Les Moonves of CBS is the most powerful CEO to be toppled by the #MeToo movement

Les Moonves stepped down as head of CBS.
Les Moonves stepped down as head of CBS.
Image: Reuters/Danny Moloshok
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Perhaps Les Moonves thought he was too powerful to be toppled by the #MeToo movement. Perhaps the CBS board agreed with him. After all, Moonves was the chairman and CEO of the most-watched TV network in the US, who’d shepherded his company through one of the most tumultuous periods in media history over the last 12 years. And so when six women came forward in August, accusing Moonves of sexual misconduct in a New Yorker report by Ronan Farrow (paywall), the CBS chief denied the claims.

Instead, Moonves expressed his regret for making “some women uncomfortable by making advances” in a statement to the New Yorker. The company’s board launched a probe into the matter, but Moonves remained in his role. The topic wasn’t addressed on his company’s last earnings call.

Now it turns out Moonves wasn’t too powerful for #MeToo after all.

Moonves resigned from his role on Sept. 9 as six more women came forward with further allegations in a second New Yorker article (paywall). Moonves is the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to go down because of #MeToo, which has also exposed and ended the careers of Hollywood heavyweights like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, and Kevin Spacey, as CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out in his newsletter Reliable SourcesSix CBS board members (paywall) were booted with him.

Moonves now faces the possibility of walking away from the company, where he had made more than $650 million in annual compensation, without severance pay. CBS is setting up a $120 million trust to pay his severance, and plans to keep him on for a year in an unpaid advisory role that entitles him to an office space and home security for up to two years, the company said in a filing on Sept. 10.

However, $20 million of that severance will be donated to charities that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace, the filing said. And, if Moonves is terminated with cause—based on the company’s ongoing investigation into the allegations against him—he could lose the advisory position, and not get another cent.