Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS, has been accused of sexual harassment in an investigation published by The New Yorker. The article is written by Ronan Farrow, the journalist behind last fall’s Pulitzer Prize–winning story about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse.
The exposé features six women accusing Moonves of making unwanted sexual advances on them, including actress and TCM host Illeana Douglas. The allegations date back as far as the 1980s.
Four of the women accuse Moonves of “forcible touching or kissing during business meetings, in what they said appeared to be a practiced routine,” while two told Farrow that the executive “physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers;” all claim that he grew “cold or hostile” after they rejected his advances.
“What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating,” Douglas said. She claims that he harassed her in 1997, during pre-production on the pilot episode of “Queens.” “He seemed more than just my boss,” at the time, Douglas told Farrow. “He was very much like a father figure.”
That changed when, during a meeting ostensibly about the sitcom’s script, Moonves held her down after attempting to kiss her. “In a millisecond, he’s got one arm over me, pinning me,” she said before describing “what it feels like to have someone hold you down—you can’t breathe, you can’t move. The physicality of it was horrendous.”
“You sort of black out,” Douglas continued. “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.” Feeling “like a trapped animal,” Douglas recalls seeing her life flash before her eyes and only being able to extricate herself from the situation after making a joke. “It has stayed with me the rest of my life, that terror,” she added.
Her account is corroborated by the actor Craig Chester, whom Douglas told about the incident later that day. “There was no talk about going to the police or anything like that,” he said, “because it was obvious that it would be career suicide.”
Moonves is also accused of sexual misconduct by writers Janet Jones and Dinah Kirgo, producer Christine Peters, an actress who chose to remain anonymous, and another actress who asked to be identified only by her first name, Kimberly.
Moonves released the following statement to Farrow in response:
“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.”
Prior to The New Yorker story being published, CBS issued a statement saying it was investigating the claims against Moonves. The CBS board of directors issued a statement saying, “All allegations of personal misconduct are to be taken seriously. The Independent Directors of CBS have committed to investigating claims that violate the Company’s clear policies in that regard.”
Update: Following the publication of Farrow’s article, Moonves’ wife, Julie Chen, released a statement saying she fully supports her husband:
— Julie Chen (@JulieChen) July 27, 2018