In the TV Hall of Fame, no one has more impressive credentials than Kay Koplovitz. She founded the USA Network back in 1977, which created the basic cable programming TV model that became the standard for the industry. That standard was a dual revenue stream, from cable operators who were charged for carrying the programming service, and from advertisers who bought commercials in the programming. Later, in 1998, the USA Network was sold for $4.5 billion dollars. As the founder, chairman and CEO of USA, she was the first woman to head up a national TV network.
Yesterday, Monday, July 30th, Koplovitz was a guest on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” The subject being discussed was Leslie Moonves, the president, chairman and CEO of CBS — who was accused by six women of sexual misconduct in a New Yorker article by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ronan Farrow that was published on Friday, July 27th.
Koplovitz was asked, “What would you do, based on what you know about the behavior? Would you want Mr. Moonves to step down?”
Koplovitz began her answer by saying that Moonves was one of the most gifted of CEOs. She emphasized that the CBS board must conduct a full investigation to determine his future with the company.
Then she added that if she were on the CBS board “I almost would like him to step aside, at least while the investigation was going on, because I think as long as Les is sitting there it’s going to be in the press all the time. Daily, weekly, it’s going to continue. And maybe [to] take a little heat off the company to do a right investigation it would be good for him to take a hiatus. If I was sitting on the board that would probably be my consideration at this point in time.”
Later on the show Koplovitz, who is now 73, was asked, “Did you ever deal with harassment at all along the way? Is it kind of typical behavior in some ways? A lot of people want to give Mr. Moonves a pass by saying it happened 20 years ago.”
Koplovitz replied that she started with her own company as the person in charge, so “for me personally, no. But we all knew what was going on — not just at CBS, but across Hollywood, across different networks. It was going on. But that does not excuse it. It really doesn’t. Whether it was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, or today, it’s emblematic of very bad behavior. I’m not saying that’s the outcome for Les Moonves. I think, again, that there should be a full investigation….
“I certainly had a few cases at the company that I ran that we had to investigate. And you get a lot into the he said, she said, and [sometimes] others can’t corroborate the event or what happened. In this case, apparently, at least according to [Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker article] there are people who were told about the instances, when they happened, so there is a record outside of the person making the allegation in several different cases….”
She finished her point by saying “A board cannot dismiss [whatever happened] because it was X number of years ago.”
Koplovitz is right that Moonves should have been asked by the board to step aside while the allegations are being investigated. And she’s also right that no one should be given a pass just because their bad behavior happened a number of years ago. If the behavior was sexual misconduct, it was sexual misconduct whenever it occurred.
In Moonves’ statement to the New Yorker he said, in part, “I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely.”
Moonves continued, “But I always understood and respected—and abided by the principle—that ‘no’ means ‘no’ and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career.”
In an insightful essay published yesterday by Slate, Christina Cauterucci, who writes about women and gender issues for that online magazine, wrote about Moonves’ assertion that he understood and respected “‘no’ means ‘no.'”
Writes Cauterucci, “This justification for Moonves’ alleged abusive behavior cleverly transfers responsibility from the accused harasser to the people forced to endure his harassment while attempting to preserve their dignity and career potential. Under the ‘no means no’ school of consent, any sexual indignity may be ethically visited upon someone until the exact moment she utters a clear and convincing ‘no.’ When abusers try and prove consent by saying it wasn’t not given, they can easily shroud physical violations under the cover of ‘she never said no,’ and people tasked with evaluating allegations can convince themselves that no one can really say what the alleged victim wanted at the time.”
More specifically, Cauterucci observes, “According to many of the women who spoke to the New Yorker, Moonves did continue touching them and making sexual advances after they rejected him. But even if he hadn’t, his invocation of ‘no means no’ in his own defense should give pause to proponents of that philosophy. A man who repeatedly kisses and gropes women who have no interest in being kissed and groped by him isn’t a bumbling everyman, failing at the impossible task of reading women’s notoriously mixed signals. The reason he isn’t seeking consent is because he doesn’t care about consent—he cares about doing whatever it is he wants to do. He knows, at least subliminally, that it’s a lot harder to say ‘no’ when you haven’t been asked, a lot easier to go along with something you feel gross or ambivalent about when it’s already happening.”
Back in 1964 Potter Stewart, then a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, famously wrote, about what content makes up hardcore pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Perpetrators of sexual misconduct know when they are doing something they should not be doing. CBS needs to investigate the allegations against Moonves thoroughly and within a reasonable amount of time.
Meanwhile, Deadline wrote a piece yesterday with this headline: “CBS CEO Les Moonves ‘Contemplating’ Stepping Aside Temporarily While Misconduct Probes Continue.”
In that piece a CBS “insider” is quoted as saying “It would be the right thing to do and a stabilizing move.”
Moonves should do it.