Update: Three hours after the publication of this story, CNN reported that Moonves would step down from his position at CBS. Later the same day, CBS announced that Moonves had left the company and would not receive any of his exit compensation, pending the results of the independent investigation into the allegations. The company named six new members of its board of directors and said it would donate $20 million to organizations that support the #MeToo movement and workplace equality for women. The donation will be deducted from any severance payments that may be due to Moonves.
Members of the board of the CBS Corporation are negotiating with the company’s chairman and C.E.O., Leslie Moonves, about his departure. Sources familiar with the board’s activities said the discussions about Moonves stepping down began several weeks ago, after an article published in the TheNew Yorker detailed allegations by six women that the media executive had sexually harassed them, and revealed complaints by dozens of others that the culture in some parts of the company tolerated sexual misconduct. Since then, the board has selected outside counsel to lead an investigation into the claims.
As the negotiations continue and shareholders and advocacy groups accuse the board of failing to hold Moonves accountable, new allegations are emerging. Six additional women are now accusing Moonves of sexual harassment or assault in incidents that took place between the nineteen-eighties and the early aughts. They include claims that Moonves forced them to perform oral sex on him, that he exposed himself to them without their consent, and that he used physical violence and intimidation against them. A number of the women also said that Moonves retaliated after they rebuffed him, damaging their careers. Similar frustrations about perceived inaction have prompted another woman to raise a claim of misconduct against Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” who previously reported to Moonves as the chairman of CBS News.
One of the women with allegations against Moonves, a veteran television executive named Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, told me that she filed a criminal complaint late last year with the Los Angeles Police Department, accusing Moonves of physically restraining her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, and of exposing himself to her and violently throwing her against a wall in later incidents. The two worked together in the late nineteen-eighties. Law-enforcement sources told me that they found Golden-Gottlieb’s allegations credible and consistent but prosecutors declined to pursue charges because the statutes of limitations for the crimes had expired. Early this year, Moonves informed a portion of the CBS board about the criminal investigation.
The terms of Moonves’s potential departure have yet to be settled. Last week, news reports had circulated that he might leave with an exit package of nearly a hundred million dollars. Several of the women expressed outrage that Moonves might be enriched by his departure from the company. Jessica Pallingston, a writer, alleges that Moonves coerced her into performing oral sex on him when she worked as his temporary assistant, in the nineties, and that, after she repelled subsequent sexual advances, he became hostile, at one point calling her a “cunt.” “It’s completely disgusting,” she said of the reports of Moonves’s potential exit package. “He should take all that money and give it to an organization that helps survivors of sexual abuse.”
In a statement, Moonves acknowledged three of the encounters, but said that they were consensual: “The appalling accusations in this article are untrue. What is true is that I had consensual relations with three of the women some 25 years ago before I came to CBS. And I have never used my position to hinder the advancement or careers of women. In my 40 years of work, I have never before heard of such disturbing accusations. I can only surmise they are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation, and my career. Anyone who knows me knows that the person described in this article is not me.” Moonves declined to specify which three encounters he considered consensual.
In separate statements, the CBS board of directors said that it “is committed to a thorough and independent investigation of the allegations, and that investigation is actively underway,” and the CBS Corporation said it “takes these allegations very seriously,” and called the board’s investigation “thorough” and “ongoing.”
Golden-Gottlieb worked with Moonves at the television production company Lorimar-Telepictures in the nineteen-eighties. She was already an industry veteran who had held senior positions at NBC, MGM, and Disney. Golden-Gottlieb, who is now in her early eighties and retired, told me that the first incident in which Moonves assaulted her occurred in 1986, when he was in charge of movies and miniseries at Lorimar and she was the head of comedy development there. Moonves, she recalled, came into her office in the middle of a workday and suggested the two of them go out for lunch. Instead of taking her to a nearby restaurant, she said, Moonves drove her to a secluded area. When Golden-Gottlieb began to ask if he was having trouble finding a parking space, she said that Moonves “grabbed my head and he took it all the way down onto his penis, and pushed his penis into my mouth.” She said he held her head in place forcibly. “He came very quickly,” she recalled. “You sort of just go numb. You don’t know what to do.” Distraught, Golden-Gottlieb demanded that Moonves take her back to the office. When she got there, she said, she vomited. “It was just sick,” she told me. She didn’t report the incident at the time because she was a single mother supporting two children and feared for her career. “I realized he was the new golden boy,” she told me. “I just kept quiet.” But the incident, she said, “never left me.”
