Leslie Moonves, the powerful chairman-CEO of US network CBS, has been accused of sexual misconduct in a bombshell New Yorker report, the same publication that originally published reports about disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein.
Six women came forward for the article, with allegations dating from the 1980s through to the early 2000s. All women claim that they were forcibly touched or kissed in the workplace, with some saying that he physically intimidated them and threatened to derail their careers.
One of the women is actress Illeana Douglas, who says that she encountered Moonves when she worked on a comedy pilot for the network in 1996. She claims that he held her down on a couch and kissed her without consent, telling journalist Ronan Farrow:
“The physicality of it was horrendous … You sort of black out. You think, How long is this going to go on? I was just looking at this nice picture of his family and his kids. I couldn’t get him off me … At that point, you’re a trapped animal,” she told me. “Your life is flashing before your eyes.”
Douglas says that she eventually extricated herself from the situation, but that Moonves physically intimidated her as she left his office, telling her to keep quiet. “What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating,” she told Farrow.
A producer at the network told the writer that the culture at CBS fosters abusive behaviour. “It’s top-down, this culture of older men who have all this power and you are nothing,” the unnamed source said. “The company is shielding lots of bad behavior.”
In a statement to The New Yorker, Leslie Moonves defended himself against the allegations, saying that while he may have made “advances” on women in the past, he has never misused his position as CEO. He wrote:
“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.”
Moonves’ wife, The Talk co-host Julie Chen, also made a statement defending him:
CBS controlling shareholder Shari Redstone has called for a “thorough, open, and transparent” investigation of Leslie Moonves by the company’s board, and his future at CBS remains unclear.
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