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Les Moonves leaves CBS, denies new report of sexual misconduct

CBS and Moonves, who will get no severance for now, will make a $20 million donation to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement.
Image: Les Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS Corporation
Les Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS Corporation, attends the annual Allen and Co. conference on July 11 in Sun Valley, Idaho.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Les Moonves, chairman and chief executive of CBS Corp., will leave the company after six additional women accused him on the record of sexual harassment or assault, CBS said Sunday night.

The new accusations, which The New Yorker reported on Sunday, brought the total number of accusers against Moonves to 12. Dozens more claim that the company tolerated sexual misconduct. NBC News hasn't independently verified the allegations, which Moonves, 68, has denied.

Under the agreement, CBS and Moonves "will donate $20 million to one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace," CBS said in a statement. It said the donation would be made immediately and that it would be deducted from any severance payments that could be owed to Moonves once an independent outside investigation is completed.

Moonves won't receive any severance payments at this time, CBS said. CBS News reported Sunday night that Moonves had been eligible for as much as $180 million were he to be fired without cause, according to an employment contract he signed in May 2017.

Moonves confirmed his departure in a separate statement Sunday night.

"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," he said. "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."

CBS' chief operating officer, Joseph Ianniello, will serve as president and acting chief executive pending selection of a permanent successor, CBS said.

The move comes with a reorganization of the company's divided board of directors. Six current directors stepped down on Sunday, to be replaced by six new independent directors — settling a long battle between CBS and its controlling shareholder, National Amusements Inc., according to the statement.

The new allegations against Moonves span the 1980s to the early 2000s, according to The New Yorker, which originally published the allegations of sexual misconduct last month. They include a range of accusations: forced oral sex, forcible touching or kissing, and physical intimidation.

Many of the women told The New Yorker that Moonves retaliated against them if they rejected his advances. He denied all allegations and said they were intended to undermine his career.

"The appalling accusations in this article are untrue," Moonves told The New Yorker in a statement. "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. In my 40 years of work, I have never before heard of such disturbing accusations. 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."

Moonves didn't tell The New Yorker which three relationships he considered consensual.

Another woman also accused Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes," of sexual misconduct, telling the magazine that he groped her at a work party when she was an intern at CBS in the early 2000s. In a previous New Yorker article from August, six women accused Fager of touching employees inappropriately at company parties in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.

Fager also denied the allegations made against him. He isn't mentioned in the CBS statement.

"I have encouraged everyone at 60 Minutes to speak to the lawyers reviewing our culture with the hope that our entire staff would have a voice, and the truth would come out about our workplace," Fager told The New Yorker. "It was at the center of my talk to the staff when we returned from vacation because I believe that a fair and open investigation will determine 60 Minutes is a good place where talented women and men thrive and produce some of the finest broadcast journalism in America." He also previously denied that the alleged incidents took place.

Another woman mentioned in The New Yorker article, veteran television executive Phyllis Golden Gottlieb, told the magazine that she filed a criminal complaint with Los Angeles police last year but that prosecutors declined to press charges because of the statute of limitations.

NBC News previously reported in July that Los Angeles prosecutors had declined to press sex abuse charges against the Moonves because of the statute of limitations after an unidentified woman went to police in December to report three incidents from the 1980s.

The latest allegations came as Moonves faces not only the sexual misconduct investigation by two outside law firms, but also as a court battle was raging between CBS and its controlling shareholder and as investors clamored for clarity about who would next lead the company.

TIME'S UP, the organization that formed earlier this year to combat sexual misconduct, called the allegations "bone-chilling" and demanded "nothing less than full transparency of the investigation's findings, a commitment to real change across all levels of CBS management and no reward for Les Moonves."

"These allegations speak to a culture of toxic complicity at CBS, where the safety of women was continuously ignored to protect the careers of powerful men and the corporation," the organization said in a statement. "The CBS Board of Directors has an obligation to move swiftly and decisively to create a safe work environment for all and rid the company of this toxic culture."