching that occurred more than 20 years ago, as well as numerous claims that occurred more recently.
Mr Moonves admitted inappropriate behaviour, which he said he regretted.
“I recognise that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances,” he said in a statement issued to the New Yorker.
“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.”
I recognise that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances
Six women told the magazine that Mr Moonves sexually harassed them, between the 1980s and the late 2000s.
Four described forcible touching or kissing during business meetings. Two of the women said that Mr Moonves physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers.
All said that he became cold or hostile after they rejected his advances, and that they believed their careers suffered as a result. “What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating,” said Illeana Douglas, an actress and writer.
She told her former partner Martin Scorsese about the encounter, he confirmed, and he cautioned her about possible fallout from taking legal action.
Janet Jones, another writer, said she had to physically shove him off her after he kissed her at a business meeting.
“He has gotten away with it for decades,” she said. “And it’s just not ok.”
Thirty former and current CBS employees said that, under Mr Moonves, a culture of harassment pervaded.
“It’s top down, this culture of older men who have all this power and you are nothing,” one veteran producer told the magazine. “The company is shielding lots of bad behaviour.”
Mr Moonves has been married to CBS presenter Julie Chen since 2004, marrying less than two weeks after Mr Moonves finalised his divorce from Nancy Wiesenfeld, whom he had married in 1978. He and Miss Chen have an eight-year-old son, Charlie, and he has three adult children from his first marriage.
On Friday night Ms Chen, who is the host of “Big Brother” on CBS, said she fully supported her husband.
“Leslie is a good man and a loving father, deovted husband and inspirign corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being,” she said on Twitter.
Mr Moonves, who has led the company since 1998, topped Variety magazine’s annual listing of the highest paid media executives, taking home $69.3 million in 2017. Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, only commanded $29.3 million, the magazine reported, while Disney CEO Bob Iger was paid $36.3 million.
Mr Moonves, a former actor who joined the company in 1995, was showered with praise by the board of directors in their most recent report, lauding his “outstanding leadership,” “vision,” “stellar reputation” on Wall Street and “contributions to the creative successes across the company’s portfolio of businesses.”
In 2017, CBS ranked as the most-watched network in terms of total viewers, as it had done for nine consecutive years.
Mr Moonves is yet to comment on the New Yorker’s report.
CBS came into the #MeToo spotlight in November, when it fired veteran presenter Charlie Rose after eight women accused the talk-show host and co-anchor of CBS This Morning of sexual misconduct.
In May it emerged that CBS managers had been warned about Rose’s conduct on three occasions, as early as in 1986 and as recently as in April 2017.
Among an additional 27 women who came forward with allegations against Rose were 14 CBS News employees.
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