CBS board to select counsel for investigation

The CBS Board of Directors announced Monday it is “in the process of selecting outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation” of CEO Les Moonves following a New Yorker report in which six women accused Moonves of sexual harassment.  

“No other action was taken on this matter at today’s board meeting,” a press release stated.

Additionally, the board announced it would postpone CBS’ annual meeting of stockholders previously scheduled for August 10. The board will announce a new date, time and location. 

Among the questions heading into the board meeting: Would the CBS board suspend Moonves pending an investigation? Who would be the interim CEO? If Moonves is sidelined, would he be able to get his job back and keep it in the long run? And would removing Moonves from the equation increase the chances of an unwanted merger with Viacom? (On Friday, Moonves adversary Shari Redstone, CBS’ majority shareholder, called for a “transparent” investigation and adamantly denied that she had planted the story.)

CBS’ stock price fell about 5 percent to $51.28 on Monday.

The board had issued a statement hours before the New Yorker story was published, promising to investigate the claims fully, “review the findings and take appropriate actions.”

The New Yorker article, penned by Ronan Farrow, contained the accounts of a half-dozen women who had professional dealings with Moonves from the 1980s to the late 2000s. Four described forcible touching or kissing during business meetings; the other two claimed Moonves physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers.

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A public champion of the #MeToo movement, Moonves strongly denied accusations in a statement to USA TODAY.

“Throughout my time at CBS, we have promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees, and have consistently found success elevating women to top executive positions across our Company,” he said. “I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. 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.

The statement continued: “This is a time when we all are appropriately focused on how we help improve our society, and we at CBS are committed to being part of the solution.”

Farrow, whose reporting on Harvey Weinstein earned him a Pulitzer, pushed back against the notion that the allegations were all decades old during an interview on CNN’s “New Day.”

“Our reporting is not that this was decades ago. The most recent of these cases was in the 2000s,” Farrow told host Alisyn Camerota. “I’ll let his statements speak for themselves, but the article, I think, also speaks for itself.”

Farrow declined to comment specifically on Friday’s statement from Moonves’ wife, CBS host Julie Chen, who tweeted that she backed him “fully.” (The two wed in 2004 and have an eight-year-old son together.)

“Obviously, I feel for any family member going through the repercussions of allegations like this, and I think in the minds of the sources in this story, the goal here was not to take down Leslie Moonves,” Farrow said. “The goal here is to air stories that were buried — sometimes for a long time, because these women were terrified and to protect the next woman who comes along, both with respect to Les Moonves and with respect to a culture around women and a culture of retaliation that a lot of people — dozens of people said extended across various parts of this company.”

He concluded, “I think what these sources want is accountability. This is not about tearing down an individual, and of course, that’s painful for a family and for someone like Julie Chen.”

Chen made her own brief remarks on Monday’s episode of CBS’ daytime program “The Talk,” which she co-hosts. 

“Now, some of you may be aware of what’s been going on in my life for the last few days,” Chen told the audience. “I issued the one and only statement I will ever make on this topic on Twitter, and I will stand by that statement today, tomorrow, forever.”

She was referring to a tweet written the day the story was published: “I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the mid-90s, and I have been married to him for almost 14 years,” she wrote. “Leslie is a good man and loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”

Monday also brought news that Moonves’ alma mater, Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University, had scrubbed its website of Moonves references following the New Yorker story. (Moonves, a 1971 graduate, gave the commencement speech in 2016.)

“Bucknell will not stand for sexual misconduct –  on campus or beyond,” Bucknell president John Bravman said in a note to the university community explaining the reason for the action.

Moonves has been at CBS since 1995. In 2009, he was promoted to CEO of the TV network and then was later named CEO of CBS Corporation in 2016.

Under his watch, CBS enjoyed more than a decade as the most-watched network, with hits such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS.”  It narrowly retained its ratings crown in the 2017-18 season that ended in May.

Contributing: Jayme Deerwester and Andrea Mandell; The Associated Press

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