Protesters stood outside the site of the CBS shareholder's meeting in New York last week demanding former CEO Les Moonves not be given a $120 million severance package in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against him. Monday, the board denied Moonves the money.
Protesters stood outside the site of the CBS shareholder's meeting in New York last week demanding former CEO Les Moonves not be given a $120 million severance package in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against him. Monday, the board denied Moonves the money. (Seth Wenig / AP)

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.”

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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?

In the wake of Fager firing, CBS News looking as sexist, sick and predatory as Fox was

Even in this era of nanosecond news cycles, what happened at CBS News in the last year warrants a moment or two of reflection. There are some darker truths here to be absorbed — such as how deep and wide the roots of patriarchy reach throughout not just the media but the entire 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?

Roger Ailes' monstrous legacy: Fox News chief changed TV, culture for the worse

Monsters don't die easy. That's the thought I had all week as I reported the story of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes negotiating the terms of his departure from the channel he founded.

“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.

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