CBS grants $20M to 18 women's rights groups after Les Moonves scandal

CBS on Friday pledged to give $20 million US to 18 organizations dedicated to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace as the network tries to recover from a scandal that led to the ouster of its top executive, Les Moonves.

Money is coming from former CEO's severance package

CBS has offered grants to 18 women's rights groups in an effort to recover from a high-profile misconduct scandal involving former CEO Les Moonves. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/Associated Press)

CBS on Friday pledged to give $20 million US to 18 organizations dedicated to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace as the network tries to recover from a scandal that led to the ouster of its top executive, Les Moonves.

The announcement comes as the network's crisis deepens, with details emerging from an ongoing investigation into Moonves' conduct and news surfacing of other instances of sexual misconduct at CBS.

In the latest revelation, CBS acknowledged that it reached a $9.5 million confidential settlement last year with actress Eliza Dushku, who said she was written off the show Bull in March 2017 after complaining about on-set sexual comments from its star, Michael Weatherly. Some women's rights activists called on CBS to fire Weatherly.

The funds for the grants to the 18 organizations are being deducted from severance owed to Moonves under his contract, and the company had previously said the former CEO would have a say in which groups would receive the money.

CBS reached a $9.5 million settlement with actress Eliza Dushku, who said she was written off the show Bull after reporting sexual comments from her co-star. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

Remainder of severance hinges on investigation

But whether Moonves, who was one of the television industry's most powerful executives, receives the remaining $120 million of his severance hinges on the investigation, which is being conducted by two outside law firms. The company has said Moonves would not be entitled to the severance if its board of directors determines he was fired for cause.

CBS said its donation to the 18 groups will go toward helping expand their work and "ties into the company's ongoing commitment to strengthening its own workplace culture."

Among the recipients are Catalyst, a 56-year-old organization dedicated to empowering women in the workplace, and several groups that have emerged as prominent voices since the downfall last year of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which triggered an avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men across several industries.

The 18 organizations issued a joint statement praising the donations as a first step while calling on CBS to disclose the results of the Moonves investigation and the company's efforts to rectify practices that may have enabled misconduct.

Funds don't absolve 'decades of bad behaviour'

"We thank CBS for these donations. We also recognize these funds are not a panacea, nor do they erase or absolve decades of bad behaviour," the groups said.

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. Moonves has denied having any non-consensual sexual relationships.

Two other major figures at CBS have lost their jobs in the past year over misconduct allegations: 60 Minutes top executive Jeff Fager, and news anchor Charlie Rose.

The New York Women's Foundation said it is receiving $2.25 million from CBS to support its "Fund for the Me Too Movement and Allies," which is co-led by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke. The fund invests in community organizations nationwide dedicated to fighting sexual violence and harassment.

Ana Oliveira, the foundation's president and CEO, said the donation will help give survivors of sexual misconduct a voice in developing solutions. But she urged CBS to do the same within its own organization.

"Those who have lived through the issues have some of the best solutions. This is not a conversation about the perpetrators. CBS needs to do its own work there," Oliveira said.

Time's Up among recipients

Other grant recipients include Time's Up, a Hollywood-based group promoting gender equity in the workplace, and Press Forward, an organization of women dedicated to fighting sexual harassment in the news industry.

Time's Up Entertainment said it will use its $500,000 from CBS to launch an initiative to increase the presence of people of colour and of different social backgrounds in the entertainment industry's producing and executive ranks.

Carolyn McGourty Supple, co-founder of Press Forward, said the new funding would accelerate her group's programs, which include a partnership with the Poynter Institute to develop innovative sexual-harassment training and a study on the state of women in America's newsrooms.

She said Press Forward has been "very encouraged" by the willingness of CBS News' leadership "to engage with us."

"We have faith that we will work side by side to make sure our newsrooms are places where journalists do their best work," McGourty Supple said.

Questions linger over another CBS star

The entertainment business of CBS, however, is facing new outcry over the revelations about Bull star Weatherly, which were first reported by The New York Times.

Shaunna Thomas, executive director of the women's rights organization UltraViolet, said CBS tried to sweep "his abuse under the rug" and "must immediately move to fire Michael Weatherly."

Michael Weatherly said he apologized to Dushku after she confronted him regarding his comments. (Katy Winn//Invision/The Associated Press)

Melissa Silverstein, founder of the "Women and Hollywood" initiative, tweeted that she was "still wondering why" Weatherly has a job.

Neither UltraViolet nor Silverstein's group received funds from CBS.

Weatherly, who appeared on the CBS series NCIS for 13 years before Bull began in 2016, said in an email to the Times that he had apologized to Dushku after she confronted him. Weatherly's manager, Doug Wald, has not responded to Associated Press requests for additional comment.

In a September interview with the AP , Weatherly said his long history with CBS made it difficult to comment on the Moonves scandal.

"Not to get into any of the ifs, ands or buts about what is right or wrong and where it comes from," Weatherly said then. "Professionally I owe a great part of my career to the decision-making of the higher-ups at the company. It's a complicated place to be."