After a weekend of behind-the-scenes discussions, CBS board members on Monday are expected to decide how to respond to allegations that Chief Executive Leslie Moonves sexually harassed women decades ago, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The 14-member board already was planning to meet in a previously scheduled telephone conference call. But now, the group must decide how best to investigate explosive allegations that were contained in a story published by the New Yorker on Friday.
Six women accused Moonves of “forcibly kissing” them, and some of the women believe that their careers were hampered when they spurned Moonves’ advances, according to the article.
The fate of Moonves, one of Hollywood’s highest-profile media figures, hangs in the balance. The Wall Street Journal late Sunday reported the board would discuss whether the longtime chief executive should take a leave of absence during the investigation. However, that outcome, while possible, has not been formally broached, said people close to the board who were not authorized to comment on the deliberations.
Board members on Saturday and Sunday discussed among themselves how best to achieve a “full and fair investigation” of the allegations, one person familiar with the matter said late Sunday.
CBS Vice Chair Shari Redstone and her allies will probably demand strong action during Monday’s board meeting, sources said. All the board members are expected to support an in-depth investigation into the allegations.
Already, independent members of the board said they would hire an outside law firm to investigate the Moonves allegations and whether the culture at CBS tolerates abusive behavior by high-ranking executives.
The crisis comes at a time when CBS’ board already is fractured over an ongoing battle with Redstone, who has been pressing to reunite CBS with Viacom Inc., which her family also controls.
Moonves has long enjoyed the support of the majority of the board, and independent board members on Friday pledged their continued support. But that was before the article detailing the accusations of six women was published.
Since November, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, rumors have been rampant that journalists at various news outlets — including Ronan Farrow, the author of the New Yorker report — were looking into allegations about Moonves’ behavior. After learning of the reporting efforts, Redstone urged the board to get to the bottom of the allegations, according to one person familiar with the situation.
After years of a collaborative relationship, Redstone late last year began agitating for changes at CBS. She believes Moonves and other members of senior management have become too staid at a time of upheaval in the media industry, sources say. For several months, Redstone has been vocal as she has questioned the board’s commitment to changing the culture at CBS.
But Redstone has only two strong allies on the board, attorneys David Andelman of Boston and Robert Klieger of Los Angeles. In May, CBS sued to dilute the Redstone family’s voting stake in the New York company, when Redstone was pushing for a merger with Viacom. Redstone countersued, and a trial in October is expected to decide who will control CBS.