Les Moonves, Longtime CBS Chief, Steps Down

Les Moonves, Longtime CBS Chief, Steps Down

Leslie Moonves, the longtime chief executive of the CBS Corporation, stepped down on Sunday night from the company he has led for 15 years. His fall from Hollywood’s highest echelon was all but sealed after the publication earlier in the day of new sexual harassment allegations against him.The CBS board announced his departure, effective immediately.…

Leslie Moonves, the longtime chief executive of the CBS Corporation, stepped down on Sunday night from the company he has led for 15 years. His fall from Hollywood’s highest echelon was all but sealed after the publication earlier in the day of new sexual harassment allegations against him.

The CBS boardannounced his departure, effective immediately. As part of the agreement, the network said it would donate $20 million to one or more organizations that support equality for women in the workplace. The donation will be deducted from a potential severance benefit to Mr. Moonves that could top $120 million after the donation, according to two people familiar with the settlement agreement. But he will not receive any severance payment, the board said, until the completion of an independent investigation into the allegations.

Joseph Ianniello, the chief operating officer of CBS and one of Mr. Moonves’s closest advisers, was named the interim chief executive.

The departure of Mr. Moonves marks a stunning reversal for an executive who is credited with turning CBS into television’s most-watched network. But he has been under intense pressure since July, when The New Yorker published an initial article in which six women accused him of sexual harassment. On Sunday, the magazine published another article by the investigative journalist Ronan Farrow in which six additional women detailed the new claimsagainst Mr. Moonves.

Mr. Moonves is the latest high-powered entertainment figure to be ousted from his perch in the#MeToo era. Harvey Weinstein has been accused by scores of women of sexual assault and now faces felony charges. Matt Lauer stepped down as the anchor of NBC’s most valuable news program, “Today,” after several women alleged incidents of sexual harassment spanning years. Charlie Rose of CBS and PBS left the airwaves after he, too, was implicated by multiple women. All of those men have denied any nonconsensual sexual activity.

For several weeks, Mr. Moonves has been grappling with two separate but equally fateful issues while negotiating a settlement with CBS Corporation’s board of directors on his exit. In addition to the multiple harassment allegations against him, Mr. Moonves has been involved in a protracted legal fight with the company’s controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone. All parties have now agreed to dismiss the lawsuit. The company also announced that five members of its board will be replaced with new directors. The new slate of directors adds three women to the 12-member board, raising the number of female members to six.

The talks included a potential payout to Mr. Moonves that could have been as much as $280 million, according to one of the people briefed on the matter, before board directors negotiated that down to the current figure of more than $120 million. But Mr. Moonves would not get any money if the board determines that he has violated company policies.

The size of the payout had been asource of contentionin the negotiations, according to three people familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private bargaining agreement.

That Mr. Moonves would get any money for stepping away from CBS in the wake of those allegations outraged many in the entertainment industry and in the #MeToo movement.

The pace of the board’s deliberations accelerated after Mr. Farrow contacted the board last week regarding his latest article, according to one of the people familiar with the negotiations.

The incidents described in the two articles went back to the 1980s and brought the number of women now accusing Mr. Moonves of harassment to 12.

“It’s completely disgusting,” one of the accusers, Jessica Pallingston, told The New Yorker about the reports of Mr. Moonves’s potential exit package, which had been reported last week to total more than $100 million. “He should take all that money and give it to an organization that helps survivors of sexual abuse.”

The women claim that Mr. Moonves, 68, had forced himself on them and in some cases retaliated professionally after some declined his advances. One woman, a veteran television executive named Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Police Department last year, according to The New Yorker. She said Mr. Moonves forced her to perform oral sex on him and, in another instance, had “violently” thrown her against a wall.

Ms. Golden-Gottlieb described encounters as having occurred nearly 40 years ago when Mr. Moonves was the leading executive at Lorimar Television. But other women in the article detailed harassment that they said happened while Mr. Moonves was at CBS. Mr. Moonves joined the network in 1995 and became chief executive of the company in 2003.

Mr. Moonves didn’t respond to requests for comment from The New York Times, but told The New Yorker, “The appalling accusations in this article are untrue.” He admitted to “consensual relations” with three of the women.

“In my 40 years of work, I have never before heard of such disturbing accusations,” Mr. Moonves continued. “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.”

Public reaction to the latest allegations against Mr. Moonves was swift. Rachel Bloom, the star and co-creator of “Crazy Ex Girlfriend,” which airs on the CW, a network jointly owned by CBS and Warner Media, said on Twitter after The New Yorker article was published that Mr. Moonves should be fired without receiving any money, adding an expletive.

“The actions described in this article are those of sexual assault and shame on anyone else in the corporation who knew about his crimes,” she wrote.

Reports of Mr. Moonves’s possible payout also spurred outrage among advocacy groups. “These allegations speak to a culture of toxicity at CBS,” astatementfrom the group Time’s Up said before the announcement that Mr. Moonves was departing. “We will accept nothing less than full transparency of the investigation’s findings, a commitment to real change across all levels of management across CBS and no reward for Les Moonves.”

Mr. Moonves, who had started his career in entertainment as an actor, is largely credited with turning CBS from a last-place network into an industry leader. It has consistently been television’s most watched channel for over a decade, with hits like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Survivor.” That success has made Mr. Moonves one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood and his possible departure has put the future fortunes of the company in doubt.

Mr. Moonves has drawn an annual pay package worth $69.3 million. From 2006 to 2017, Mr. Moonves’s total compensation, including salary and stock awards, totaled more than $1 billion, according to Equilar, a research firm that gathers data on executive pay.

Shortly after the first New Yorker article was published, the CBS board enlisted two law firms to lead an inquiry into the claims against Mr. Moonves and the wider workplace culture at the network. The board soon after folded a separate examination of CBS News — underway since March — into the larger investigation.

The board hired Nancy Kestenbaum of Covington & Burling and Mary Jo White of Debevoise & Plimpton to conduct the inquiry. Ms. White led the Securities and Exchange Commission during the Obama administration and was previously the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. Ms. Kestenbaum was also a federal prosecutor with the same district. The investigation into CBS News is also being overseen by the two law firms.

Mr. Moonves had recused himself from any matters related to the investigation, and a three-member committee has been appointed to oversee the inquiry.

In addition to the harassment allegations against him, Mr. Moonves was involved in a legal dispute with Ms. Redstone, the controlling shareholder of CBS, who had been pushing for a merger with Viacom, the once-lofty cable network behind MTV and Nickelodeon that she also controls.

The settlement with Mr. Moonves and the CBS board includes delaying for two years any push by Ms. Redstone for a possible merger. The board of CBS, however, could still examine any possible transaction, including a Viacom merger, independently of Ms. Redstone.

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