The New York Attorney General’s office released a detailed report on Wednesday that detailed an elaborate cover-up at the highest levels of CBS in late 2017 and 2018 to try to contain former chief Leslie Moonves’ sexual harassment allegations.
The report comes five years after a Los Angeles Police Department captain briefed CBS executives, telling them a woman had come to the department’s Hollywood station to report that Moonves allegedly assaulted her in the 1980s. .
“Someone walked into the station about a few hours ago and made allegations against your boss regarding a sexual assault,” the police captain said in a November 10, 2017 voicemail message left with a CBS executive, according to the report. “It’s confidential, as you know, but call me.”
Over the next few months, the LAPD captain — whose role had not previously been revealed — secretly provided Moonves and CBS executives with updates on the LAPD investigation as well as personal details about the alleged accuser, the attorney general’s office said. The captain slipped CBS a copy of the accuser’s report, and senior CBS executives then “began to investigate the victim’s personal situation and that of his family,” according to the report.
The police captain was friends with CBS executives as he had been on Moonves’ security detail for the Grammy Awards for several years, according to the document.
Both sides sought to downplay the seriousness of the woman’s complaint, which came as the #MeToo movement was reaching fever pitch. CBS executives were assured by the captain that the LAPD “has controls in place to prevent news of the police report from leaking to the press,” the document said.
“I hope we can kill the PD media. So imagine [sic] What [Complainant #1] wants,” Moonves wrote to the captain and a CBS aide in a text message obtained by the attorney general.
More than eight months passed before the public became aware of the allegations against Moonves.
“CBS and its senior management were aware of the multiple sexual assault allegations made against Mr. Moonves and intentionally concealed these allegations from regulators, shareholders and the public for months,” according to a statement from New York Atty. Office of General Letitia James.
James announced that CBS and Moonves would pay $30.5 million, with much of the money going to CBS shareholders.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told The Times that his department only recently became aware of the allegations involving a senior officer. The department later identified the officer as Cmdr. Cory Palka, who was Hollywood station captain in 2017 and 2018 and has since retired.
“What is most appalling is the alleged breach of trust of a sexual assault victim, who is among the most vulnerable, by a member of the LAPD,” Moore said. “It erodes public trust and does not reflect our values as an organization.”
Capt. Kelly Muniz, a spokeswoman for the LAPD, said the department is “fully cooperating with the New York and California attorney general’s offices” and has also launched an internal investigation.
The New York Attorney General’s report contained other findings, including how former CBS communications director Gil Schwartz, who has since died, sold more than 160,000 CBS shares in June 2018 as the company tried to contain explosive allegations. Schwartz sold the stock with CBS’s approval, grossing more than $8.8 million, knowing that damaging information could come out, and it did just weeks later.
The attorney general’s report also said Moonves allegedly misled investors about the extent of sexual harassment uncovered at CBS — information that hurt CBS’s stock.
Moonves will be banned from serving as an officer or corporate officer in a public company that does business in New York for five years unless he obtains written approval from James’s office.
Moonves, through a spokesperson, declined to comment. Moonves denied the sexual harassment allegations.
Paramount Global separately announced that it and Moonves had agreed to pay $9.75 million to the New York Attorney General’s office to resolve persistent shareholder claims regarding its handling of past sexual harassment allegations. Moonves will contribute $2.5 million of that amount.
The company also said its insurer would resolve a separate $14.75 million class action lawsuit brought by shareholders.
“CBS and Leslie Moonves’ attempts to silence victims, lie to the public and mislead investors can only be described as reprehensible,” James said. “As a publicly traded company, CBS failed in its most basic duty to be honest and transparent with the public and investors. After attempting to bury the truth to protect their fortunes, CBS and Leslie Moonves are paying today millions of dollars for their misdeeds.
The Los Angeles Times in 2018 reported the allegations by the accuser, Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, as a key part of CBS’ high-profile investigation into Moonves’ alleged misconduct.
