At first, it was no surprise that Stephen Colbert joked about Leslie Moonves at the top of CBS’s “The Late Show” on Monday night.
Even though Moonves is his boss (as the CBS Corp. chief executive and chairman, he’s everyone boss), Colbert doesn’t hold back when there are negative stories about people at his own company. In November, he skewered “CBS This Morning” host Charlie Rose about his allegations of sexual misconduct — while Rose’s co-host, Gayle King, was waiting in the wings for an interview.
So Colbert didn’t ignore the news that Moonves was the subject of a recent New Yorker story with accusations from six women of sexual harassment and intimidation. (“I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances,” Moonves said in a statement, adding, “I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career.”)
First, Colbert pretended to “discover” that he had just heard there was an article about Moonves. When he was informed the author was Ronan Farrow — famous for the investigation that helped bring down Harvey Weinstein — he did a spit-take of water.
“That’s not good,” Colbert faux-whispered, as he switched his drink to whiskey. “Ronan isn’t exactly known for his puff pieces about glamping.”
After a couple more jokes, including one about how the CBS board is hiring outside lawyers to investigate (which is true) and they should just give the task to the network’s new procedural, “CSI: CEO,” Colbert moved on.
“Now, I’ll have some more to say on this over at the desk, later, assuming we make it past the commercial break,” he said.
Indeed — Colbert had much more to say, and this part was unusual. It’s one thing to make a few cracks about your boss. It’s another to devote your segment to a very serious monologue about accountability amid the #MeToo movement. Here are Colbert’s remarks in full:
Folks, before the break, I was talking over there about my boss being in trouble. Are we still broadcasting? You know what? Don’t tell me, I like a surprise.
And here’s the thing, we’re coming up on one year of general awareness of the #MeToo movement. I think that milestone is worth celebrating, but it is hard to think of an appropriate anniversary gift when the entire Amazon wish list is just: “Stop it!” By the way, women who wanted to “stop it” also searched for “justice.”
Women over the past year have felt empowered to tell their stories in ways they haven’t before, which is an objectively good thing. Because — and it’s strange to have to say this — powerful men taking sexual advantage of relatively powerless employees are wrong. We know it’s wrong now and we knew it was wrong then. And how do we know we knew it was wrong then? Because we know these men tried to keep the stories from coming out back then. I don’t remember any ads in Variety saying, “Congratulations to me on all the butt I’m groping!”
That said — and this is obviously naive on a certain level — the revelations and accusations of the past year, just in the entertainment industry alone, have been shocking. To me. To many of the women I know, it has brought a welcome sense of relief that something’s finally happening.
Now, as a middle aged guy with some power in the entertainment industry, I may not be the ideal person to address this kind of systemic abuse. Who am I to judge? I’m a Catholic, still. And when I go to confession, I have things to confess. First: that I don’t go to confession. And that I just lied to you for a bit. But this weekend some people asked me, probably cause I work here, “What do you think is going to happen?”
I don’t know. I don’t know who does know. In a situation like this, I’d normally call Les.
But over the past year, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether the disappearing of the accused from public life is the right thing to do. And I get there should be levels of response. But I understand why that disappearing happens. Cause there’s a JFK quote that I like and I cite a fair amount on this show: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”
And for so long for women in the workplace, there was no change, no justice for the abused. So we shouldn’t be surprised that when the change comes, it comes radically. This roar is a natural backlash to all that silence.
So I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I do believe in accountability — and not just for politicians you disagree with. Everybody believes in accountability until it’s their guy. And make no mistake, Les Moonves is my guy. He hired me to sit in this chair. He stood behind this show while we were struggling to find our voice. He gave us the time and the resources to succeed. And he has stood by us when people were mad at me. And I like working for him.
But accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody. Whether it’s the leader of the network, or the leader of the free world.