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Former CBS CEO Les Moonves Denied $120 Million Severance Package


CBS is accusing Les Moonves of a, quote, "willful failure" to cooperate with an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. That failure, atop the alleged misconduct, is why CBS is denying him a severance payment of $120 million. So what does the downfall of a legendary executive mean for his company? NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has covered Moonves and CBS for years, and he's here. Hi there, Eric.


INSKEEP: According to CBS, at least - and we should note Moonves denies wrongdoing broadly - what does CBS say Moonves did?

DEGGANS: Well, let's go back. Moonves was forced to step down back in September after The New Yorker magazine published allegations from several women claiming he had sexually harassed or assaulted them. So the CBS board wound up hiring two law firms to look into allegations against Moonves, also harassment or misconduct allegations at CBS News and in CBS' wider corporate culture.

INSKEEP: OK. So we mentioned an alleged willful failure to cooperate. Was Moonves supposed to cooperate with those law firms?

DEGGANS: Yes. They expected him to tell the truth when they asked him questions about his past conduct. Now, we haven't seen the reports that these law firms have created, but The New York Times reported on early drafts of the reports, which said that investigators had evidence Moonves had lied to them and had tried to destroy texts showing that he attempted to find acting work for one woman who'd made accusations against him. In the board's statement, they accused Moonves of breaching his contract and, quote, "willful and material misfeasance." Now, I had to look that word up...


DEGGANS: ...But it means performing an official duty in an improper or unlawful manner. Moonves' attorney has said in a statement that the conclusions are baseless, that his client cooperated fully and that he vehemently denies assaulting anyone.

INSKEEP: Although possession is nine-tenths of the law. CBS has the $120 million. They say they're keeping the $120 million, unless there's some other proceeding we don't know about coming. But that leaves CBS trying to move on from losing its top executive in this particular way. How deep does the problem run at CBS?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, this was a company once known as the Tiffany Network. It bills itself as the most watched broadcast network in America. They have all these popular programs, but they also have this history of harassment allegations. "CBS This Morning" anchor Charlie Rose was fired last year after a Washington Post story revealed multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Jeff Fager, the executive producer of the top newsmagazine, "60 Minutes," was let go in September. He had sent a threatening text to a CBS reporter who was working on a story about harassment allegations at CBS News. The New York Times reported last week on a $9.5 million settlement with actress Eliza Dushku, who claimed that she was harassed while she was working on the CBS drama "Bull." So there's a lot. And as a critic, I pointed out CBS' lack of new shows starring women for years. The question now is - you know, is CBS really going to look hard at its history now or just hope everybody moves on after this crisis passes?

INSKEEP: You're pointing out an interesting connection or parallel. We don't know how closely they are connected, but we have allegations of private misconduct, and you're noting something wrong with the public face of CBS, the opportunities given to women, the representation of women. Is CBS doing anything about these kinds of problems?

DEGGANS: Well, the board says it's created this new position called chief people officer to revamp its human resources departments. They say their diversity and inclusion efforts have been inadequate, and they're going to beef them up. They're giving $20 million to several different groups that are working to combat workplace harassment. But the CBS board has heard from employees who've said that powerful stars and executives were not held accountable at the company. And the question is whether CBS is going to hold them accountable now without big stories in the media to pressure them.

INSKEEP: Eric, thanks so much, appreciate it.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.