“WHO’S GOING to believe you? You’re no one.” That’s what Deborah Morris was told in the 1980s when she was deciding whether to file a formal complaint against the powerhouse Hollywood executive she says sexually forced himself on her. So she kept quiet. But when that same executive last month denied allegations of sexual abuse that had been brought by other women, claimed he was committed to the principle of “no means no” and remained in his high-paying job, Ms. Morris had had enough. “He’s cunning. He’s calculating. And he’s a predator,” she said of Leslie Moonves.
That she, along with five other women, spoke up about their alleged abuse — finally forcing CBS to oust Mr. Moonves as its chief executive — is a heartening sign of progress in confronting sexual misconduct in the workplace. That it took so long for CBS to acknowledge the problem, and that Mr. Moonves may be able to walk away with millions of dollars in severance, shows how far the country remains from workplace equality.
The departure of Mr. Moonves as head of CBS after a 15-year reign was announced Sunday night, hours after the New Yorker posted on its website an article by Ronan Farrow that detailed on-the-record allegations from six women of sexual misconduct, harassment and retaliation. It was the second exposé by Mr. Farrow into Mr. Moonves’s past and brought the number of women accusing Mr. Moonves of misbehavior and harassment to 12. After the first article appeared six weeks ago, CBS launched an investigation but left Mr. Moonves in place. He has denied the allegations.
“These women are coming out now,” Mr. Farrow told CNN on Sunday, because “they have been extraordinarily frustrated by what they perceive to be inaction on the part of CBS and its board.” Part of the frustration of the women appears to have centered on accounts that Mr. Moonves had been negotiating — and CBS seemed prepared to pay him — more than $100 million in severance.
According to a corporate filing made public Monday, a prospective payout of $120 million to Mr. Moonves will be placed in a holdover trust pending the outcome of the independent investigation commissioned by CBS. According to NBC, a confidentiality clause in the settlement may prevent findings of the investigation from ever being revealed.
No doubt CBS just wants to get this matter behind it. Maybe its leaders think their offer of a $20 million donation to organizations supporting the #MeToo movement will help in that effort. These issues, though, must not be swept under the carpet. Who else at CBS might have been aware of the allegations before they were made public by the New Yorker? What effect did executive-suite behavior and attitudes have, if any, on news coverage or programming decisions? If the allegations are true, can CBS justify rewarding the perpetrator? A full airing is essential.