Golden-Gottlieb, who has since died, was responsible for developing television shows in the mid-1980s when she worked with Moonves at Lorimar Productions in Culver City. She told The Times that in a parking lot outside a restaurant, Moonves forcibly grabbed her head and shoved it into her crotch, then ejaculated in her mouth.
Moonves denied the allegations, and Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to press charges because the statute of limitations had expired.
The attorney general’s report detailed CBS’s campaign to cover up the issue – while publicly asserting that the company has zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
A week after Golden-Gottlieb filed her lawsuit, CBS executives were grappling with reports of inappropriate behavior by morning show host Charlie Rose. Moonves endorsed the decision to fire Rose, telling reporters he felt Rose should leave.
Moonves on November 25, 2017 requested a face-to-face meeting with the police captain. He and a subordinate, Ian Metrose, met with the Captain at a restaurant and vineyard in Westlake Village to plan a strategy. The officer volunteered to come dressed in a suit, rather than his uniform, according to the report. Metrose could not be reached for comment.
“During the meeting, Moonves stated that he wanted the LAPD’s investigation closed and considered contacting other public officials,” prosecutors wrote.
Four days later, at Variety magazine’s Innovate Summit, Moonves called #MeToo a “watershed moment,” according to the report. He quoted Moonves saying, “It’s important that a company’s culture doesn’t allow it.”
The next day, according to the report, Metrose delivered a message to Moonves from LAPD Captain, who alerted them that another police officer would complete the report on Golden-Gottlieb’s complaint the following week: “[H]Either way, it’s a definite REJECTION – no witnesses and/or corroborating evidence.
As The Times previously reported, CBS board members became aware of Golden-Gottlieb’s allegations in early 2018. An outside law firm was commissioned to review information about the allegations and police investigation, but concluded that “no further investigation was warranted,” sources told The Times in 2018.
Behind the scenes, CBS Vice President Shari Redstone, the majority shareholder, had learned from reporters about the sexual harassment allegations involving Moonves, according to the report. She spoke to another board member about the reporters chasing the Moonves story.
Redstone began campaigning for a board investigation – and sweeping changes to the company.
In July 2018, The New Yorker magazine published the first of several articles by investigative journalist Ronan Farrow, detailing allegations by six women who alleged Moonves assaulted or harassed them. Farrow’s report prompted quick action. The CBS board of directors has hired two top law firms to investigate Moonves and the company’s culture. The board then fired Moonves on September 9, 2018.
That day, the LAPD captain emailed Metrose saying, “I’m so sorry to hear this news, Ian. That makes me sick. We have worked so hard to try to avoid this day.
The captain sent a note to Moonves two days later: “I am deeply sorry this happened. I will always be by your side, by your side and pledge my allegiance to you. You embodied leadership, class, and the highest character through it all.
With Wednesday’s revelations, CBS is trying to close a troubling chapter that destroyed Moonves’ career and sparked the company’s eventual merger with Viacom.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement in principle to resolve this matter regarding the events of 2018 with the New York Attorney General’s office, without any admission of liability or wrongdoing,” a spokesperson for Paramount in a statement.
The New York Attorney General’s probe was one of many opened into CBS’s handling of the 2018 sexual harassment scandal.
A group of shareholders also filed a lawsuit, claiming the scandal was destroying the value of their holdings. New York agencies, including the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the New York County Attorney, quickly opened investigations.
In 2018, shareholders Gene Samit and John Lantz, among others, filed class action lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. A judge then consolidated the lawsuits into one, with the main plaintiff being the Construction Laborers Pension Trust for Southern California.
The investors alleged multiple violations of federal securities law, including that executives made “materially false and misleading statements” and that the company failed to disclose key information to investors.
“With the exception of a statement made by Mr. Moonves at an industry event in November 2017, in which he allegedly acted as an agent for CBS, all allegations regarding all other allegedly false statements and misleading were rejected,” Paramount said in its filing.
The company eventually agreed to settle with the plaintiffs “for $14.75 million, which will be paid by the company’s insurers,” according to the filing. The settlement is pending final approval.
Los Angeles Times