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New York Times reporters reveal how they investigated Les Moonves's final days at CBS

This story, Ellen Gabler says, is a "good reminder to keep being persistent." To keep calling, texting and e...

Posted: Dec 3, 2018 8:52 AM
Updated: Dec 3, 2018 8:52 AM

This story, Ellen Gabler says, is a "good reminder to keep being persistent." To keep calling, texting and e-mailing.

The New York Times has published a blockbuster story about the end of the Les Moonves era. It detailed Moonves' attempts to find a job at CBS for an alleged victim so that she would stay silent.

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The woman's name is Bobbie Phillips. Her former talent manager, Marv Dauer, talked with Moonves about lining up possible jobs for her. The Times has the text messages to prove it.

"If Bobbie talks, I'm done," Moonves told Dauer, according to Dauer's sworn statement.

Eventually she did talk to The Times. All of this is explained in the roughly 5,000-word story.

The story about the story is pretty remarkable too. The three reporters who were involved — Ellen Gabler, Rachel Abrams and James B. Stewart — sat down for an in-depth interview on the "Reliable Sources" podcast.

The fall of Moonves is a tale "about how people use every lever at their disposal to protect themselves," Abrams said.

Listen to the full podcast here:

The Times' story appeared on the cover of the Sunday Business section on December 2, almost three months after Moonves was forced out of his CEO chair.

His departure came after The New Yorker published two stories by Ronan Farrow — one in late July and the other in early September.

Each story described allegations of sexual misconduct by six women, for a total of a dozen.

In September, Farrow said some of the women spoke out because they felt CBS was failing to take appropriate action against Moonves.

When Farrow's second story came out, Moonves said the "appalling accusations in this article are untrue." He said he never abused his power as a Hollywood executive and said he could only surmise that the allegations "are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation and my career."

The CEO was out within eight hours of the publication of Farrow's second story.

But in the immediate aftermath, Stewart's sources told him there was something else going on.

"They were telling me, look, it really wasn't about The New Yorker story. I know it looks like it was, but it wasn't," Stewart said.

What really turned the CBS board of directors against Moonves, according to Stewart and The Times' reporting, was that Moonves tried to get Phillips a job, and didn't disclose all of this to the lawyers who were hired to investigate the allegations.

"Upon learning that Mr. Moonves had tried to find a job for an accuser, the CBS board held an emergency meeting with their lawyers," The Times reported in its new story.

But the newspaper's reporting started one year ago, in November 2017, in the immediate aftermath of stories about Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and other powerful men accused of misconduct.

On the "Reliable" podcast, Gabler said that she and at least one other Times reporter made calls about Moonves that month. Like Farrow, they knew about the rumors of Moonves and sexual misconduct.

"Our job as reporters, of course, is to get beyond the gossip and get people to talk to us and tell us what really happened," she said.

But sources like Dauer, the talent manager who ultimately became a key player, dodged her calls.

It was a "red flag," she said. "You think, 'Hmmm, maybe they actually really know something.'"

At the time, Dauer was a dead end.

Gabler had heard Phillips' name — she said "we knew something had happened to Bobbie" — but "we didn't know exactly what had happened."

Months later, after Farrow's first story about Moonves, Stewart reported on the CBS board machinations.

After Farrow's second story, and after Moonves was forced out, Stewart learned that Moonves and Dauer's dealings were at the heart of the CBS decision to oust him. But the board members didn't know the details. It was all still a mystery.

That's when an editor connected Stewart with Gabler. Up until then, the two reporters had never met. (The Times has a big newsroom, after all.) So they started working together. Knowing that calls from The Times switchboard sometimes scare off sources, Stewart secured a local 310 area code number. He called Dauer and many of Dauer's friends, building on Gabler's many previous calls.

"How did you get their phone numbers?" Dauer asked him.

Before long, Stewart had a dialogue going with Dauer. One thing led to another. And at the same time, a third Times reporter was working on a story about the law firms CBS had hired to investigate misconduct. This is where Abrams comes in. One day Abrams walked by Stewart's desk and shared what she was working on. It was an ah-ha moment. Stewart revealed what he was working on with Gabler. "So that's what led me to try to help," Abrams said.

Her sources provided some key pieces of information. The trio discovered that the lawyers involved in the CBS investigation "were on a very similar track to us," Abrams said.

The Times ultimately reported that it was the attempted cover-up, not necessarily the allegations, that accelerated Moonves' exit from CBS.

When Phillips read The New Yorker story, she realized she was not "the only victim," Stewart said, and she was "enraged."

According to The Times, her allegation dates to an encounter in Moonves' office in 1995. She told the newspaper that Moonves committed sexual assault.

She was "completely credible," Stewart said, noting that even her manager did not know what happened in the office.

Moonves responded in a statement to The Times: "I strongly believe that the sexual encounter with Ms. Phillips more than 20 years ago was consensual."

"I won't say in this case the cover-up was worse than the crime, because the incident is so bad," Stewart said. "But the cover-up is very bad and it really, I think, will be the cover-up that — if he ends up losing $120 million — that's what it will be about."

That's how much money Moonves may be owed, according to the terms of his contract. But if the board determines that he can be fired for cause, then the $120 million would return to the CBS coffers.

The two law firms hired by CBS to investigate the issues are still at work, and no decision has been made about the $120 million.

Stewart said the trio's investigative journalism revealed something that's bigger than CBS. It's about how money and power are used to smother sexual misconduct.

"We would be naive to think that there have not been other instances where, in fact, a scheme like this worked," he said. "Where powerful people have traded either money or favors or influence or something, in order to silence their accusers."

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