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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Wife defends CBS chief against sexual misconduct allegations

Six women accuse Les Moonves accused of sexual harassment stretching from the 1980s to the late 2000s

Les Moonves, CBS chairman and chief executive, with his wife Julie Chen. Reuters
Les Moonves, CBS chairman and chief executive, with his wife Julie Chen. Reuters

Les Moonves is a titan of Hollywood, credited with turning around the ailing CBS network with some of the freshest shows on television and bringing the best talent to the air.

But his actions over past decades have sent the company’s share price plunging – dipping 6 per cent on Friday - as he admitted to making women uncomfortable after six actresses, writers and producers came forward to level allegations against the chairman and chief executive of the media giant.

With the company locked in a legal battle over merger plans, it makes for an uncertain future for the best-rated network on US television as investors fear he will be forced to step down.

As CBS announced an investigation, Mr Moonves’s wife of 14 years, Julie Chen issued a supportive statement.

“Leslie is a good man and loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being,” said Ms Chen, a prominent on-screen presence at CBS, hosting its version of Big Brother among other shows. “I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”

Mr Moonves, 68, joined CBS in 1995 and since then is widely credited with reviving a struggling company with shows such as CSI and Survivor. Last year it retained its position as the most watched network.

“I recognise that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances,” he said in a statement. "Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely.

“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.”

The new allegations appear in an article by Ronan Farrow, whose previous investigations exposed complaints of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein and sent shockwaves through the wider film, entertainment and political worlds.

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Six women told The New Yorker that Mr Moonves sexually harassed them during a period stretching from the 1980s to the late 2000s.

Four of the women described forcible touching or kissing during business meetings while two said that Mr Moonves physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers.

Illeana Douglas, who later received an Emmy nomination for her role in HBO’s Six Feet Under, said she was assaulted during a lunch meeting on a new comedy in 1997.

She said Mr Moonves asked about her relationship status before “violently kissing” her, holding her down on the couch with her arms over her head. After forcing him off she managed to scramble from the room, she claimed.

“My skirt is all twisted,” she told the magazine. “I’m standing in the hall and I thought of his family.”

Mr Moonves’s assistant, sitting nearby, asked whether her parking needed to be validated, she added. “I remember thinking, Does she know? Does this happen all the time?”

She was subsequently dropped from the show.

Other members of staff described what they said was a wider atmosphere of harassment and intimidation, in which complaints were not taken seriously.

The company denied that characterisation and said it was committed to America’s broader conversation about inclusion.

“CBS is very mindful of all workplace issues and takes each report of misconduct very seriously,” it said. “We do not believe, however, that the picture of our company created in The New Yorker represents a larger organisation that does its best to treat its tens of thousands of employees with dignity and respect.”

Charlie Rose, the veteran TV journalist, was fired by CBS last year after being accused by more than 10 women of sexual misconduct.

The allegations come at a difficult time for CBS. The company has been thrown into turmoil by plans to merge with Viacom. The proposal was resisted by Mr Moonves, prompting a power struggle with Shari Redstone, whose National Amusements is the controlling shareholder of both companies.

In a sign of the bitterness unleashed by the dispute, her spokeswoman dismissed rumours suggesting the New Yorker article was part of the battle for control.

“The malicious insinuation that Ms Redstone is somehow behind the allegations of inappropriate personal behaviour by Mr Moonves or today’s reports is false and self-serving,” she said. “Ms Redstone hopes that the investigation of these allegations is thorough, open and transparent.”