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Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

CBS denial of $120 million to Moonves is righteous, but claims on corporate culture ring hollow

The board of CBS Monday denied former chairman and CEO Les Moonves $120 million of severance money after a investigation found ample cause for his firing.

That’s the news getting headline treatment, but the larger story is that the board of directors investigation also found that “harassment and retaliation are not pervasive at CBS.”

Really? Not pervasive? After the allegations against Charlie Rose and Jeff Fager and now the monstrous behavior by Moonves, the CBS board found no serious problem with the corporate culture?

How did top executives and a star like Rose get away with this behavior if there was not a deeply rooted cultural problem at the network — a problem that made CBS as sick and predatory a workplace as that of Fox News during the reign of Roger Ailes?

“With regard to Mr. Moonves, we have determined that there are grounds to terminate for cause, including his willful and material misfeasance, violation of Company policies and breach of his employment contract, as well as his willful failure to cooperate fully with the Company’s investigation,” a statement from the board said Monday. “Mr. Moonves will not receive any severance payment from the Company.”

The statement went on to say, “As a result of their work, the investigators also concluded that harassment and retaliation are not pervasive at CBS.”

The statement did acknowledge that “investigators learned of past incidents of improper and unprofessional conduct, and concluded that the Company’s historical policies, practices and structures have not reflected a high institutional priority on preventing harassment and retaliation.”

And note was also taken in the statement that, “Employees also cited past incidents in which HR and the Company did not hold high performers accountable for their conduct and protect employees from retaliation.”

How could it not acknowledge such problems after the shocking revelations in the New Yorker, New York Times and other publications? And saying “employees also cited” is not the same as saying it was a fact that the company did not hold some “high performers” accountable for bad actions or protect their victims.

But, in the language of strategic communications, “The Board, which includes six new members, and the Company’s new management have already begun to take robust steps to improve the working environment for all employees.”

We can all rest easy now that “robust” steps have already been taken. I swear, strategic communications operatives have turned robust into the most dishonest word in the English language.

In the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by Matt Lauer, NBC did a similar investigation, and it also remarkably found no institutional problems in a report released in in May.

Patriarchy does indeed die hard — particularly when you are unwilling to even acknowledge it.

Conservative media analysts have every right to blast mainstream critics like me if we don’t denounce sexual harassment and assault at CBS and NBC every bit as angrily as we did when the ugliness at Fox News was exposed. This is a story that goes well beyond whether or not Moonves got his $120 million.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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