A bombshell report Friday rattled CBS, raising questions about the future of the network as it fights a pitched battle against its parent company.
The New Yorker published a lengthy investigation by journalist Ronan Farrow detailing allegations of misbehavior by two of the company’s top executives, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager.
Actress and writer Illeana Douglas, writer Janet Jones, and producer Christine Peters told the New Yorker that Moonves forcefully kissed and touched them without their consent, while writer Dinah Kirgo and one other women said their careers suffered after rebuffing the CBS president’s advances.
Nineteen current and former CBS employees also claimed Fager turned a blind eye to harassment at the network, which resulted in at least three financial settlements paid to 60 Minutes employees over allegations of harassment and discrimination.
Several said Fager himself in the past had made comments and touched employees in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.
As The Daily Beast reported last week, Fager attempted to fight the various investigations into his time at "60 Minutes" by hiring aggressive law firm Clare Locke, which boasts of its ability to kill negative stories
Friday’s report couldn’t come at a worse time for the network.
Over the past several months, CBS has been embroiled in a pitched battle between Moonves and Shari Redstone, the daughter of ailing 95-year-old media mogul Sumner Redstone and the controlling shareholder of CBS and Viacom through the family-owned holding company, National Amusements.
CBS and Moonves have attempted to decrease Redstone’s power in the company, and halt her attempt to rejoin Viacom and CBS.
News of the impending New Yorker story further roiled the company.
CBS quickly put out a statement announcing it was launched an investigation by an outside law firm into Moonves behavior. But that didn’t stop the company’s stock from plunging 6%, one of the largest dips in recent years.
Staff were left to hypothesize about what the story would mean for their bosses: As of Friday night, multiple employees told The Daily Beast said the network had not addressed the story internally with its own employees.
Speculation about the future of the network’s top brass was already buzzing before the story was even published.
A longtime CBS News insider told The Daily Beast that if Moonves is forced out, "it's going to be deeply unsettling for people at CBS,” noting that the network hadn’t had another leader in decades.
Another company insider said that the move could alter the balance of influence at the network, claiming that while Moonves had been "brilliant" at leading the entertainment side of CBS, he struggled over the years to solve the challenges facing the network’s news division.
Others wondered whether the investigation could impact the trajectory of CBS News president David Rhodes. One person friendly with the CBS president said that while he has largely kept his name out of the public fight between Moonves and Redstone, Rhodes has remained hyper-aware about who eventually may take charge at the network.
The story was also forced another public figure at the network into an uncomfortable position: Moonves’ wife Julie Chen, the host of afternoon chat show The Talk.
“I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the late ‘90s, and I have been married to to him for almost 14 years,” she wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted husband, and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent, and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”
Behind the scenes, some quick to point fingers.
Throughout the day on Friday, allies of Moonves speculated that Redstone or her allies were involved in guiding the story, though the Daily Beast did not find any evidence suggesting she was. In its story, the New Yorker repeatedly suggested that its investigation was not influenced by the Viacom owner.
“All of the women making allegations against Moonves began speaking to me before the current lawsuits, in independent interviews carried out during the past eight months,” Farrow wrote. “All said that they were not motivated by any allegiance in the corporate battle.”
For their part, a representative for Shari Redstone denied any involvement in shaping the piece.
"The malicious insinuation that Ms. Redstone is somehow behind the allegations of inappropriate personal behavior by Mr. Moonves or today’s reports is false and self-serving,” the representative said. “Ms. Redstone hopes that the investigation of these allegations is thorough, open and transparent.”
Despite the allegations, some executives publicly backed Moonves.
In a statement to Variety, CBS' president and chief advertising revenue officer Jo Ann Ross defended Moonves, saying there was "never been an issue that I have broached with him where I felt at risk of being treated differently than a male executive would be treated."