The CBS Board of Directors hired a top-notch team of women lawyers to investigate misconduct by ex-chairman and CEO Les Moonves—but don’t expect to see any of their work.
In an SEC filing on Monday, the company said it will “seek to preserve the confidentiality of all written and oral reports by the investigators” and “not to make public such Investigator Information to the maximum extent possible consistent with fiduciary duties of directors and all applicable laws.”
In some ways, it doesn’t really matter. Ronan Farrow writing for The New Yorker already detailed allegations of harassment and sexual assault by Moonves. Do we really want to know more about him forcibly kissing and groping women, and how he “got on top of her and held her down and she couldn’t get away”?
But a report by Debevoise & Plimpton’s Mary Jo White—a former SEC chair and U.S. attorney—and Covington & Burling’s Nancy Kestenbaum—co-chair of her firm’s white-collar defense and investigations practice group—could provide the definitive account. It’s not just about what Moonves did, but also how CBS responded. The decision by the network to try to keep the report under wraps is regrettable and feels like a missed opportunity for accountability and reform.
After all, other entities grappling with sexual misconduct allegations have shared the findings of their independent investigators. For example, Kestenbaum’s 48-page report to Choate Rosemary Hall’s Board of Trustees is public—with the title-page caveat, “The content of this report is sensitive, personal, and graphic. It is not intended for children. Reader discretion is advised.”
Speaking on the PBS News Hour on Monday, Farrow said CBS employees have been reluctant to speak to the teams from Covington and Debevoise.
“There are significant questions from these sources in the stories about the impartial nature of the investigation,” he said. “As long as the board was in place, as it was a few days ago, with a majority of its members very much predisposed to be in favor of Mr. Moonves, people within the company said, we are not prepared to speak to these investigators in a lot of cases, because they felt that there was no universe in which there would be an outcome that actually held anyone to account, and they feared that they might be retaliated against for speaking.” But CBS news correspondent Paula Reid, who is a lawyer and covers the Justice Department, White House and legal affairs, went to bat for Covington and Debevoise in a tweet on Tuesday.
“I reached out to @CovingtonLLP earlier this month & met with them (along w/ @Debevoise) for 2hrs on Friday. The attorneys I met with (all women) were professional, compassionate, & thorough. I encourage others at @CBSNews to speak w/them.”
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