Column: And you thought the movie ‘L.A. Confidential’ was fiction
New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James’ report about the insidious relationship between disgraced CBS chief Leslie Moonves and the Los Angeles police commander who tried to protect him filled me with rage and, to be honest, a kind of hopeless resignation.
How is it possible, in 21st century Los Angeles, that a high-ranking police officer swore allegiance to a major Hollywood figure accused of sexual assault, then vowed to use his law enforcement position to keep the alleged victim quiet? What is this, 1950?
And yet that’s exactly what the New York attorney general says a now-retired LAPD commander did after Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, a retired TV show development executive inspired by the burgeoning #MeToo movement, walked into the Hollywood police station in 2017 and filed a confidential complaint that Moonves had sexually assaulted her in 1986 when he was an executive at Lorimar Productions. The LAPD identified the commander as Cory Palka, a now-retired former captain of the Hollywood station, after the report was released.
Palka, who had moonlighted as a private bodyguard for Moonves at awards shows, leapt into action, said the report. (Neither Palka nor Moonves responded to The Times’ request for comment on the New York attorney general’s investigation.)
“Somebody walked in the station about a couple hours ago and made allegations against your boss regarding a sexual assault,” Palka said in a voicemail to the senior vice president of talent relations and special events at CBS, Ian Metrose, that is quoted in the report. Metrose, Moonves’ close subordinate, is still employed by the entertainment giant, according to the Wrap.
Later, the report says, Palka texted Metrose, assuring him that the investigating officer would “admonish the accuser tomorrow about refraining from going to the media and maintaining ‘her’ confidentiality (& ... honoring the integrity of the investigation.)”
Funny definition of “integrity.”
What ensued was a “reprehensible” cover-up, said the New York attorney general in the news release announcing her office’s findings and the more than $30 million in restitution that CBS and Moonves will pay.
The attorney general announced that CBS and Moonves would pay $30 million, with much of the money going to CBS shareholders.
Moonves and his LAPD lapdog worked to silence Golden-Gottlieb, and his colleagues and the CBS board of directors worked to keep her complaint from becoming public. All the while, mind you, Moonves was supporting the #MeToo movement, declaring his company would not tolerate sexual misconduct.
The report details instances of Moonves trying to find television roles for actresses whom he is accused of assaulting over the years, and of Moonves trying to keep accusers silent by wooing them, or their agents, with the promise of work.
CBS executives who were aware of multiple allegations of sexual assault against Moonves “intentionally concealed them from regulators, shareholders, and the public for months,” said the New York attorney general’s news release — a huge corporate no-no.
The investigation found that CBS had engaged in insider trading because it allowed chief communications officer Gil Schwartz, who knew about the allegations, to sell more than $8 million worth of CBS stock in the weeks before the news about Moonves broke. (After the accusations against Moonves were made public, CBS stock fell by nearly 11%.)
Without admitting wrongdoing or liability, Paramount, the parent company of CBS, agreed to pay $28 million, most of which will go to CBS shareholders, with $6 million set aside for improving how the company handles complaints about sexual harassment and assault. Moonves is personally required to pay $2.5 million to CBS shareholders.
The beginning of the end for Moonves came in July 2018, after the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow reported that at least six women had accused him of sexual misconduct. Less than two weeks later, Moonves was fired for cause and eventually was denied a $120-million severance payment.
“Les -I’m deeply sorry that this has happened,” Palka wrote to Moonves. “I will always stand with, by and pledge my allegiance to you. You have embodied leadership, class and the highest of character through all of this. With upmost [sic] respect ...”
Moonves, just to remind you, was accused by Golden-Gottlieb of grabbing her head, slamming it into his crotch and ejaculating in her mouth.
The Los Angeles police inspector general will oversee the LAPD’s investigation into a cover-up of allegations of sexual harassment by former CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves.
The LAPD has announced an investigation into Palka’s behavior, and last week, the civilian Police Commission asked the department’s independent watchdog to help guide the work.
“This is a stunning example of what some refer to as old-school cronyism,” said commission President William Briggs in a story reported by my colleague Libor Jany. “It goes to the heart of corruption.”
“This absolutely puts our city, this department in a bad light nationally, that in this day and age that type of corrupt abuse of power is still going on and it revictimizes” the victim, Briggs said.
Sometimes it feels as if this city’s institutions are built on ethical foundations of sand.
Maybe I am naive, but in the last few years, I have been stunned by the corruption around us. At our prestigious universities, USC and UCLA, gynecologists routinely abused their female patients. City Hall is awash in scandals — bribery, corruption, racism, sexual harassment. We are about to say goodbye to a sheriff who has launched criminal investigations into his perceived enemies and ignores the corrupt behavior rampant in his own department.
It’s one thing for a woman who is being assaulted by a mogul like Harvey Weinstein to freeze in fear and pretend to go along with a rape in order to end the ordeal with as little physical injury as possible, as California First Lady Jennifer Siebel Newsom testified courageously this week in Weinstein’s Los Angeles rape trial. It’s an entirely understandable form of self-preservation, of survival. And it’s why so many sexual predators think they can get away with claiming their crimes were consensual acts.
But a police officer who willingly sells out a sexual assault victim for the sake of a powerful Hollywood executive violates not just the individual who has brought the complaint, but all of us who would like to trust that an officer’s highest duty is to protect the public, not some sleazy Hollywood big shot.
I am really sorry that Golden-Gottlieb, who died this summer, did not live to see the reckoning of this moment.
“We would like to think the police are looking out for us, the victims, and not the perpetrators,” her son, Jim Gottlieb, told the Associated Press. “This sounds just like what you hear about certain police departments being in cahoots with organized crime.”
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