‘If I Kissed That One, Would It Lead To More?’ US Housing Chief Investigated For Sexual Harassment

CBS is a multibillion-dollar corporation, with dozens of divisions, and Moonves is only indirectly involved with many of them. However, experts on sexual harassment told me that misconduct by a chief executive can reverberate across aspects of even the largest companies. “If you have a company with an abuser on the top, they typically surround themselves with people like them, who engage in similar behavior,” Debra Katz, a lawyer specializing in sexual harassment, told me. “It can put a set of enablers in place, who protect powerful people when they get challenged for misconduct, and who work to discredit and manage out women who come forward with allegations.”

Thirty current and former CBS employees described harassment, gender discrimination, or retaliation at the network. Many said that men accused of misconduct were promoted, even after the company was made aware of those allegations. Their stories match several that have already emerged in public reports. Earlier this year, Leslie Isaacs, a vice-president at Pop, the cable channel jointly operated by CBS and the film studio Lionsgate, filed a lawsuit alleging that CBS was aware of a hostile workplace at the channel. Her complaint described harassment and discrimination by male colleagues, including a vice-president who allegedly instructed female employees to “show your clients your tits.” Isaacs told me, “It wouldn’t be happening at Pop if it wasn’t covered up at CBS, and if CBS wasn’t complicit. They know, and it’s been tolerated.” (Isaacs has entered into a private mediation process with CBS. A Pop spokesperson said, “Pop engaged an independent investigator who conducted a complete investigation and found nothing to corroborate this alleged statement.” CBS said that it flatly denies any efforts to cover this up.)

In December, CBS confirmed that Brad Kern, the showrunner and executive producer of “NCIS: New Orleans,” had been the subject of sexual-harassment and gender-discrimination allegations. He had retained his position for more than a year after the company was made aware of the claims. (This season, Kern stepped down from his position as showrunner, but he remains a consulting producer. Last month, the company said that it was launching a new investigation—its third—into Kern’s behavior. CBS said that the allegations were investigated and resulted in disciplinary action but that the matter “merits further inquiry.”)

Other allegations have centered on CBS News. Last summer, Erin Gee, who worked at CBS for more than fifteen years, filed a lawsuit alleging that an executive director at “CBS Evening News” urged her to have sex with a co-worker with whom she was having difficulties in order to “break the ice,” and that she was demoted after complaining about gender discrimination. In May, a magistrate judge in New York criticized CBS for failing to save e-mails from the time of Gee’s allegation. “I find the conduct of CBS here to be shocking,” the judge, Sarah Netburn, reportedly said during a hearing. “It is hard to draw any other conclusion than that they were trying to avoid producing and saving those e-mails.” (The network has since reached a settlement with Gee, and her attorney declined to comment. CBS said that “the matter has been resolved.”) In 2015, a CBS reporter, Kenneth Lombardi, alleged in a lawsuit that a CBS News supervisor texted him links to pornography, and that a senior producer had grabbed his crotch. Lombardi claimed that when he complained to a manager she replied, “Never bring up gender discrimination again!” (An attorney for Lombardi said that he was not at liberty to discuss the suit. CBS said that the matter has been resolved.)

In November, Charlie Rose was suspended after the Washington Post reported that eight women had accused him of sexual harassment, including groping. According to the Post, Rose has now been accused of sexual harassment by at least thirty-five women, and managers at the network were made aware of the allegations on at least three occasions. (Rose apologized in response to the initial allegations, but called the paper’s subsequent reporting on additional complaints “unfair and inaccurate.”)

“60 Minutes,” the news division’s flagship program, for which Rose was a contributing correspondent, has been a focal point of allegations. Some of those allegations involve Jeff Fager, who is currently the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” and whom Moonves appointed chairman of CBS News in 2011, a position he held until 2015. Six former employees told me that Fager, while inebriated at company parties, would touch employees in ways that made them uncomfortable. One former “60 Minutes” producer told me, “It was always ‘Let’s go say hello to Jeff, ’cause you have to pay homage to him, but let’s do it early in the evening, before he starts getting really handsy.’ ” In one incident, at which several employees were present, Fager allegedly made drunken advances to an associate producer, commenting on her breasts and becoming belligerent when she rebuffed him. (Fager denied the allegations, saying that “they never happened.”)

