Les Moonves scandal: Longtime TV executive resigns as CBS Corp. chairman/CEO after sexual assault allegations; wife Julie Chen’s CBS tenure might also end

September 10, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Longtime TV executive Les Moonves, 68, has exited his position as CBS Corp. chairman/CEO in a cloud of scandal, after The New Yorker published allegations from six women who claimed that he sexually assaulted them by violently forcing them to give him oral sex or sexually harassed them by ruining their careers after they refused his sexual advances. Moonves abruptly resigned after the story was published on September 9, 2018.

The allegations came after six other women accused him of the same misdeeds in the same time period (1980s to early 2000s) in a New Yorker article published in July. At the time, Moonves admitted that he made sexual advances to some of the women, but denied that he forced himself on anyone or retaliated if they refused his advances. The CBS board then voted to keep Moonves in his job while CBS would investigate the allegations. However, the additional number of accusers and the detailed stories that surfaced two months later were apparently too much, and Moonves (who was reportedly negotiating his exit package after the first wave of accusations were made public) stepped down and released this statement:

“For the past 24 years it has been an incredible privilege to lead CBS’s renaissance and transformation into a leading global media company. The best part of this journey has been working alongside the dedicated and talented people in this company. Together, we built CBS into a destination where the best in the business come to work and succeed. Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am.  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.”

Les Moonves
Les Moonves at the CBS Upfronts in New York City in 2017 (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS)

CBS announced that it would donate $20 million of Moonves’ salary to the Time’s Up movement that is aimed at assisting victims of sexual harassment and assault. However, when it was reported that the $20 million would be deducted from an approximate $100 million severance package that Moonves was reportedly getting, it sparked outrage on social media from people who think Moonves should not be receiving any severance pay. More outrage ensued when CBS said it would not release the outcome of the investigation conducted by two law firms hired by CBS to look into the accusations against Moonves.

The irony is that in December 2017, Moonves co-founded the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, which is chaired by Anita Hill.

Julie Chen, Moonves’ second wife whom he married in 2004 after a messy divorce from first wife Nancy, issued a statement after the accusations surfaced in July by saying that her husband was a “moral” man and that she stood by him. Chen and Moonves got romantically involved and openly dated while he was married to his first wife.

Chen, 48, is a co-host of CBS daytime talk show “The Talk” and the host of CBS reality show “Big Brother.” She was absent from “The Talk” on September 10, issuing that statement that she was taking time off to spend with her family. Chen and Moonves’ son Charlie was born in 2009. Moonves has three adult children from his first marriage.

Now that her husband has left his powerful position at CBS under scandalous circumstances, it might be a matter of time before Chen will leave CBS, regardless if the marriage ends in divorce or not. Chen’s career was so inextricably tied to Moonves and his position of power that it might be difficult for her to find work on a similar level at another network.

September 18, 2018 UPDATE: As expected, Chen did not return to “The Talk,” and officially resigned from the show in a videotaped message that aired on the show on September 18. In the message, Chen said that she was leaving “The Talk” to spend time with her husband and their son Charlie. She briefly got tearful during her statement, and she thanked her co-hosts and the rest of “The Talk” team for the time that she spent with them. Chen had been a co-host of “The Talk” since its 2010 debut. The search is on to find the person who will replace Chen on the show. “Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba, who has been filling in as a substitute, is considered a frontrunner for the job. Meanwhile, Chen will probably exit CBS once she her contract ends as host of “Big Brother.”