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FILE – In this July 29, 2013, file photo, Les Moonves arrives at the CBS, CW and Showtime TCA party at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. On Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, CBS said longtime CEO Les Moonves has resigned, just hours after more sexual harassment allegations involving the network’s longtime leader surfaced. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
Is Les Moonves’ departure from CBS a breakthrough for the #MeToo movement?
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While he is the most powerful CEO brought down yet by sexual misconduct allegations over the past year, CBS is facing criticism for not pushing him out sooner, for thanking him in its announcement and for offering him a potential $120 million in severance.
Others say his downfall still serves as a warning that even the most powerful bosses cannot hide. And some prominent activists cautiously welcomed the announcement that CBS plans to make a $20 million donation to organizations that support #MeToo.
“I think a lot of people will wrestle with this. On one hand, it will show awareness and acknowledgement of fault. On the other hand, is a donation enough in terms of reparations? Can decades of abuse be repaired and forgiven?” said Amanda Nguyen, founder and CEO of Rise, a nonprofit organization that promotes the rights of victims of sexual violence.
“Additionally, Mr. Moonves is still potentially walking away with nearly $120 million. This is still placing more value on a man who abused his position of power than on the survivors fighting for justice and systemic changes.”
Moonves was among the most highly paid executives in the nation, making a total of nearly $140 million over the last two years. Whether he sees any severance money hinges on the outcome of an investigation being led by outside lawyers hired by CBS. Moonves has denied any wrongdoing.
CBS said he will not get the money if the board of directors determines he was dismissed for cause. That decision may not come for months. But #MeToo activists have made it clear that CBS will be judged on the transparency of that investigation.
In the meantime, CBS said, Moonves will stay on as an adviser to ensure a smooth transition, receiving security and office services.
His departure was announced Sunday, hours after The New Yorker published the second of two stories detailing allegations from about two dozen women, including forced oral sex, groping and retaliation if they resisted him.
In announcing Moonves’ departure, CBS thanked him for his 24 years of service and achievements.
Still undetermined is the fate of Jeff Fager, executive producer of “60 Minutes,” who is being investigated over allegations he condoned a hostile atmosphere for women.
Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women, said CBS has shown no indication that it is “ending the culture that allowed Moonves to thrive. That hasn’t ended.”
“The fact that they are still talking about giving him a payment is appalling,” Van Pelt said.
Similar sentiments came from some CBS employees, celebrities and prominent organizations that arose in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the event that turned #MeToo into a worldwide phenomenon.
“What is this advisor for a year madness? Is @cbs insane? Are they watching their own news?” tweeted Hollywood producer and writer Judd Apatow.
CBS said has not said who will receive the $20 million donation but that Moonves himself is involved in the decision.
Some activists praised the idea of the donation but made it clear that it will be meaningless unless Moonves is held accountable and CBS reforms its culture.
“The world is watching,” said Time’s Up, a movement against sexual harassment created by Hollywood celebrities last year. Time’s Up, which has raised more than $22 million since January for a legal fund for victims of sexual misconduct, warned CBS that Moonves should receive no money and that CBS must demonstrate “real change across all levels” of management.
Regardless of how CBS decides to move forward, Van Pelt said Moonves’ downfall demonstrates that times have changed for people in powerful positions.
She said the hero of the scandal is Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, a former television veteran now in her early 80s who told The New Yorker that Moonves forced her to perform oral sex on him in the 1980s.
“Her entire life, she felt she had no worth. Finally, with this movement, she has been recognized, and her voiced has been valued,” Van Pelt said. “The big lesson is that women are coming out, this tsunami of women are speaking out.”