The newly elected CBS board faces daunting tasks: deciding whether former CEO Les Moonves gets a $120 million exit package following a sexual-misconduct investigation and charting a path for CBS to recover after the scandal.
CBS shareholders ratified the 11 board members, including six new ones, at an annual meeting Tuesday. The board now has until the end of January to decide whether CBS fired Moonves with or without cause, a determination that will affect his eligibility for severance. An investigation by two outside law firms could conclude this month.
Meanwhile, a search for a new CEO is ongoing. Strauss Zelnick, filling Moonves' role as board chairman on an interim basis, said that a recruiting firm has been hired to conduct the search and that a decision will be made in due course. CBS hasn't announced a timetable.
Moonves was ousted in September after The New Yorker published allegations from 12 women who said he subjected them to mistreatment that included forced oral sex, groping and retaliation if they resisted.
The New York Times said a draft report on the outside investigation found Moonves committed "multiple acts of serious nonconsensual sexual misconduct." Citing the report, the Times said he deleted numerous text messages and was "evasive and untruthful at times." The investigators issued a statement saying their work was still in progress, and a lawyer for Moonves denied any wrongdoing.
Tuesday's meeting wrapped up in less than 30 minutes without discussion of Moonves.
Because the investigation is ongoing, there was really no point in the board or company executives bringing up the allegations, said Porter Bibb, a former media executive now with the advisory firm Mediatech Capital Partners. He said any mention of Moonves would have put pressure on the board to remark on the severance before the investigation results were in.
Though no shareholder raised the issue at the meeting, about a dozen protesters gathered outside as shareholders arrived. The protesters held such signs as "CBS don't reward sexual abuse" and "$120M?! Les doesn't deserve more."
"The board of directors has all the information they need to fire him with cause and to deny him the $120 million golden parachute," said Natalie Green of the UltraViolet, an online organization dedicated to fighting sexism in the public and private sectors.
She urged the board to send a message that "they stand with survivors of sexual abuse and they will hold abusers accountable."
Moonves had been one of the most admired powerbrokers in the entertainment industry. He was hailed for turning around the fortunes of CBS when he took over as entertainment chief in 1995, as he churned out such hits as "Two and a Half Men" and "Survivor." He was also one of the highest-paid executives in the nation, making about $70 million in each of the past two years.