At CBS, Les Moonves got away with ‘transactional’ sex. A working mom couldn’t get a schedule change.
At CBS News, she asked for a role that would give her “some small measure of predictability” over her schedule so she could work while parenting a young son. From his corner office atop CBS, he was demanding that a different female employee be “on call” to perform oral sex.
She left her job. He made $69.3 million.
It’s a tale of two professional tracks at CBS: Of Julianna Goldman, a working mother trying — and ultimately failing — to adjust her workplace responsibilities so she could continue to do her job as her home life evolved, and of Les Moonves, the CEO and chairman whose reportedly rampant sexual violence was the centerpiece of a noxious, misogynistic network over which he reigned for decades.
On Wednesday, the New York Times published a report on Moonves’ obstruction of an investigation into his sexual misconduct at CBS. That obstruction may cut the strings on the golden parachute on which Moonves surely thought he’d gently float into an early retirement — which is a little like getting Al Capone for tax evasion, considering the gravity of Moonves’ alleged violence.
The Times report also included many new sickening details about Moonves’ “transactional” sexual relations with his female underlings:
“The outside lawyers were told by multiple people that CBS had an employee “who was ‘on call’ to perform oral sex” on Mr. Moonves. According to the draft report: “A number of employees were aware of this and believed that the woman was protected from discipline or termination as a result of it.”
The report found that, in addition to consensual relationships and affairs, “Moonves received oral sex from at least 4 CBS employees under circumstances that sound transactional and improper to the extent that there was no hint of any relationship, romance, or reciprocity.”
The report said that the lawyers weren’t able to speak with any of those women, but that “such a pattern arguably constitutes willful misfeasance and violation of the company’s sexual harassment policy.”
The Times piece comes a few months after Ronan Farrow first reported that Moonves had been accused by six women of sexual harassment and intimidation, while “dozens more” detailed abuse throughout the company Moonves ran. Further reporting revealed Moonves’ methodical destruction of female-driven shows. Thorough investigations into credible allegations brought to light the abuses of longtime TV host Charlie Rose, NCIS showrunner Brad Kern, senior vice president of talent for CBS Television Studios Vincent “Vinnie” Favale. A phalanx of sexist, abusive men flourished while women suffered, under Moonves’ eye.
Tuesday, Julianna Goldman wrote about her experience with CBS News for The Atlantic. She was a general-assignment correspondent with 15 years of experience who was essentially given a no-choice choice between a job that was obviously incompatible with parenting (last-minute travel for breaking news) and no job at all. She asked for a position with more predictability; she was told the offer on the table was “final.” She left and later realized she “was not alone”:
According to a report by the Women’s Media Center, television viewers are less likely to see women reporting the news today than just a few years ago. At the Big Three networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—combined, men were responsible for reporting 75 percent of the evening news broadcasts over three months in 2016, while women were responsible for reporting only 25 percent—a drop from 32 percent two years earlier.
It was “anti-mom” bias, in all its insidious manifestations: Assumptions made about a woman’s dedication and competence (meanwhile, men earn a “fatherhood premium” for every child they have); the fear of getting edged out while taking maternity leave and daring to be off-camera for all of three months; the exacting expectations for a woman’s appearance on television that make no allowances for a pregnant or postpartum body.
As Goldman argues, all citizens suffer when women and mothers are sidelined from the work they do so well. It is impossible to report the news fully, accurately, and with empathy, without without diversity of experience and insight on the part of those who report it. And of course the workplace discrimination she documents against pregnant women and mothers is appalling, all the more so for being so commonplace.
But there is something especially gross about seeing these two experiences — Goldman’s and Moonves’ — side by side.
What does it say about CBS, as an institution, that higher-ups decided it was simply unfathomable to meet Goldman’s minimal requests but that it was absolutely paramount to ensure Moonves every sexual whim be met on demand? What does it say about the board, that at least one of its members knew about an assault allegation against Moonves from 1999 and, rather than do anything meaningful with that information whatsoever, just… told no one, and did nothing, and stood up for Moonves even as more and more credible allegations came out?
Dr. Anne Peters says Moonves assaulted her in 1999. As she told CBS lawyers, she warned Arnold Kopelson, an Oscar-winning producer who was about to join the board, about Moonves. As Peters remembers it, Kopelson’s response was “that the incident happened a long time ago and was trivial, and said, in effect, ‘we all did that.'”
Kopelson joined the board in 2007 and, at a board meeting following the publication of Farrow’s investigation, kept on defending Moonves. “I don’t care if 30 more women come forward and allege this kind of stuff,” he said. “Les is our leader and it wouldn’t change my opinion of him.” (Kopelson died in October.)
How telling, that at CBS, it’s easier to make an office work for Moonves — and Rose, and Kern, and on, and on — than to make it work for a mother. That someone like Kopelson could say, of Moonves’ alleged criminal misconduct, “we all did that,” but that no one can look at working parents and say, “we all do that.”