Business & Tech

Les Moonves stays on as CBS chief while board plans probe

CBS Corp. chief executive is facing allegations of sexual harassment.
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/File 2013
CBS Corp. chief executive is facing allegations of sexual harassment.

NEW YORK — Leslie Moonves, the embattled chief executive of CBS Corp., survived the meeting.

On Monday, three days after the publication of an article detailing allegations of sexual harassment against Moonves, the company went through with a regularly scheduled meeting of its board of directors in advance of an earnings call on Thursday.

Afterward, the company said in a statement that its board was “in the process of selecting outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation.”

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The company had announced the planned investigation on Friday, hours after The New Yorker published a report that detailed allegations by six women who said Moonves had asked them for sexual favors and retaliated when they declined.

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The CBS statement on Monday added, “No other action was taken on this matter at today’s board meeting.”

Four women with accusations against Moonves were quoted by name in The New Yorker, including film and TV actress Illeana Douglas. She described a 1997 meeting with the executive during which, she said, he was “violently kissing” her while holding her down.

The lack of immediate consequences for Moonves was striking at a time when some media companies have taken swift action against prominent employees who have been accused of misconduct. CBS fired anchor Charlie Rose a day after allegations were made against him, and NBC acted quickly to fire Matt Lauer of “Today” after he, too, was accused of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment.

Moonves is well-known in the entertainment community but has spent his career in executive suites, rather than before the camera. Still, the CBS board could face recriminations from consumers and from those who believe more immediate action should have been taken.

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The Monday meeting in New York began around noon and lasted more than three hours.

The board plans to hire separate firms to examine the claims against Moonves and CBS’ corporate culture as a whole.

In March, the company retained the law firm Proskauer Rose to look into allegations of sexual misconduct at CBS News, a division that was a focus of the New Yorker article.

Moonves, 68, has held senior management roles at the network for more than three decades and has been chief executive since 2006. He led a turnaround at CBS, taking it from last place to the most-watched network with hits like “Survivor” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

Moonves draws an annual pay package worth $69.3 million. If the board ultimately fires him without finding him at fault, he would draw more than $184 million in pay and benefits as part of his exit.

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Months before the publication of the New Yorker article, his role was already in jeopardy because of a separate legal battle with Shari Redstone, the leader of CBS’ parent company, National Amusements. Moonves and the CBS board have sued Redstone in an attempt to prevent the parent company from trying to recombine the network with Viacom, which is also in the corporate family. The lawsuit is due for trial in October.

In May, CBS and Moonves lost one of the early rounds in the dispute when a judge ruled against CBS’ effort to reduce Redstone’s influence over the network. Through her family company, Redstone controls nearly 80 percent of the company’s voting rights. Three members of the CBS board are directly nominated by National Amusements, including Redstone’s seat.

In a separate matter that was taken up during the meeting Monday, the CBS directors indefinitely postponed the Aug. 10 meeting date for stockholders to vote on new board members.