Leslie Moonves—the CEO of CBS Corporation and one of the most powerful people in entertainment—has been accused of sexual misconduct by six women, several of whom say their careers suffered after they rebuffed his advances, according to a bombshell New Yorker report released Friday evening.
The story by reporter Ronan Farrow also outlines how Moonves, who earned close to $70 million last year, allegedly used his power and status at CBS to intimidate them into silence.
Four women—including actress and writer Illeana Douglas, writer Janet Jones, and producer Christine Peters—claim that Moonves forcibly kissed and touched them without their consent. Two others—writer Dinah Kirgo and a woman named Kimberly—say they “rebuffed unwanted advances” from Moonves and saw their careers take a hit as a result.
“What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating,” Douglas said.
Douglas claims that she was working with Moonves on a CBS pilot in 1996, when she was called into his office alone for a discussion to ensure they wouldn’t have any creative differences. Not long after the meeting began, Moonves asked if she was “single,” and if he could kiss her, Douglas said.
“It’ll just be between you and me. Come on, you’re not some nubile virgin,” he allegedly told her.
She then claimed Moonves pinned her down, started “violently kissing” her, and “pulled up her skirt and began to thrust against her.” Douglas said she was able to joke her way out of the situation by lightly reminding him that he was the boss. As he was walking her out the door, he allegedly backed Douglas up into a wall and said, “We’re going to keep this between you and me, right?”
In subsequent rehearsals for the pilot, Douglas was unable to hide that something was wrong. She was soon fired from the show—and her manager and agent let her go not long after that. She told director and ex-boyfriend Martin Scorsese about the incident—which he corroborated to The New Yorker. Douglas then threatened to take legal action against CBS, at which point the network compensated her and offered her a spot on a miniseries.
“My understanding is, this is what they were going to do in exchange for not suing,” Douglas said.
In the spring of 1985, Jones, an aspiring screenwriter, scored a pitch meeting with Moonves, who was then a vice-president at Twentieth Century Fox. The meeting had just started when Moonves “came around the corner of the table and threw himself on top of me. It was very fast,” Jones said. According to her account, he then tried kissing her, at which point she pushed him away, she said.
When Jones asked what he was doing, Moonves allegedly brushed it off and replied: “Well, I was hitting on you. I wanted a kiss.”
She went to leave but realized the door was locked. “If you don’t open this door, I am going to scream so loud and so long that everyone on the lot is going to come over,” Jones recalled saying. Moonves opened the door, and Jones left, driving to a friend’s house, where she “melted down,” she said.
Afterward, she says that Moonves called her and warned: “I will ruin your career. You will never get a writing job. No one will hire you. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?” She told Farrow that the threat disturbed her more than Moonves’ actions in his office.
Two more women said they believe their careers suffered after they turned down Moonves’ sexual advances. Dinah Kirgo, a writer on “The Tracey Ullman Show” said she met the executive in the early eighties, when he was working at Saul Ilson Productions. They had a meeting, which she thought went well, until he called her up and asked her to dinner. After turning down the invitation, she said Moonves never reached out again.
The other woman, identified in the New Yorker story only as Kimberly, was a child star who took a meeting with Moonves in hopes that he’d help restart her career. At one point during the dinner meeting, Moonves allegedly said: “Let’s go. Let’s just get a hotel room. Let’s just do this.” She turned him down, and he left angrily, she said.
CBS told The New Yorker there have been “no misconduct claims and no settlements against Moonves” during his 24 years at the network.
“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,” Moonves told the magazine. “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.”
Moonves founded the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace in December 2017, calling the cultural reckoning of #MeToo a “watershed moment,” but the culture of harassment was reportedly top-down at CBS.
The chairman allegedly allowed men who were accused of sexual misconduct to be promoted at the network, even in the wake of settlement payments. Jeff Fager, current executive producer of “60 Minutes,” has been accused by 19 current and former employees of allowing harassment to take place at the network, and of working to keep allegations out of the press—prompting the filing of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint.
“It’s top down, this culture of older men who have all this power and you are nothing,” one veteran producer told the magazine. “The company is shielding lots of bad behavior.”