Others said that Fager protected men accused of misconduct, including men who reported to him. According to several people who were told about the incident at the time, a senior producer named Vicki Gordon alleged that another senior producer, Michael Radutzky, threatened to throw furniture at her and twisted her arm behind her back, causing her to scream. (Radutzky categorically denied the allegations, saying that they were fabricated.) The sources told me that Fager said he would address the matter with Radutzky directly, and instructed Gordon not to inform the CBS office of human resources. Later, Fager asked her to apologize to Radutzky, to mitigate conflict in the office. (Fager said, “I have never discouraged anyone from going to H.R.”) Radutzky, who left the network earlier this year, remained in his job for several years after the alleged incident. “It was common knowledge at ‘60 Minutes’ that Michael Radutzky was an out-of-control guy, especially but not exclusively toward women. We all saw it, almost on a daily basis,” David Gelber, a former producer, told me. “And yet Fager not only tolerated him—he elevated him to a position of leadership, even after Fager knew perfectly well how abusive he was.” (Radutzky strongly denied Gelber’s characterization of his behavior.) Sophie Gayter, a “60 Minutes” employee who alleged to the Post that Charlie Rose had groped her, told me that Fager “enabled the other men on the floor to do whatever the heck they wanted.” Fager, one network executive said, “would let people know he communicated with Les directly,” adding that “people took that to mean Les supported him completely.”

CBS, one former associate producer said, “is an old network. Everything in there feels old: the people, the furniture, the culture, the mores.” Many of the women described the atmosphere at CBS News specifically as a “frat house.” One former employee said, “I had several producers and editors over the age of sixty who would greet me by kissing me on the mouth. I had people touch my butt a couple times.” She added, “Fager seemed to encourage that climate. It wasn’t even that he turned a blind eye toward it.” Katie Couric, who was an anchor at the network and a contributing correspondent for “60 Minutes” from 2006 to 2011, when Fager helped force her out, told me that it “felt like a boys’ club, where a number of talented women seemed to be marginalized and undervalued.”

In a statement, 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.’ ” He added, “A majority of our senior staff are women. All of them worked their way up the ranks and are now managers of our broadcast. Half of our producers and a majority of our associate producers are women. It is a challenging place to do well and promotions are earned on merit and are not based on gender.” Lesley Stahl, who has been a “60 Minutes” correspondent since 1991, told me, “This notion that ‘60 Minutes’ is an unpleasant, unwelcoming place for women isn’t true.” She said, “In my own experience, Jeff is supportive of women and decent to women.” Anderson Cooper, who has been a correspondent for the show since 2006, told me, “I work there part time, but in all the years I’ve been there I’ve never seen Jeff engage in any inappropriate behavior.”

Gayter and another junior female employee told me that their bosses asked them to complete the company’s mandatory online sexual-harassment training programs for them. “Many assistants did it for their bosses,” Gayter said. “We’d book their travel, do their expenses, and then do their sexual-harassment training.” Former employees told me that there were few avenues for them to register confidential complaints about discrimination and misconduct. “People say, ‘You could call H.R.’ Honestly, I’ve never met a single person from H.R.,” one producer said. “There’s no oversight.” Some said that they had witnessed retaliation against those who did attempt to speak out. At CBS News, “there was no one to turn to,” one former producer told me, saying that she had reported Charlie Rose’s behavior, and that the complaint resulted in no repercussions for Rose. “If it’s just behavior from the top, tolerated at the top, and there’s no one to talk to, what do you do?” she said.

A former journalist at “60 Minutes” named Habiba Nosheen told me that she had complained to management that Ira Rosen, a producer on the program, had subjected her to numerous sexual comments and suggested that she flirt with sources. Two other women told me that they had experienced similar conduct from Rosen. (In a statement, Rosen said that “CBS extensively investigated these complaints and found them to be false, misleading, and unsubstantiated.” He said, “I have always and continue to deny these allegations.”)

“But seriously, folks, the way you raised me it’s no wonder I can’t get a gig in a real night club.”

When Nosheen filed a written complaint and met with Fager about the allegations against Rosen, she said, he told her not to worry about the possibility that other women might be harassed by Rosen. She told me that Fager is “an enabler of this ‘Mad Men’ culture at ‘60 Minutes.’ ” Afterward, there appeared to be no repercussions for Rosen, and she was frozen out of assignments. Days after she made her complaint to Fager, he and two of his deputies called Nosheen into a meeting to go over criticisms of her work performance which she found specious. One involved a tense exchange with a co-worker that had happened a year earlier. The format of the meeting, she said, was highly unusual. “It was so obvious to me that they began to implement a strategy of retaliation,” she told me.

