CBS Weighs Moonves Suspension Over Assault Claims

Les Moonves

Modal Trigger Les Moonves Chris Pizzello Invision AP

USA television giant CBS announced Monday that it would select outside lawyers to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct lodged against CEO Leslie Moonves but declined to take further immediate action on his fate.

His comments came hours after CBS said its board had made a decision to select "outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation" into claims that Moonves had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with six women.

Moonves was accused of sexual harassment by six women in a New Yorker article.

"While Mr. Moonves has mostly denied the allegations, we see a range of potential outcomes that could make his tenure become increasingly tenuous, amid heightened sensitivity to the so-called #MeToo movement", said CFRA analyst Tuna Amobi.

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CBS's lack of immediate action against Moonves was a "slap in the face to the fearless women who came forward", said Melissa Silverstein, founder of the blog Women and Hollywood, in a Twitter post, as social media reacted quickly to CBS's announcement. Board members meet via conference call on Monday. "Consequently, it seems likely to us that CEO Les Moonves will be eventually removed from his role".

The board also postponed the corporation's annual meeting of stockholders, which had been scheduled for August 10.

Shares of CBS fell 5.1 percent to $51.28 at the close of the New York Stock Exchange, and are down 13 percent this year.

Shari Redstone is a major shareholder of both CBS and Viacom, and is seeking to merge the two companies.

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Following the publication of the New Yorker story, some senior female CBS executives have expressed support for Moonves, including Jo Ann Ross, the company's president and chief advertising revenue officer, and Angelica McDaniel, an executive vice president of daytime programming. "'You're very expensive, and I need to know you're worth it, ' " he told her. Dinah refused and neither sister ever heard from Moonves again. "He came around the corner of the table and threw himself on top of me", Jones told Farrow.

Dinah Kirgo shared a similar story in which Moonves feigned interest in a business meeting only to pursue a dinner with her alone. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely.

"I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances", Moonves said.

If Moonves is suspended or departs altogether, CBS will face a serious power vacuum at a time of rapid change roiling the industry.

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