Golden-Gottlieb continued to work with Moonves, who was later promoted to more senior positions within Lorimar. She said that she had avoided being alone with Moonves whenever possible in the period after the first assault. In early 1988, she told me, she entered Moonves’s office to discuss a work matter, and he said that he was going to get a glass of wine. He left briefly and, when he returned, she said, he was not wearing pants, and was aroused. She turned away, embarrassed, and ran out of the room. The following day, Moonves approached her in her office and berated her for not sending a memo to another executive. When she told Moonves that she didn’t typically share her memos with that executive, he became enraged, she recalled. “He reaches over and pulls me up and throws me, I mean hard, against the wall,” she told me. Afterward, she said, she collapsed and “couldn’t get up.” She recalled “lying on the floor, just crying.”
After she rebuffed Moonves, Golden-Gottlieb said that Moonves retaliated against her professionally, moving her into ever smaller offices. “Every two days, he’d find a darker space, or a place downstairs, or something,” she recalled. She told me that her career in the entertainment industry suffered, which she attributed to his influence at Lorimar and, later, CBS. “He absolutely ruined my career,” she said. “He was the head of CBS. No one was going to take me.”
Golden-Gottlieb told several acquaintances about the incidents with Moonves. One, a veteran showrunner, recalled feeling stunned when Golden-Gottlieb, in a social setting about a decade ago, recounted her claim that Moonves had exposed himself to her. “This is the head of a network,” he said. Golden-Gottlieb struck him as “a professional person. She didn’t seem like the type of person to make things up.” Golden-Gottlieb said that, even years later, she is still frightened of Moonves. But she said that her determination to pursue criminal charges was galvanized by the women speaking about sexual harassment and assault as part of the #MeToo movement. “They gave me courage,” she said. “I saw everyone coming out; I had to.”
Sources familiar with the CBS board’s activities said that Moonves was informed of Golden-Gottlieb’s complaint to the Los Angeles police in the fall. He did not disclose the existence of the criminal investigation to a number of CBS board members until several months later. The full board was not informed, and Moonves was allowed to continue running the company. “They don’t care about me. I can’t do anything for them,” Golden-Gottlieb told me. “The whole world is only about money, nothing else.”
Jessica Pallingston had worked for several years as an assistant to various Warner Bros. executives, first employed directly by the company and then through an outside contractor, when she was assigned to assist Moonves for several days, in the spring of 1994. A description of the assignment noted that Moonves, then the president of Warner Bros. Television, would work out of his hotel room. Pallingston, who was thirty-four at the time, had studied writing at Oberlin College and hoped to break into the industry. She considered working for Moonves a significant opportunity, so she accepted the assignment.
On her first day of work, Pallingston arrived at Moonves’s suite at the Regency Hotel about ten minutes before her appointed start time of 10 A.M. Moonves, she recalled, came to the door in a bathrobe and then departed and returned fully clothed. He sat in a large chair at one end of the suite’s living room while she took another opposite him. Moonves began asking about her career ambitions, and she told him about her writing. “He was very charming,” she recalled. Moonves began asking personal questions, including questions about whether she was single and her sexual orientation. He offered her wine, which Pallingston accepted, and poured himself a glass, which he drank quickly. “I was at work, and I didn’t want to be drunk,” she recalled, “but at the same time I wanted to behave and do what was expected of me.” Then Moonves asked her for a massage. Pallingston crossed the room, and Moonves placed her hands on his neck and shoulders, briefly instructing her on how to do it before telling her to sit back down. “I guess I was terrible, because he said, ‘Never mind,’ ” she recalled. “He was really frustrated. He said, ‘Haven’t you ever given a massage to your boyfriends?’ ” Moonves, appearing irritated, began asking more sexual questions. She recalled him asking if she was afraid of men, and then if she liked powerful men. Frightened and beginning to shake, she said that she did, and Moonves told her to come to him. Pallingston told me that “it was uncomfortable, but I was trying to act like I was tough and cool, like I couldhandle it all.” She remembers Moonves saying, “I could help you with your writing. I could help you, and if you do something nice for me I could do something nice for you.”
