Leslie Moonves Exits CBS After Being Accused of Sex Crimes, Violence by More Women

Moonves says he's "deeply saddened" to be leaving the company amid "untrue allegations." Meanwhile, COO Joseph Ianniello will serve as president and acting chief while the board conducts a search for a permanent successor.

Just over six weeks after allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against Leslie Moonves by on the record accusers, the CBS Corp. chief is departing a role he has held for more than a decade. 

On Sunday, hours after a second New Yorker exposé by Ronan Farrow detailed six more allegations of misconduct, CBS said that it was parting ways with Moonves, appointing chief operating officer Joseph Ianniello as acting CEO and pledging that the outgoing executive would not receive severance benefits "at this time." The company's Sunday statement also noted that there would be no imminent proposal to merge CBS and Viacom, a move that had been sought by Shari Redstone and controlling stakeholder National Amusements Inc. 

Ianniello will serve as president and acting CEO while the board conducts a search for a permanent successor. Ianniello, who joined the company in 2005, has been COO of CBS since June 2013. The chairman position will remain open pending the appointment of a permanent CEO.

For his part, Moonves released a statement late Sunday saying he was "deeply saddened" to be leaving CBS.

"For the past 24 years it has been an incredible privilege to lead CBS' renaissance and transformation into a leading global media company," he said. "The best part of this journey has been working alongside the dedicated and talented people in this company. Together, we built CBS into a destination where the best in the business come to work and succeed."

He added: "Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am. Effective immediately I will no longer be Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBS. I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of directors and all of its employees."

Meanwhile, Moonves and CBS will donate $20 million to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace. CBS said that the donation, which will be made immediately, has been deducted from any severance benefits that may be due Moonves following the board’s ongoing independent investigation led by the law firms of Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton. "Moonves will not receive any severance benefits at this time (other than certain fully accrued and vested compensation and benefits); any payments to be made in the future will depend upon the results of the independent investigation and subsequent Board evaluation," CBS added.

CBS also said it reached a settlement agreement with National Amusements Inc. and that five current independent directors and one NAI-affiliated director have stepped down from the board. The board members that have stepped down are Joseph Califano Jr., Charles Gifford, Leonard Goldberg, Arnold Kopelson, Douglas Morris and NAI-affiliated David Andelman.

Executive producer of the CBS news show 60 Minutes, Jeff Fager has also been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct, with a seventh accuser appearing in Farrow's Sunday piece. Fager is also being investigated for his alleged conduct. He is currently on indefinite vacation.   

Six new independent directors have been elected in their place: Candace Beinecke, Barbara Byrne, Brian Goldner, Richard D. Parsons, Susan Schuman and Strauss Zelnick. The new board will be comprised of 11 independent directors and two NAI-affiliated directors.

Regarding a merger option for CBS and Viacom, that is currently not imminent, the company said. "NAI confirmed that it has no plans to propose a merger of CBS and Viacom and has agreed that it will make no such proposal for at least two years after the date of the settlement," CBS said. "NAI reaffirmed that it will give good faith consideration to any business combination transaction or other strategic alternative that the independent directors believe are in the best interests of the Company and its stockholders."

On Aug. 2, CBS posted solid second-quarter earnings, including $3.47 billion in revenue amid headlines about Moonves and Shari Redstone. Last year, Moonves earned $69.3 million in pay from his role at the company.

In Farrow's Sunday story, six more women claim Moonves forced them into unwanted sexual situations and allegedly retaliated when they refused. The women told Farrow that Moonves allegedly did an array of unwanted actions, including exposing himself and forcing them to perform oral sex on him. 

The board of the CBS Corp. had selected outside counsel to lead an investigation into the claims against Moonves, who was previously accused of similar unwanted behavior by a number of women. 

One of the new accusers, a veteran television executive named Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, told Farrow that she filed a criminal complaint late last year with Los Angeles police. And while authorities did tell Farrow they found her accusations credible, the alleged crime(s) happened in the 1980s, so the statute of limitations had passed. According to Farrow, multiple members of the CBS board were aware of the police report at the time of its filing. 

Moonves responded to the new allegations in Farrow's piece with a statement to The New Yorker, in which he said three of the women who were accusing him of assault were, according to Moonves, participating in consensual situations. 

“The appalling accusations in this article are untrue," the statement began. "What is true is that I had consensual relations with three of the women some 25 years ago before I came to CBS. And I have never used my position to hinder the advancement or careers of women."

Moonves would not specify which of his accusers he was referring to in his statement. 

"In my 40 years of work, I have never before heard of such disturbing accusations," he continued. "I can only surmise they are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation, and my career. Anyone who knows me knows that the person described in this article is not me.”