CBS And #MeToo

Sep 15, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

What's the matter with CBS? Its chairman and CEO, Les Moonves, was pushed out following a series of sexual harassment claims against him. The longtime executive producer of "60 Minutes," Jeff Fager, was ousted for sending threatening text messages to a fellow CBS correspondent as she investigated claims of sexual misconduct against him. "CBS This Morning" host Charlie Rose was fired in 2017 after some eight different women came forward with accounts of lewd calls, nudity and groping. And remember David Letterman.

Kim Masters has been following the various threads of this story. She's editor at large for The Hollywood Reporter and joins us now from Los Angeles. Kim, thanks so much for being with us.

KIM MASTERS: My pleasure.

SIMON: Let me begin by noting I am a special contributor to "CBS Sunday Morning," but I've never worked with either of these men, Jeff Fager or Les Moonves. Let's begin with the text message that Jeff Fager sent to Jericka Duncan, which I'm going to read. Quote, "be careful. There are people who lost their jobs trying to harm me. And if you pass on these damaging claims without your own reporting to back them up, that will become a serious problem."

MASTERS: I mean, it was very clear that this was a threat she said on the air, on CBS' own air, that she interpreted it as a threat, which is the only reasonable interpretation, I think. And it's kind of a situation where Jeff Fager was under the spotlight already somewhat for allegations that he had touched employees in ways that made them uncomfortable. But he then went into this space of threatening one of CBS' own reporters in a way that was easily proven. And obviously that was a very big mistake and gave CBS the opportunity to just say we're washing our hands of you. And I think they had no other choice.

It was also an issue of, you know, what she was reporting on was this environment, this alleged environment - this boys club environment. Many women talked about how it just didn't seem that they were getting fair opportunities. These allegations were obviously very troubling. So I think he probably would've been dismissed earlier if it had not been for the trouble that we probably are about to turn to involving the CEO of CBS, Leslie Moonves.

SIMON: Exactly because it turns out that Ronan Farrow's first piece in The New Yorker led a lot more people to come forward with new and disturbing charges, didn't it?

MASTERS: Yes, this is - that's a pattern that we have seen in these cases, you know, a door opens. And in this case, there's somewhat of an angry denial from the person who is accused. And that denial - if people were holding back from coming forward in the first place, that denial often just drives them to the point where they are ready to speak out. And these were terrible allegations of, in some cases, violent sexual assault and misconduct. But these allegations were serious enough and the pattern of conduct was serious enough that he had tried to fight off the inevitable after (ph) Ronan Farrow's first story. But then by the time the second story landed, it was just impossible.

SIMON: There have been calls this week, too, to reassess what happened to David Letterman before he signed off from CBS. Now, he did help prosecutors with a blackmail case against him, but it was blackmail occasioned by the fact that he had relationships with female subordinates. Of course, he got the Mark Twain Prize last year. He's got a new Netflix series. Is there a reassessment of what happened there?

MASTERS: Well, certainly, Nell Scovell, who has written about her experience being the only woman writer in the writers room at Letterman, has made that point on social media. He referenced multiple women. And it seems that the matter was let to drop there. Obviously, he was an important talent, but, you know, I think the culture has changed at this point where you don't get away with that so much. You don't get to say, OK, I'm sorry. I did things with multiple women that probably were not legal and then everybody says done and dusted. So at this point, I think there is some reassessment of a lot of people who, you know, were sort of a shrug before. Now, it's a serious matter.

SIMON: Is this is CBS problem or an industry problem?

MASTERS: It is an industry problem. At NBC News, at ABC News, at CBS News, at Fox News, we've seen so many allegations.

SIMON: We can add NPR to that list, too.

MASTERS: And we can add NPR to that list. And, of course, we've had various people in the studios. And, you know, Leslie Moonves was truly a huge, huge figure in the industry here, a legendary TV programmer, suave, charming, you know. But I think it's really a worldwide business problem that somehow in situations where generally men get to a certain point of power and money, or even not that much power and money, they somehow feel that they're entitled to engage in this kind of conduct. And, of course, the hope is that these series of revelations and the consequences that follow will lead to at least people who want to try to think about doing these things to think twice, you know, because it is unacceptable and women have suffered from this for - since time began, I think.

SIMON: Kim Masters of The Hollywood Reporter, thanks so much for being with us.

MASTERS: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.