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CBS board says it will launch independent investigation; Moonves remains CEO

The board of CBS Corporation said Monday that it is in the process of selecting a firm to conduct an independent investigation focusing on Chairman and CEO Les Moonves in the wake of sexual assault accusations made against him. 

The board held a regularly scheduled meeting Monday afternoon, following the allegations made in an article published Friday in The New Yorker. Both Moonves and CBS vice-chairwoman Shari Redstone were in attendance.

"CBS Corporation announced today that its Board of Directors is in the process of selecting outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation," the statement from the board read. "No other action was taken on this matter at today's board meeting."

There had been speculation earlier Monday about whether Moonves would step aside during the course of the investigation. CBS confirmed Monday evening that Moonves remains the Chairman and CEO of CBS Corporation despite being the focus of the investigation. "The Board has taken no action that would change his status," a CBS spokesperson said. 

CBS had previously retained attorney Betsy Plevan of Proskauer Rose to conduct an independent investigation of alleged misconduct at CBS News in the wake of a report by the Washington Post that led to the firing of Charlie Rose, co-host of "CBS This Morning." That investigation is ongoing.  

The report in The New Yorker by Ronan Farrow cited six women who made allegations against Moonves that date from the 1980s to the 2000s.

One of those women, the actress and writer Illeana Douglas, told Farrow that during a 1997 meeting, Moonves began "violently kissing" her, and then, "aroused, pulled up her skirt and began to thrust against her." Douglas told Farrow that she got out of the office but lost her agent and future work with CBS, she believes, as a result of the incident.

In another case, in 1985, the writer Janet Jones also described Moonves trying to kiss her during a business meeting at his office. "He came around the corner of the table and threw himself on top of me," Jones told Farrow. Jones told Farrow that Moonves later called her and threatened her career, saying "'I'm warning you. I will ruin your career. You will never get a writing job. No one will hire you. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?'"

In a statement to The New Yorker, CBS said that Moonves acknowledges trying to kiss Douglas, but that "he denies any characterization of 'sexual assault,' intimidation, or retaliatory action." CBS said that Moonves has no recollection of the interactions with Jones.

In a statement to The New Yorker, Moonves said: "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. 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."

CBS Corporation is the parent company of CBS News. Moonves, 68, joined the former CBS Corporation in 1995 as President of CBS Entertainment. He has been president and CEO of CBS Corporation since 2006.

The statement from the board also did not address claims in The New Yorker about the culture at "60 Minutes" and its executive producer Jeff Fager.

Farrow spoke to 30 current and former CBS employees who described a culture that tolerated harassment, gender discrimination, or retaliation at various parts of the company including "CBS Evening News" and "60 Minutes."

Six former employees told Farrow that Fager would touch employees in ways that made them uncomfortable at company parties, and in one instance made a drunken advance toward one junior staffer. Some said that Fager protected men accused of misconduct, including men who reported to him.

In a statement to The New Yorker, Fager said, "It is wrong that our culture can be falsely defined by a few people with an axe to grind who are using an important movement as a weapon to get even, and not by the hundreds of women and men that have thrived, both personally and professionally, at '60 Minutes.'" Fager went on to call the accusations "false, anonymous, and do not hold up to editorial scrutiny."