In June, 2016, Nosheen filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She resigned a month later. “As an investigative journalist, every day I try to hold people in power accountable. I look people in the eye and ask them why they turned their backs when they witnessed something unethical happening,” she told me. “I knew I couldn’t look myself in the mirror and hold others accountable if I wasn’t brave enough to do the same in my own place of work.” An e-mail from a CBS lawyer shows that, after Nosheen left the network, CBS threatened to enforce a non-compete clause in her contract, which would prevent her from seeking employment elsewhere, unless she withdrew her E.E.O.C. complaint and signed a nondisclosure agreement. The E.E.O.C. ultimately issued a Notice of Dismissal and Right to Sue letter, saying that it was unable to conclude whether or not a violation of federal law had occurred and that it would be up to Nosheen to pursue the matter in civil court.

Another woman told me that she had spoken to CBS’s legal department about Rosen’s and Fager’s behavior. “I was shocked by the lack of seriousness and regard that CBS legal showed my story,” she told me. (In a statement, CBS’s chief compliance officer said, “It is the policy and practice of CBS to investigate all complaints and to promptly remediate any problems that are identified,” adding that “the policies against discrimination and harassment include anti-retaliation provisions, and anyone raising a complaint is assured that he or she will be protected from retaliation.”) The woman told me that she eventually left the network because of the atmosphere. “A lot of my memories of ‘60 Minutes’ are of other women coming into my office, closing the door, and just breaking down because of working as a woman at CBS,” she said. “Toward the end of my time there, I thought, God, I love the stories, I love the work, but this has to be easier somewhere else.”

The producer who talked about Fager’s behavior at parties told me that she, too, left the show because of “a very toxic culture toward women.” She said, “What makes me really upset was this was something I really loved doing, and I was good at, and won a lot of awards for. And I basically had to leave the business, because where else am I going to go? There were other places, but nothing of that stature.”

The New Yorker reviewed three six-figure settlements with “60 Minutes” employees who have filed complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination. The women who received those payments were required to sign nondisclosure agreements that prevented them from speaking about their experiences, with penalties for any breach. Several other women who have made allegations against CBS News declined to speak with me on the record, citing nondisclosure agreements. (The CBS chief compliance officer said, “On occasion, the resolution of allegations in the workplace has involved financial settlements,” adding that “settlements do not amount to admissions of guilt.”)

“The N.D.A.s are a silencer and a bully tactic,” Mo Cashin, who worked in several roles for CBS News, including as a broadcast manager, told me. “It’s unfortunate and hypocritical, particularly in the media, where it appears executives have more interest in protecting and oftentimes rewarding fellow senior employees who have a documented history of bad behavior than protecting their victims.”

Fager has tried to keep the allegations about the treatment of women at “60 Minutes” from surfacing publicly. According to the Times, in 2015 Fager took over the writing of a book about “60 Minutes” after the original author, Richard Zoglin, began asking people about the subject. In April, as two Washington Post reporters, Irin Carmon and Amy Brittain, were reporting an article about the allegations of harassment at CBS News, including complaints about Fager and Rosen, lawyers retained by Fager threatened to sue the Post, and presented testimonials about Fager’s good character. “There was this ham-handed effort to make women at the show say Jeff was a wonderful person,” one producer said. “It was so obvious we were doing it with a gun to our heads.” Fager’s lawyers also attacked the professionalism of the two reporters. In the end, the paper published a story that included complaints of harassment against Charlie Rose from dozens of women, but not allegations about Fager or Rosen. In a statement, the Post said, “The reporting throughout was vigorous and sustained and fully supported by Post editors. Nothing that met our longstanding standards for publication was left out. Nor did outside pressures, legal or otherwise, determine what was published.” CBS employees told me that they were alarmed by the attempts to kill the reporting. “The hypocrisy of an investigative news program shutting down an investigative print story is incredible,” one told me.

Fager said, “There’s a reason these awful allegations have not been published before—despite the efforts of a few former employees who did not succeed at ‘60 Minutes.’ It is because they are false, anonymous, and do not hold up to editorial scrutiny.”

The CBS chief compliance officer said, “CBS previously retained attorney Betsy Plevan of Proskauer Rose to conduct an independent investigation of alleged misconduct at CBS News. Ms. Plevan’s work is ongoing, and includes investigating allegations in this story. CBS has taken the allegations reported in the press seriously, and respects the role of the press in pursuing the truth, which is a role that is central to the mission of CBS News.”

In June, Carmon, in a speech accepting a Mirror Award for the Post’s reporting on Charlie Rose, warned that stories of abuse by powerful men in the news industry were still being suppressed. “The stories that we have been doing are actually about a system. The system has lawyers and a good reputation. It has publicists,” she said. “Indeed, the system is sitting in this room. Some more than others. The system is still powerful men getting stories killed that I believe will someday see the light of day.” Fager was seated in the audience, and later in the ceremony accepted an award on behalf of “60 Minutes.”

Source : https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/08/06/les-moonves-and-cbs-face-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct?src=longreads

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