Interim CBS Corp. chief executive Joseph Ianniello took the helm at the media company on Monday, just a day after longtime CEO Les Moonves stepped down amid a new crop of sexual misconduct allegations published in the New Yorker.
In an email to CBS employees, obtained by HuffPost, Ianniello did not mention the controversy over Moonves’ departure or the ongoing investigations into sexual harassment and culture at the company. The subject line of the email reads, “Looking forward.”
It’s not as if CBS has completely washed its hands of Moonves. In a public filing on Monday, the company said Moonves would stay on for one year to “perform transition advisory services.” Under the agreement, he also gets office services and security support from CBS for two years. These deals could be terminated early, depending on the results of the company’s internal investigation.
The New Yorker story, published Sunday, was the second from investigative reporter Ronan Farrow detailing serious cultural issues at the media company, which has brought in two outside law firms to investigate not only Moonves’s conduct but also harassment issues inside CBS News.
“I have been with this Company for 21 years, and I look forward to providing continuity and stability, while at the same time fostering our culture of innovation,” wrote Ianniello, a former Moonves deputy. “Today also marks a major transition for all of us as Leslie Moonves departs from CBS. Les’ departure occurs at a time when we are operating from a position of great strategic strength.”
Only toward the end of his note to employees does Ianniello even hint at the idea that CBS might have a cultural issue with sexual harassment, writing: “Of course, also at the core of any company is its culture. And never has it been more important for us to make it abundantly clear that CBS has a steadfast commitment to diversity, inclusion and a safe and positive working environment. This is an integral part of our growth plan as together we unlock the immense talents across our entire employee base.”
One CBS employee called that message “laughable.”
“The fact that he followed the sentence about Moonves leaving with our ‘strategic strength’ is just ... laughable,” said the employee, who chose to remain anonymous because the staffer didn’t want to jeopardize their job. “And then to lead the discussion of ‘company culture’ about diversity? It just feels so horribly flat.”
A CBS spokesman stated that “CBS takes these allegations very seriously. Our Board of Directors is conducting a thorough investigation of these matters, which is ongoing.” The company has declined to say more about the investigation.
Moonves departed Sunday with five male board members as part of a shakeup that, in a press release, the CBS board attributed to a settlement with its parent company National Amusements. CBS has one of the oldest boards in the S&P 500, which some say contributed to its slowness to act.
The board only alluded to the misconduct allegations, saying the company would donate $20 million to Me Too-related causes. Depending on the results of the internal investigation, Moonves could get as much as $120 million in severance payments, CBS announced Monday in its filing. The company will put the money in a trust, awaiting the outcome of the investigation.
The New Yorker’s first report on Moonves landed in July, detailing accusations from 12 women who said that when they rejected his advances, he became hostile and worked to discredit them professionally. CBS launched its investigation after the story was published but did little else ― even allowing Moonves to lead an investor call shortly afterward.
But on Sunday, Farrow published a second report describing additional accusations against Moonves brought by six other women. One woman said he forced her to perform oral sex on him while they worked together at Lorimar-Telepictures in the 1980s. She filed a criminal complaint with the Los Angeles Police Department last year, though prosecutors declined to pursue charges, citing expired statutes of limitations for the alleged crimes.
The woman said she told a CBS board member of these allegations — it is not clear if this board member is one of the five men who stepped down on Sunday.
Moonves is denying the allegations.
“Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am,” Moonves said in a statement, published Sunday evening. “Effective immediately I will no longer be Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBS. I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of directors and all of its employees.”
Jeff Fager, the head of “60 Minutes,” has also been accused of sexual misconduct at the company, most recently by a former intern who spoke to Farrow. But so far, he remains in his role.
“There does seem to be a deeper problem of sexual harassment and misconduct and it doesn’t seem like they grappled with that in any meaningful way,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group.
Despite the splash of Moonves’s weekend resignation, activist groups that pushed for his departure were sounding cautious notes on Monday, flagging Fager’s continued presence as a sticking point.
“Despite Moonves’ departure from CBS, the network continues to grapple with a deeply ingrained culture of sexual harassment and misconduct,” Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, a national women’s group, said in a statement. “If CBS plans to take sexual harassment and assault allegations seriously, they will need to conduct a thorough review of their sexual harassment prevention and reporting policies—and that will start with firing Fager.”
Read Ianniello’s full email to CBS employees below.
Today the Board of Directors named me as President and Acting Chief Executive Officer of CBS Corporation. I am honored to have this responsibility, and I’m excited to take on a greater role. I have been with this Company for 21 years, and I look forward to providing continuity and stability, while at the same time fostering our culture of innovation.
Today also marks a major transition for all of us as Leslie Moonves departs from CBS. Les’ departure occurs at a time when we are operating from a position of great strategic strength. As you all know, there is amazing work going on across the Company, and I feel confident we have the best people in the business to continue building on our outstanding success.
Led by CBS and SHOWTIME (and their fast-growing direct-to-consumer streaming services), as well as our major market television station group and Simon & Schuster, we also have many of the best assets in the industry.
The strength and evolution of all of these businesses has led us to where we are today – a global premium content powerhouse. Time and again, we have developed and executed strategies that capitalize on our unique and advantageous position, and what’s most exciting is that we are still in the early innings of that process.
At the heart of CBS’ ongoing success is its content, and it’s where our focus must remain. We now spend $7 billion a year on programming, which is on par with some of the largest companies in our industry. Looking ahead, as consumption continues to evolve, so will we. But content will always be at the core of our Company.
Of course, also at the core of any company is its culture. And never has it been more important for us to make it abundantly clear that CBS has a steadfast commitment to diversity, inclusion and a safe and positive working environment. This is an integral part of our growth plan as together we unlock the immense talents across our entire employee base.
Along those lines, I want to take a minute to appreciate all the fantastic work you have done these past several months, as we have continued to move our Company forward no matter the challenges. It is the people of this Corporation that make CBS what it is, and I am humbled to be leading this team. I also want to thank our remarkable Board of Directors for their immense efforts during this time, and welcome our new Board members as well. There is so much more to achieve ahead, and I thank everyone in advance for all you will do as we build on the great success of CBS.