I just returned from a week’s vacation in the mountains where I had almost no Internet access but was aware that Ronan Farrow had published a damning sexual misconduct article about Les Moonves, the Chairman & CEO of publicly traded company CBS Corporation.
Now home, I finally had the chance to fetch the New Yorker from my mailbox and read the article in its entirety and it’s clear to me that Les Moonves needs to go and no doubt will go in the near future. You should read Ronan Farrow’s article and decide for yourself but I remain thankful that investigative reporters continue to shine a spotlight on leadership in America — whether in government or private enterprise.
The summary of Ronan’s article is that Les Moonves made unwanted advances to actresses, writers and producers. These weren’t simply flirtations — he forcefully kissed and groped women, forced his hands up skirts, locked and blocked doors and made direct comments about the need to have sex with him. In addition to these fireable offenses he also clearly blocked women’s careers who resisted his overtures.
But couldn’t this just be a case of “he said, she said” or disgruntled employees seeking revenge on a powerful man?
No. There are four named individuals in the story, each risking careers by publicly speaking up. For each witness there are several friends who corroborated that the stories were repeated to them at the time they occurred and have been recounted over the years. The stories bear very similar approaches. There were also two women who spoke off-the-record but whose stories were also heavily fact-checked by the New Yorker and they cited 30 sources including both existing and former employees inside of CBS in their overall reporting.
It’s time for Les Moonves to go.
If you read the Moonves story and also the harrowing accounts from Ronan Farrow’s story on Harvey Weinstein there are many similarities. They both abused their power, they both apparently traded potential career advancement for sexual relations and retaliated when rebuffed. They both found ways to invite women into private office space after staff had cleared out and they both offered alcohol to women to encourage the situation.
So why is Harvey Weinstein portrayed as a monster while Les Moonves is in power? For starters Weinstein is an overweight, unlikeable, gruff man who many are repulsed by and was reportedly always un-liked by many in the industry. Les Moonves comes across on the surface as one of the most charming and likable guys in the entertainment industry. Moonves was seen as a leader and somebody who built careers and was a mentor and a champion to many. Weinstein was seen as an outsider who few liked and who few wanted to truly spend time with outside of the need given his power and influence.
But make no mistake their actions were similar and deserve similar consequences of one’s career being side-lined (although Weinstein was accused of rape and none of the allegations against Moonves accuse him of that). This wasn’t a case of Moonves being drunk one time or his actions being misinterpreted — it was a series of events that took place across decades and where sexual conduct was clearly premeditated and abusive.
If you want a sense of why people feel deeply uncomfortable about calling out Les Moonves, you should watch this 4-minute piece by Stephen Colbert, who points out that Moonves was his mentor and sponsored him on the show and Colbert even said, “he’s my guy” before bravely taking him on and saying, “He hired me to sit in this chair. …
“I like working for him, but accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody. Whether it’s for the leader of a network or the leader of the free world.”
So why is Moonves still in his job and why haven’t the board taken action? My guess is that they will but as somebody who’s dealt with thorny board situations it’s not always easy and straightforward. The board of CBS has hired an outside investigator. This is good and right. They owe it to shareholders and the company to investigate for themselves. I suspect (but don’t know) that at the end of this process a compromise will be reached where Moonves will step down.
Moonves is so liked in the industry I have no doubt that my writing a blog post will annoy some senior people in the industry that I know but that’s no reason to stay silent.
So why speak up?
Leaders in all industries need to stand up and say that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated. Future emerging leaders in companies need to know that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and a spotlight will be shined when it does. Women need to be believed when they come forward and women and men need to confront other men and find out the facts. More women need to sit on boards of companies and more women need to be in executive positions and more women need to be elected in public office in this country to change the power dynamic that exists.
I do not believe that one accusation without verifiable evidence is enough to affect one’s career. I have never spoken up without either first-hand knowledge of accusers or after reading deeply respected journalists known for fact-checking have written detailed pieces outlining accusations.
I have personally been involved with board cases where I had to hire investigators and defend employees wrongfully accused of sexual misconduct. It’s time consuming, exasperating and wrought with falsely being accused of not taking accusations seriously. Each and every time I’ve seen a serious accusation at a company I’ve hired an investigator and on my small, not-statistically-significant sample set so far it’s been 50% validated and 50% invalidated. I don’t know what the industry data is but that has been my personal experience over the past five years but I take each credible claim seriously.
In the case of Moonves, you have overwhelming statements from many sources that are carefully fact-checked by a very credible investigative reporter in a serious journal — it’s time to start with a presumption of guilt and believe the many accusers.
Those of you who wallowed in the sexual misconduct claims that brought down Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly have to accept that when reprehensible people you don’t like do terrible things and you rant about them publicly you need to be equally repulsed by somebody seemingly charming who also does reprehensible things. Charm does not give license. Evil deeds are evil whether you liked the person or not. So we said goodbye to Charlie Rose and to Bill Cosby and sadly & disappointingly to me — Mark Halperin.
Now it’s time for Moonves to go.
Appendix: As an aside, while in the mountains unable to read Ronan Farrow’s story on Les Moonves, I was ironically reading his excellent book “War on Peace” that was a present from my wife. It documents his career in the Obama administration working under Richard Hoolbrook on diplomacy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and under Secretary Clinton in the State Department. He outlines the decline of diplomacy in favor of military-to-military solutions to global problems and the consequences that arise. I thought it would be a tear-down of the Trump Administration’s bumbling approach to diplomacy but it actually was a really incisive account of how the State Department has been marginalized for the past 25 years.
He outlines the decline under President Clinton (due to budget cuts), George W. Bush, (due to 9/11 and the realities of wartime “diplomacy”), Barack Obama (due to his desire not to be entangled in messy, new conflicts and compromises he made to secure his Iran deal) and of course the Trump administration (due to an incompetent leader who appointed an incompetent Secretary of State). If you like this topic you’ll love the book. The insider nature and reflective views on how empowering Warlords and turning away negotiations with enemies, for example, had worse ultimate consequences changed my perceptions on world events from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Somalia.
Why It’s Time for Les Moonves to Go — You Can’t Charm Your Way out of Sexual Misconduct was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.