Moonves, she said, then kissed her, shoving his tongue down her throat “like he was trying to reach my stomach.” Then “he said, ‘I want you to suck my cock.’ ” She recalled mumbling “O.K.,” and Moonves grabbing her head and forcing it onto his penis. “He kept his clothes on. He had Calvin Klein underpants. He pushed my head down, hard,” she said. “It was very violent, very aggressive. There was real hostility in it.” Eventually, she said, he told her to lie down on the couch. “I was really scared and nervous,” she said. “I started getting a panic attack.” She tried to leave the room, and he told her to sit down. “I remember sitting in the chair shaking and really messed up,” she said. Moonves began groping her breasts and, she said, “kept saying, ‘C’mon, let’s fuck.’ ” Pallingston, who has a history of anxiety and panic attacks, said that her shaking intensified so much that it became clearly visible to Moonves. “I said, ‘I can’t do this,’ ” she told me. “He said, ‘O.K.’ He didn’t try to push it.” She collected herself and, after her panic attack subsided, Moonves departed for a meeting. Before leaving, she said, “He took my hand and shook it and said, ‘You did a great job.’ ”
Pallingston spent several more days working as Moonves’s assistant, during which, she said, he “was a little gropey, but not much,” occasionally rubbing her shoulders, making her uncomfortable. The following spring, however, after she was assigned to work with Moonves again when he made a similar trip to New York, he immediately offered her wine and began groping her breasts. “His hands were on my neck, and then he started reaching down my bra,” she said. Panicked, Pallingston lied and said that she’d gotten engaged. “I figured it was a way to get him to stop,” she said. Moonves, sounding skeptical, asked whom she was marrying, and she gave a false name. “By this time I was just a little tougher,” she told me. “And that pissed him off.” Moonves grew “cold as ice, hostile, nasty,” she recalled, “because I turned him down.” During the remainder of their time working together, she said, Moonves would bark orders at her, sometimes using obscenities. At one point, he threw a pillow at her to get her attention. On another occasion, he had loud phone sex in front of her. “It was, like, ‘I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna fuck you.’ And I’m just sitting there listening, trying to act like I was all cool.”
The following year, she said, Moonves, then at CBS, was hostile toward Pallingston, when he called the executive she was working for at Warner Bros. As she connected the phone call, she recalled, Moonves ordered her to get the executive on the line, addressing her as “you cunt.” Pallingston told me that her experiences with Moonves worsened a decades-long struggle with anxiety, depression, and controlling her anger. Her career in television “sort of fell apart.” She continued to pursue writing, eventually publishing several books, but abandoned her ambitions of working full-time in television. “It played a number on my head, especially in terms of self-worth, professionally,” she said, of Moonves’s behavior.
Pallingston said that, for many years, her feelings of shame led her to minimize the story when she recounted it to friends and colleagues. “I wouldn’t tell people the whole story, or I’d make it sound like we were having an affair,” she told me. “It was way too embarrassing to be honest about it, because I believed anyone who put themself in that situation was an idiot, or weak.” A former colleague, who worked with Pallingston at Warner Bros. in New York and asked not to be named, said that she remembered being troubled when Pallingston told her, at the time of the first incident, about Moonves’s offer to help her career in exchange for sexual favors. She said that Pallingston stopped short of disclosing whether she complied. Another friend, Deborah Perron, said that shortly after she and Pallingston met, in the fall of 2016, Pallingston told her about Moonves’s proposition over wine and aggressive kissing, but was reluctant to say more. “It was disturbing,” Perron recalled. “This is within an hour, and he was her boss, and she was scared.” Last year, with the rise of the #MeToo movement, Pallingston recounted the story to Perron in full. “I said, ‘Wait a second,’ ” Pallingston told me. “I don’t have to be embarrassed.”
Other women described experiencing various forms of unwanted kissing or touching by Moonves. Deborah Green was a freelance makeup artist regularly working for CBS in the early aughts when she says an encounter with Moonves reduced her work at the network. She was assigned to apply Moonves’s makeup and style his hair ahead of a promotional video shoot. Green had worked with Moonves once before without incident. When she returned with Moonves to his office to remove his makeup, he pointed to his shoulders and asked for a massage. Moonves had complimented a ring on her finger, and she had mentioned that it was a gift from her boyfriend. Green told me that she assumed she had made clear to Moonves that she was not interested in any sort of overture. She was further assured, she said, when Moonves began asking about her boyfriend.
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Source: The New Yorker