Media: Did CBS act too slowly on Moonves charges?
CBS boss Les Moonves had won so many battles, he thought he could even survive #MeToo, said John Koblin in The New York Times. Having taken CBS from last place in the ratings to the top with shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and, yes, Survivor, Moonves made himself into “perhaps the most powerful television executive of the last two decades.” When the first detailed allegations of sexual harassment against him were raised last month by New Yorker reporter Ronan Farrow, Moonves was convinced he would avoid the fate of #MeToo villains Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose. He stepped right back into the public eye, dining with his wife, the CBS host Julie Chen, at Nobu Malibu, a hot spot for Hollywood executives. But last week, six more women accused Moonves of sexual assaults, “physical violence, and intimidation,” said Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker. The women said that when they tried to escape Moonves, he retaliated, growing “cold as ice, hostile, nasty,” and sabotaging their careers.
The reports of Moonves’ behavior are truly disturbing, said Megan Garber in The Atlantic. But until this week, CBS reckoned with the allegations at a listless pace. So far, there’s “little evidence of deeper or more meaningful amends making.” Farrow uncovered “a radiating rot” at CBS, a “culture of complicity and complacency” that emboldened powerful men to exploit and intimidate. Months ago, factions of CBS’s board were told of a sexual assault police complaint that was filed against Moonves and warned of rumors that his #MeToo moment was coming. But corporate infighting hampered CBS’s response. Moonves’ leaving is a big deal, “but it is very much not the full deal.” In his time as CEO, CBS has paid Moonves more than $650 million. He also argues he’s entitled to $120 million in severance, which CBS has placed in escrow pending an internal investigation. It’s also donating $20 million to #MeToo movement charities—which will be deducted from any Moonves payout. Yet because of a confidentiality clause, the investigation’s results may stay hidden. If that happens, “the culture that appears to have allowed him to operate unimpeded for so long might well remain in place.”
That’s unacceptable, said The Washington Post in an editorial. The length of time it took for CBS to remove Moonves “shows how far the country remains from workplace equality.” Rather than sweep this mess under the carpet, CBS should reveal who else at the network knew of these allegations and what effect executive-suite attitudes had on news coverage and programming. The only real winner in this bruising saga is Shari Redstone, said Keach Hagey and Joe Flint in The Wall Street Journal. The daughter of media tycoon Sumner Redstone had been fighting for control of CBS, and Moonves was “her main antagonist.” As part of Moonves’ departure deal, she jettisoned six board members close to him and replaced them with new directors. Moving on will be a supreme challenge. Analysts expect rival media companies and tech giants to explore a takeover deal. But any new regime must “grapple with the darker elements” of the culture Moonves created, and it’s likely that Shari Redstone will “be held to account for how CBS’s story plays out from here.” ■