Les Moonves Resigns as CEO of CBS Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

He will donate $20 million to organizations supporting the #MeToo movement

By Lena Grossman Sep 10, 2018 3:31 AMTags
Les MoonvesTaylor Hill/FilmMagic

UPDATE: Les Moonves has released the following statement after his resignation from CBS: 

For the past 24 years it has been an incredible privilege to lead CBS's renaissance and transformation into a leading global media company. The best part of this journey has been working alongside the dedicated and talented people in this company. Together, we built CBS into a destination where the best in the business come to work and succeed.

Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am.  Effective immediately I will no longer be Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBS.

I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of directors and all of its employees.


Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS, will resign effective immediately amid a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations. The resignation comes on the same day that Ronan Farrow published an exposé on Moonves in the New Yorker, which described misconduct allegations from six additional women.

The first six women to accuse Moonves of misconduct came out in another article by Farrow on July 27. Both describe claims against the former CEO about incidents that allegedly occurred in the 1980s-2000s.

In a statement from CBS obtained by E! News, Moonves will "donate $20 million to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace" and it will be made "immediately."

Chief Operating Officer Joseph Ianniello will serve as the company's interim CEO and President. According to the statement, Moonves will not receive any immediate severance from CBS and the $20 million will be taken from any severance he does receive following an independent investigation.

According to the July report, four of the six women told Farrow about "forcible touching or kissing during business meetings" and described it as a "practiced routine."  The remaining two women said Moonves "physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers."

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Writer Ileana Douglas told Farrow about the consequences of their alleged interaction. "What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating," she said.

Another CBS employee described a trickle down effect by men in the workplace. The producer told Farrow, "It's top down, this culture of older men who have all this power and you are nothing. The company is shielding lots of bad behavior."

Janet Jones, another writer, alleged that Moonves forcibly kissed her a meeting. "He has gotten away with it for decades," she said.

At the time of the initial allegations, Moonves released a statement denying any claims that he ruined women's careers. The statement, which was obtained by E! News, said, "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. 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. 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." 

CBS commented at the time as well and said the company "takes each report of misconduct very seriously."

According to the media company, there have been no settlement or misconduct claims made against the CEO during his tenure at the network.

David Becker/Getty Images for Showtime

In Farrow's latest story, the six newer accusations mirror those of the previous account. Some of these allegations by the women involve how Moonves "forced them to perform oral sex on him, that he exposed himself to them without their consent, and that he used physical violence and intimidation against them."

Retired television executive Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb told Farrow she filed a report with the Los Angeles Police Department about an incident that allegedly occurred between the two. Golden-Gottlieb and Moonves worked together in the 1980s, Her accusations against Moonves involve "physically restraining her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, and of exposing himself to her and violently throwing her against a wall in later incidents."

In a newer statement to the New Yorker, Moonves calls the claims against him "untrue" and said he "had consensual relations with three of the women some 25 years ago before I came to CBS."

Moonves wasn't the only CBS executive accused of misconduct in Farrow's article. Farrow wrote that nineteen employees said 60 Minutes producer Jeff Fager allowed harassment in the 60 Minutes division of the network (Charlie Rose, who faces harassment allegations of his own, was a correspondent on the show). Some CBS employees told Farrow that Fager would allegedly become "handsy" at parties, especially when he drank. One allegation against the producer claims he made "drunken advances" to another producer and commented on her breasts.

Many women, including Katie Couric, describe CBS' culture as a "boys' club where a number of talented women seemed to be marginalized and undervalued."

Fager denies the accusations against him. He said in a statement to Farrow, "A majority of our senior staff are women. All of them worked their way up the ranks and are now managers of our broadcast. Half of our producers and a majority of our associate producers are women. It is a challenging place to do well and promotions are earned on merit and are not based on gender."

60 Minutes correspondents Anderson Cooper and Lesley Stahl contradict the claims against company culture. Cooper told Farrow, "In all the years I've been there I've never seen Jeff engage in any inappropriate behavior."

Stahl replied, "This notion that 60 Minutes is an unpleasant, unwelcoming place for women isn't true."

When news of the allegations broke, CBS announced the company would investigate the matter and later hired two high-profile independent female attorneys to do so, according to the Los Angeles TimesMary Jo White was chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission under President Barack Obama and is a former U.S. district attorney. Nancy Kestenbaum is a former federal prosecutor and currently handles "important and sensitive government and internal investigations and litigation," according to her firm's site.

Time's Up released a statement on Sunday after Farrow's exposé went live. In the statement obtained by E! News, the organization said, "Six more women have made bone-chilling allegations of abuse, harassment and retaliation against Les Moonves. We believe them. These new allegations are in addition to the previous six women who have already bravely  spoken out and detailed horrific behavior from Moonves. Nineteen current and former CBS employees have also alleged that former CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager condoned sexual harassment in his division."

The Time's Up release called for "no reward for Les Moonves" and that "the whole world is watching."

According to CNN, Moonves is the first Fortune 500 CEO to be ousted by by misconduct allegations since the #MeToo movement began.

Moonves' resignation comes at an auspicious moment for the network. CBS and its former owners Viacom are in the middle of a contentious battle as Shari Redstone, who is the main shareholder of CBS, seeks to merge the two companies together again. The statement revealed that the pending lawsuit has been dismissed.