The Washington Post
Charming. Accomplished. Visionary. And, if you believe the highly credible accusations, one more thing: abusive.
The first three qualities of CBS chief executive Les Moonves seemed as though they would allow him to stay at the peak of Hollywood power - or at least exit gracefully, parachuting from the heights with more than $100 million in severance pay.
But the women, 12 of them, who claim that he abused his power by harassing or even attacking them, would not be denied.
They kept coming forward. With names attached. With detailed incidents over decades.
“These women are coming out now,” reporter Ronan Farrow said Sunday on CNN, because “they have been extraordinarily frustrated by what they perceive to be inaction on the part of CBS and its board.”
Farrow told me Monday by text message that speaking out, even now, “often requires a huge leap from them, putting their careers on the line to confront a powerful person.”
With new reporting in hand, Farrow built on his July investigation in the New Yorker with a devastating follow-up Sunday.
A mere eight hours after it was published, CBS announced that Moonves was out.
And not only was he out, but - at least for now - without the obscene payout that, according to his contract, would have accompanied his being fired. Instead, his departure comes with a $20 million donation to organizations that fight sexual harassment and promote workplace equality. And the foot-dragging CBS board would be radically reshaped.
What made the difference?
The cumulative power of the stories that women told Farrow, with their names attached, and with specifics nailed down tight. You couldn’t read the latest piece without knowing that Moonves was done.
As legendary reporter and author Bob Woodward said Sunday, in another context: “Specific incidents are the building blocks of journalism.”
Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, a now-retired TV executive, told Farrow that she filed a criminal complaint late last year with the Los Angeles Police Department, accusing Moonves of “physically restraining her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, and of exposing himself to her and violently throwing her against a wall in later incidents.”
They worked together in the 1980s.
Jessica Pallingston, a writer, charged that Moonves “coerced her into performing oral sex on him when she worked as his temporary assistant, in the nineties, and that, after she repelled subsequent sexual advances, he became hostile, at one point calling her a slur.
Moonves has denied wrongdoing, saying only that he had had consensual relationships with three of the six women in the most recent article.
We’ve seen it all before.
Corporations even now are inclined to disbelieve women and to fiercely protect their own rainmakers.
They may start an internal investigation, and make pleasant noises about workplace safety, but they would very much like to look the other way. And they do.
Until they are forced to turn their heads and see reality.
What forces them?
The combination of meticulous journalism and courageous accusers willing to take a risk.
This is what powered Harvey Weinstein’s demise, too, with Farrow’s reporting and that of the New York Times.
Kim Masters, a veteran Hollywood journalist, reported that her CBS sources told her that Moonves was convinced he could retire untainted, on his own terms: “Apparently he really imagined a world in which this would not happen.”
She chalked it up to hubris and denial.
Named women, specific incidents, and careful and relentless reporting took it in the opposite direction.
And on Sunday, against the odds, something resembling justice prevailed.
Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist.