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What CEO Les Moonves' Departure Amid Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct Means For CBS


One of the most powerful men in television is out of a job because of allegations of sexual misconduct. Les Moonves has stepped down as chairman and CEO of CBS - this after the New Yorker reported that six more women, making 12 in all, had accused Moonves of harassment or assault. For more on Moonves, his departure and what it means for CBS, we're joined by Wall Street Journal reporter Keach Hagey. Welcome to the program.

KEACH HAGEY: Glad to be here.

CORNISH: Tell us more about the terms under which Moonves is leaving.

HAGEY: So Les Moonves is leaving immediately - today. The most important thing about his terms is that he is not going to get any money immediately. He did agree to a package of more than $100 million. But the decision about how much of that he gets is entirely pending an investigation that is still underway into these allegations against him. If the investigation turns out badly for him, he could get nothing. If it turns out, you know, OK, he might get part of that package. And they've also agreed to give $20 million immediately to #MeToo charities.

CORNISH: The allegations have been swirling around Moonves for months. Why do you think it took CBS this long to act?

HAGEY: Well, Les Moonves is the most powerful man so far that we have seen be part of the #MeToo story. And I think part of the reason it took so long is that he is the CEO of a public company, and the board of that company has legal liability. If they were seen as rushing to judgment and not vetting the claims completely, shareholders could have sued them because he is beloved by Wall Street.

And we even saw today - I mean, you know, the stock dropped on the news that he was leaving. So investors really think he's done a great job running the company - as well as the allegations and the two reports by The New Yorker were a little bit different than the ones we've seen before. A lot of them were certainly a lot older than some of the other allegations against other powerful men. So I think that that was part of what slowed things down.

CORNISH: So what should we read into the fact that six members of the board of CBS have been replaced?

HAGEY: So this is really a new day for CBS. Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholder of CBS, has been trying to push for new blood on the CBS board for a long time - long before any of these allegations came to light. And so it's, in some ways, a big victory for her because she got to handpick these six directors even though they are independent directors - quite qualified independent directors. And hopefully going forward, it means that the board of CBS is beholden neither completely to National Amusements, their controlling shareholder, nor to management but is truly independent.

CORNISH: Is it a notable that we're talking about a her? I mean, is there a culture shift at CBS that's underway?

HAGEY: Well, I thought it was very notable that many more of those board members were female than the ones they were replacing. So it's going to be a board with more women on it than before. And I absolutely think that Shari Redstone's role as a woman in this whole fight - there are really two fights going on. There's a corporate fight for control of the company as well as questions about Les Moonves' behavior. It's not irrelevant that she's a woman, and she's been trying to reform that board for a while. So I think going forward it might be a more female-friendly place.

CORNISH: In the meantime, we were reading reports that Moonves might still be an adviser of some kind.

HAGEY: Well, there are many unanswered questions about how he is going to be connected to the company afterwards. In his contract, for a long time, he's had a provision that said he could have a deal as a producer and an adviser. And where that all shakes out will depend somewhat on this ongoing investigation into his behavior.

CORNISH: That's Keach Hagey of the Wall Street Journal. She's also author of the book "The King Of Content: Sumner Redstone's Battle For Viacom, CBS, And Everlasting Control Of His Media Empire." Thanks so much.

HAGEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.