A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
You think you know what happened with Les Moonves and CBS? This new New York Times story proves that we don’t know the half of it.
The story includes a revolting new accusation of sexual assault by Moonves, and it has raised fresh doubts about whether Moonves will receive the $120 million in severance that he expected.
When he was pushed out in September, CBS paid $120 million into a “grantor trust.” It’s still sitting there now. But the CBS board hasn’t agreed to release it to him yet.
That’s because the two law firms retained by the board back in August are still at work, continuing their investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by Moonves and others.
So what will the board do? Will Moonves receive his golden parachute? Or have these new revelations given CBS more than enough reason to terminate him for “cause?”
The company declined to comment after the Times’ story landed on Wednesday evening.
The fall of Moonves
James B. Stewart, Rachel Abrams and Ellen Gabler’s story started one year ago when, in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, Gabler started reaching out to potential sources about Moonves and rumors of a #MeToo problem. Gabler says she made her first call to talent manager Marv Dauer exactly one year ago Wednesday.
Dauer dodged her calls. But he knew a lot. And he ultimately shared it all with The Times.
Wednesday evening’s story contains a new accusation of sexual assault by Moonves against actress Bobbie Phillips in 1995. But, as @nytimes wrote, it wasn’t Phillips’ accusation that led to his downfall, but “his and Marv Dauer’s effort to buy her silence.”
The Times has secret text messages to back up that claim — numerous texts to Dauer that show Moonves dangling possible jobs for Phillips.
In his final months at CBS, Moonves “schemed with a down-on-his-luck manager to bury a sexual misconduct allegation,” The Times’ story says.
Moonves, for his part, told The Times, “I strongly believe that the sexual encounter with Ms. Phillips more than 20 years ago was consensual.” She very strongly disagrees with that. There is so much detail in this story…
– NYT media editor Jim Windolf tweeted: “Hard to see how CBS gives Leslie Moonves that $120 million exit package after this story.”
– Jodi Kantor tweeted: “This story is a primer on how the powerful behave when they think no one is watching.”
What is Shari Redstone thinking right now?
Would any of this awfulness have surfaced if Team Moonves had not challenged controlling shareholder Shari Redstone six months ago?
A media exec emails: “If he hadn’t sued Shari, he might have left with everything intact. But arrogance and ego were too much to overcome…”
The Chen question
Katie Pellico emails: CBS just confirmed on Tuesday that Moonves’ wife Julie Chen will be returning as host of “Big Brother” in January. I can’t help but wonder about that now, in light of this Times story.
No comment from CBS
CBS Corp. declined to comment on the revelations in the Times. The detailed story will be published in print in the Sunday Business section this weekend.
Wednesday’s other must-read about misconduct
“In October 2017, as the #MeToo movement spurred a national conversation about the sexual harassment and abuse of women, the Miami Herald had already begun examining the Jeffrey Epstein case,” the Herald says.
Reporter Julie K. Brown started working on it after former Miami US Attorney Alexander Acosta was nominated to be Trump’s Labor Secretary. She eventually found that Acosta helped give Epstein, a serial sex abuser, “the deal of a lifetime.” Brown and her colleagues found dozens of possible victims and obtained 10 years of public records. The result was Wednesday’s story, which will sicken you if you haven’t read it yet.
The Herald is still fighting in court to obtain more documents… Details here…
Matt Lauer was fired one year ago
Thursday is the one-year “anniversary” (odd word in this context) of NBC’s stunning firing of Matt Lauer. Stunning because the show’s staffers and viewers woke up to the news. A small number of people knew that the Times and Variety were investigating alleged misconduct by Lauer, but most viewers had no idea.
Within NBC, no one had any idea how the audience would react to his disappearance. But now we know: “Today” has expanded its lead over “GMA.” For the past five weeks, it’s been winning in total viewers as well as the 25- to 54-year-old demographic.
Linda Vester’s message
Former Fox and NBC correspondent Linda Vester, who alleged harassment by Tom Brokaw earlier this year, has founded a nonprofit called the Silence Breakers Alliance. She appeared on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Wednesday night, and she has an ad in Thursday’s NYT challenging Comcast’s board of directors.
The ad says NBC should “hire outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation” into misconduct at NBC News; “publicly disclose” the findings; and end the use of nondisclosures and forced arbitration in these cases.
34 years later, a “Handmaid’s Tale” sequel
Margaret Atwood, the acclaimed author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is writing a sequel set 15 years after the original book. The new novel, titled “The Testaments,” was announced on Wednesday morning… And it will come out next September.
“Handmaid’s” season one on Hulu ended just as Atwood’s book ended. But season two was a brand new story. (Season three is in the works now.) So “The Testaments” will be Atwood’s version of how Offred and Gilead’s story continued… Here’s my full writeup…