CBS Deserves No Ovation as Moonves Drama Ends
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- CBS Corp. has made it official: Les Moonves won’t receive any of his $120 million severance. But that it was even a question, and took so long to reach this conclusion, are exactly why there’s a feeling of ambivalence toward the #MeToo movement.
“With regard to Mr. Moonves, we have determined that there are grounds to terminate for cause,” CBS wrote in a statement Monday evening. No kidding.
On the one hand, #MeToo has taken away a lot of the shame and fear of speaking up about sexual assault, it’s made pariahs of some of the accused — like Moonves and fellow entertainment executive Harvey Weinstein — and it’s given women hope. But it shouldn’t have taken a media spotlight to remove a leader who had so grossly abused his power for years; even then, the inclination of CBS’s board was reportedly to protect him. There are also those who say men are under attack, their reputations one false accusation away from destruction, and that the answer is to sideline women in the workplace rather than elevate more of them. As misguided and dangerous as that line of thinking is, it’s still become part of the conversation and was amplified on a national stage during the debates surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial Supreme Court nomination process.
We’re conflicted because the people in power who are supposed to be leading by example have dropped the ball. Some, like Moonves, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, were even among the worst offenders. CBS’s toxic culture didn’t just live inside the walls of his office either. It extended to other parts of the company, made its way into the content CBS created, then seeped through our television sets and into society. Only 39 percent of the TV characters CBS cast for the 2016-2017 season were women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. As I’ve written before, I’d be curious to know how many of those were as superficial love interests or nameless murder victims in story lines that perpetuated sexist stereotypes and misogyny.
For every step forward, there are also new reports of troubling behavior. Just last week it was revealed that after actress Eliza Dushku spoke up about sexually harassing comments allegedly made by another actor on the set of “Bull” just last year, CBS – which had envisioned a bigger role for her – instead wrote Dushku off the show and paid her a $9.5 million confidential settlement. The actor who was accused of making the inappropriate remarks wasn’t just any co-star, but the star, Michael Weatherly, who plays the lead character in “Bull” and before that spent 13 seasons on the lucrative CBS hit “NCIS.” Let me repeat myself: Women don’t want settlements. They want to work and be treated as equals in their respective fields.
But as easy as it is to get swept up in all the negative headlines, change really is happening. For example, CBS now has five female directors (in addition to controlling shareholder Shari Redstone) and joins a small universe of American companies that have female-majority boards. That is more than good PR.
Curtailing sexism and harassment at CBS, a media company that shapes so much of society and people’s opinions, is also far more powerful than just a single company’s reckoning. As CBS tries to repair its own culture and image, it has the power to influence society for the better. Let its many missteps be a lesson for other companies faced with whether to investigate possible misconduct or protect their all-important leader.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering deals, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., media and telecommunications. She previously wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.
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