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The #MeToo Movement And Les Moonves


The New Yorker dropped last week what was billed to be a bombshell report on Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS Corporation. It detailed allegations of sexual harassment by six women against Moonves. But unlike other high-profile accusations against powerful men that ended in disgrace or firings, Les Moonves is still on the job. Does this signal the waning power of the #MeToo Movement?

To help us answer that is Christina Cauterucci. She's a staff writer at Slate who has been covering the story. Welcome.

CHRISTINA CAUTERUCCI: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's first say here that CBS has hired two outside law firms to investigate the claims, but Moonves was just on an earnings call with investors. He was the public face of the company. Can we extrapolate that he's weathered the storm?

CAUTERUCCI: I think he has been weathering the storm. Not only has he been retained by CBS through the investigation but that they didn't even mention the allegations on the earnings call, despite the fact that the CBS stock has taken a hit since the allegations came out. The fact that CBS has closed ranks around him and female executives are coming out in support of him suggests that perhaps he will stay.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When the allegations about Harvey Weinstein broke out, there was a huge public outcry. These allegations are not at the level of Harvey Weinstein, we should say. But there has been significantly less outrage over these Moonves allegations. So what's changed? Is there something different here?

CAUTERUCCI: I think the fact that Harvey Weinstein was the figure that kicked off the #MeToo Movement has something to do with the muted response that we've seen to this. The allegations against him were horrific. There were dozens of women coming out with the allegations. There were rape allegations. And some of the most famous women in Hollywood were making them. So now it's sort of set the bar to a point where any other man who has accusations come out against him isn't as bad as a Harvey Weinstein. So with Moonves there's six women. None of them have alleged rape. He's also made what I think is a smart defense of his behavior. He's saying, no means no. I respected the word no. That's co-opting language that feminists and anti-rape advocates have used for years. And he's saying, you know, these were honest sexual advances. That's not what these women say happened. But I think from an outsider's perspective, if you're hearing that it can be easy to say, oh, perhaps he was just flirting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, some of the conversations I've seen on social media and among regular people is that these accusations against Moonves go back - some of them - to the 1980s. His wife is also standing by him, as well as female executives. Do accusations like this have less punch if they happened so long ago? Should they?

CAUTERUCCI: I think the fact that these accusations stretch back to the '80s should be more damning. If you're a leader of an organization, establishing a pattern of behavior is part of the ways that you would try to assess whether somebody's bad behavior warrants dismissal. And, you know, look, we're not talking about one accusation from the '80s. We're talking about allegations that go up to the 2000s.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So then what is going on? Is it fatigue with the #MeToo Movement? Is there a sense that there's been too many men who have been accused?

CAUTERUCCI: I think part of the reason why the outrage has been so dimmer this time around has to do with the other stuff that's in the news right now. I think that people have a capacity for outrage. And there's not a wave of men that are being accused of sexual harassment right now. I think it's easier for this one to slip under the radar. And besides that, the character of Les Moonves does not loom as large in the public consciousness as, let's say, a Harvey Weinstein, a Kevin Spacey, a Louis C.K..

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the fears for advocates has been that the #MeToo Movement was just a phase - right? - that it would just sort of pass. Do you think that this might be a signal that that could be true?

CAUTERUCCI: I hope not. And I don't think so. I think women are feeling more empowered than ever to talk about their stories of sexual harassment. The fact that this story came out in the first place is evidence of that. I think that the sea change that many women hoped to see may not be as significant as they first hoped, but I don't think that one man remaining at CBS is a referendum on the entire efficacy of the movement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christina Cauterucci is a staff writer at Slate and the host of Slate's podcast The Waves. Thank you so much.

CAUTERUCCI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.