Les Moonves And CBS's Culture Of Harassment NPR's Michel Martin speaks to Debra Katz, a civil rights lawyer specializing in sexual harassment, about the accusations of sexual misconduct against CBS CEO Les Moonves.

Les Moonves And CBS's Culture Of Harassment

Les Moonves And CBS's Culture Of Harassment

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/633461843/633461844" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NPR's Michel Martin speaks to Debra Katz, a civil rights lawyer specializing in sexual harassment, about the accusations of sexual misconduct against CBS CEO Les Moonves.


We're going to start the program today with another story of alleged sexual harassment at the highest level. One of the most powerful men in media, Leslie Moonves, the chairman and chief executive of CBS Corporation, is the subject of a story published in The New Yorker last night that details allegations of sexual harassment by six women. CBS says it is now investigating. While the women's individual experiences were the focus of the story, the women say they were the subject of crude physical advances, were forcibly kissed and groped by Moonves and were retaliated against when they rebuffed him.

Ronan Farrow's reporting also pointed to a culture at CBS that allowed such conduct to go on unrestrained. Farrow says he spoke with some 30 current and former CBS employees who described harassment retaliation or gender discrimination at the company.

We wanted to talk more about this, so we called Debra Katz. She is a civil rights lawyer specializing in sexual harassment. She's a founding partner at Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP, and she's with us now.

Debra Katz, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

DEBRA KATZ: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Now, you were quoted in Ronan Farrow's latest article for The New Yorker saying, quote, "if you have a company with an abuser on the top, they typically surround themselves with people like them who engage in similar behavior," unquote. What did you mean by that? Can you talk more about that?

KATZ: Sure. Well, typically, the tone is set at the top, and when chief executives engage in this kind of disgusting, despicable behavior, they often feel that this behavior is the prerogative of the position that they hold, and they surround themselves with people who not only tolerate and enable the behavior and often facilitate it but often emulate the behavior and engage in the same behavior themselves. So you have no checks, and the single thing that drives sexual harassment in the workplace is leadership.

MARTIN: Can you identify something specific to the culture at CBS that may have allowed this to go on? And I'm thinking about the fact that Harvey Weinstein was the first big story that Ronan Farrow broke. Here's a person who's extremely powerful in Hollywood. But that was a privately-held company. CBS is a multibillion-dollar corporation with many, many divisions. Presumably, there are lots of people in human resources that would have been avenues there. Is there something about that culture, though, that still allowed that to continue?

KATZ: Well, it's true that Weinstein is a very small company, but the tone is always set at the top. And if you have an organization that is led by someone who engages in egregious sexual harassment, the - that behavior bleeds down throughout the organization. There's just no urgency within the organization to create a culture that is respectful and that is harassment-free. And other people see that this kind of behavior is engaged in at the top levels, and it becomes somewhat normative. And it just creates a culture that it persists.

For example, the Charlie Rose allegations came out. Everybody said, who knew? We had no way to know. Well, that's undoubtedly not true. But, beyond that, it's incumbent upon leadership in any organization to know and have systems in place. And when the head of an organization, when the CEO of a publicly traded company engages in this type of egregious harassment and retaliation, there's a complete breakdown.

MARTIN: Let me just say for the record that Moonves issued a statement saying he regrets making some of the women uncomfortable with advances. CBS told Ronan Farrow that there were no complaints. There have been no misconduct claims and no settlements against Moonves during his 24 years at the network. A number of these incidents took place, you know, many years ago. Some of the women reported that they had deals canceled and things of that sort as a consequence of rebuffing these advances. So what is the relevant fact that people could act upon now?

KATZ: Well, I think, first of all, when companies say, we've never had an allegation of harassment, that's actually a pretty damning statement. That doesn't mean that harassment has not occurred. It means that the structures and systems are in place that are not conducive to people coming forward. And, in fact, when companies actually take appropriate measures to revise their systems and create measures that allow people to come forward, you see a great uptick in the number of harassment complaints.

If you remember, Bill O'Reilly also said no one had ever filed a complaint against him, or no one had ever used the 800 number to lodge a complaint. And I think that's what this investigation is actually going to look at. Are those assertions true that there haven't been complaints that have been filed? And if they are true - and I doubt it - but, assuming that they are true, why is that the case?

We know that 80 percent of women never report sexual harassment, and we know from the EEOC studies that 25 to 75 percent of women report being sexually harassed in the workplace, depending on how the question is asked. So CBS's truly saying that no one has ever raised the complaint - that suggests that people have been scared to do it and have remained silent for fear of further retaliation.

MARTIN: That's Debra Katz. She's a lawyer specializing in sexual harassment.

Debra Katz, thanks so much for speaking with us once again.

KATZ: Thank you for talking to me.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.