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More Harassment Allegations Emerge At CBS


The board at CBS has a lot to fret about these days, with multiple sexual misconduct allegations and settlements involving top executives and stars. With all of this turmoil, even the future of CBS seems unsettled. There's talk of merger with another company. NPR's David Folkenflik has been covering the story for us and joins us now. David, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Tell us about some of these latest developments at CBS, where, I should say up front, I'm a special contributor to "CBS Sunday Morning."

FOLKENFLIK: Where to start, Scott? I think first you've got to acknowledge The New York Times story, just this week, about a secret settlement between CBS network and the actress Eliza Dushku, who was - she had a part that was on several episodes of the hit series "Bull" on CBS, a primetime show. And she said that she complained about repeated remarks made by the star of the show, Michael Weatherly, that she felt, in a sense, violated. She brought it up, felt dismissed, and they phased her character out, even though they had planned a several-season arc for her. She received a $9.5 million payout that apparently would have been roughly equivalent to what she would have received had she stayed on the show for those years.

Most recently, the executive producer of the CBS News show, "CBS This Morning," Ryan Kadro, is out. He's going to leave the network as of next month. He had been executive producer when Charlie Rose was there, at least, for a stretch of when Charlie Rose was there as its star. There's just been a couple of settlements of suits that CBS has made of women who said they were harassed by Charlie Rose, the star of that show and "60 Minutes." And Kadro is on his way out. It may well be that his departure has something to do with those settlements, as well.

SIMON: And of course, this comes after the so many stories of misconduct by Les Moonves, former head of CBS, and moreover, his effort to hide those action with what amounts to bribes. What's CBS done about that?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the question on its plate at the moment is whether or not it's supposed to pay the $120 million that it might appear that Les Moonves is due, as extraordinary as that figure is, for his service and for what his contract stipulates in departing from CBS as its chairman. He was forced out earlier this year. In fact, the very actions to - as investigators claim, the law firms doing this claim - to mislead, to deceive, to lie to the investigators and, in fact, to erase evidence may well be caused for the board to step in and to void or to diminish that payment. It would be quite an insult added to the injury that a number of women have said that Les Moonves did if he were to be paid off such a huge amount for being fired, effectively, as a result of the public awareness of what he had done to them.

SIMON: And, David, in your reporting, have you come across people who believe there's a climate at CBS - entertainment division and parts of the news division - that foster sexual harassment and maybe even sexual assault?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, the most glaring example of this in many ways is Fox News under Roger Ailes. But this was very disturbing coming from the top. Les Moonves had been essentially running CBS for two decades. And if you look at what happened in the news division, as well - the fact that Jeff Fager, a former executive producer of "60 Minutes" and former chairman of CBS News, has been accused of sexual harassment and tolerating a culture at "60 Minutes" of that, the fact that it turned out his predecessor, Don Hewitt, according to revelations, had essentially sexually assaulted former subordinate and colleague female subordinate so severely that CBS ended up paying her what totaled up to $5 million over the years in payments that apparently have still been going on as recently as this year, it's hard not to think that there's a climate that is not only hostile to women, but hostile to the idea of accountability for this kind of behavior, at least until these revelations now.

SIMON: And there's a merger on the table?

FOLKENFLIK: It certainly looks likely. Shari Redstone is the controlling owner of both CBS and Viacom. She has wanted to merge these sister companies once more, reunify them. And the main obstacle in her way was Les Moonves and the corporate board at CBS that had been supporting him. That board has changed. The sympathies toward Moonves' position's changed, and Moonves is gone. So it would seem as though the stars are aligning for her to be able to get control of both companies and to ultimately bring them under the same umbrella.

SIMON: NPR's David Folkenflik. Thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.