NEW YORK (AP)
CBS said Friday that independent members of its board of directors are investigating personal misconduct claims after reports that the company’s chief executive, Les Moonves, was the subject of an upcoming New Yorker story detailing sexual misconduct allegations.
The media company said it takes all allegations of personal misconduct seriously. It said the independent directors are “investigating claims that violate the company’s clear policies in that regard.”
CBS’s stock fell 6 percent — its worst one-day loss in nearly seven years — as the reports of the misconduct allegations began to circulate around noon Friday, triggering investor concerns Moonves might be forced to step down. The CBS chief has been a towering figure in television for decades, credited with turning around a network that had been mired for years at the bottom ratings.
The company did not mention Moonves by name but said it issued the statement in response to the upcoming New Yorker article. The Hollywood Reporter, citing unnamed sources, was the first to report that the New Yorker would publish an article detailing accusations against Moonves. The New Yorker did not immediately respond to inquiries about the report.
“Upon the conclusion of (the CBS board members’) investigation, which involves recently reported allegations that go back several decades, the board will promptly review the findings and take appropriate action,” the CBS statement said.
Mooves is the latest media giant to become embroiled in sexual misconduct allegations since the downfall of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in October triggered the #metoo social media movement.
In November, CBS fired veteran news host Charlie Rose over allegations he had groped women, walked naked in front of them and made lewd phone calls. Rose has apologized for his behavior but questioned the accuracy of some of the claims.
In December, Moonves joined a meeting of chief executives of nearly every major Hollywood studio, TV network and record label to establish a commission to comb sexual misconduct in the industry. They agreed to fund the Commission On Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, and chose Anita Hill to chair it.
The Hollywood Reporter said the New Yorker story on Moonves was reported by Ronan Farrow, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning story for the same magazine uncovering many of the allegations against Weinstein.
The allegations come as CBS is in the middle of a legal battle with its controlling shareholder, National Amusements, which has been pushing for a merger with Viacom, also controlled by National Amusements.
CBS and Viacom were once part of the same company, known as Viacom, but were split in 2005 into separate entities, both controlled by Sumner Redstone. His daughter, Shari Redstone, has been pushing to reunite the companies under one corporate umbrella. Moonves has been opposed to the deal.
CBS said its current “management team has the full support of the independent board members” in the ongoing litigation involving National Amusement. The legal case is being played out in Delaware court.
National Amusement jumped into the controversy with a statement denying what it called “the malicious insinuation that Ms. Redstone is somehow behind the allegations of inappropriate personal behavior by Mr. Moonves or today’s reports.”
“Ms. Redstone hopes that the investigation of these allegations is thorough, open and transparent,” the company said.
Moonves, one of the most powerful executives in media, has led CBS for two decades, including the 12 years since it split from Viacom.
He revived the company, which operates the CBS network, Showtime and other entities, with hit shows like “NCIS” and “The Big Bang Theory.”
Moonves also introduced separate streaming CBS and Showtime services as more people “cut the cord” and watch TV online. The network consistently tops in prime-time ratings.
While CBS’s stock took a hit, Viacom’s rose sharply as investors anticipated that a combination of CBS and Viacom could become more likely should Moonves be forced out. Viacom closed up 4.6 percent.
Moonves was the No. 2 highest paid CEO of a major public company in 2017, according to an analysis by The Associated Press and Equilar, an executive data firm. He made $68.4 million last year, behind only chip maker Broadcom’s CEO.
Before joining CBS, he was president of Warner Bros. Television, where he oversaw the development of hit TV shows “Friends” and “ER.”
Moonves, who is married to TV personality and CBS producer Julie Chen, was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2013. He also won the Milestone Award from the Producers Guild of America that year.