Ronan Farrow reveals how he landed the Leslie Moonves exposé

Farrow’s bombshell New Yorker story led CBS to launch a sexual harassment probe into Leslie Moonves. The journalist spoke with Variety about the eight months he spent reporting the piece and his work exposing sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men.

What made you decide to look into Leslie Moonves?
After the publication of the very first of my stories on Harvey Weinstein, one of the accusers in this story reached out to me very trepidatiously and said: “I feel an obligation to do something on this story that I have which is very well documented, and there’s a settlement attached. Can you look into it?” That was Illeana Douglas. She did an incredibly brave thing by getting the ball rolling on this. From there, it was a process of a lot of painstaking searching in dark corners where people had buried these stories.

How did you know there were more victims?
I never go into a reporting role with a preconception about what I’m going to find. I think Illeana had a sense, as many of these women did, that there was something practiced in what they witnessed. As it became clear this was a pattern, many of them felt there was an obligation on their part to try to speak to protect the next women who came along and walked into CBS. They felt this was not just about Mr. Moonves but a culture of impunity around Mr. Moonves.

Was reporting on Moonves different than Harvey Weinstein?
We’ve seen an interesting pattern with these stories. Powerful men start to face these allegations as they are in steep decline in their careers. That was certainly true of Bill Cosby. It was true of Weinstein. This is something else entirely. This was a story involving an individual and a company at the apex of the entertainment industry with a vast amount of dollars on the line. That makes it fundamentally different. Those sources thought they were talking about someone who was too big to fail.

Unlike Weinstein, Moonves appears to be well regarded by many on his staff. How did you reconcile the two images of him?
That is part of what made these alleged harassment and assault incidents so shocking for many of these women. There was a dichotomy there. He had been a public defender of the #MeToo movement. You understand, working on a story like this, where both sides of Moonves’ reputation come from. You’re immersed in these stories of sexual violence and retaliation, and those turned out to be incredibly well documented and corroborated. But also, it’s worth noting Les Moonves was extraordinarily polite and respectful to me in all of our personal interactions throughout the process. I think life is complicated, and people are complicated, and both of these things are true about him.

Did he try to convince you not to run the story?
I’m not going to describe anything but on-the-record interactions. His conduct on a personal level was always respectful.

Can Moonves survive this?
It’s really not for me to speculate on that. I think it will say a lot about the priorities of this board and this company, and the willingness of all of us as a culture, to translate the principle we’ve seen in the popularization of the #MeToo movement into actual action that requires putting dollars and cents on the line.

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Les Moonves and Julie Chen together
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Les Moonves and Julie Chen together
NEW YORK - APRIL 11: CBS president and Viacom CEO Leslie Moonves and his wife TV personality Julie Chen arrive to the American Theater Wing Annual Dinner. This year's Spring benefit honors CBS Television and it's chairman Leslie Moonves held at Cipriani's 42nd St. April 11, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images)
Julie Chen and Leslie Moonves during 2004 Vanity Fair Oscar Party - Arrivals at Mortons in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage)
Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen during CBS at 75 at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 7: (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER OUT) Julie Chen and Leslie Moonves attend the New York premiere of Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill Vol. 1' at the Ziegfeld Theater October 7, 2003 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
Leslie Moonves;Julie Chen attends the 59th Annual Tony Awards held at Radio City Music Hall, New York BRIAN ZAK. (Photo by Brian ZAK/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen during The Museum of Television & Radio Honors Leslie Moonves and Jerry Bruckheimer - Arrivals at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage)
Julie Chen and Leslie Moonves during Columbia Pictures and Revolution Studios' World Premiere of 'Freedomland' at Loews Lincoln Square Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by E. Charbonneau/WireImage for Sony Pictures-Los Angeles)
HOLLYWOOD - NOVEMBER 30: CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves (R) and TV personality Julie Chen arrive at the first annual UNICEF Snowflake Ball held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on November 30, 2005 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 06: President and CEO of the CBS Corporation Leslie Moonves and his wife Julie Chen attend the grand opening of the CBS Scene Restaurant & Bar on September 6, 2008 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Mary Schwalm/Getty Images)
Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen attend the '63rd Annual Tony Awards' at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. (Photo by Lars Niki/Corbis via Getty Images)
CBS News anchor Julie Chen and husband, CBS Corporation President and CEO Leslie Moonves attend the 2011 CBS Upfront at The Tent at Lincoln Center on May 18, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 16: TV personality Julie Chen and President and Chief Executive Officer of CBS CorporationLeslie Moonves arrive at The Weinstein Company And Relativity Media's 2011 Golden Globe Awards Party held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 29: Julie Chen and Leslie Moonves arrives at the 2012 TCA Summer Tour - CBS, Showtime And The CW Party at 9900 Wilshire Blvd on July 29, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: TV personality Julie Chen AND President & CEO of the CBS Corporation Leslie Moonves attend the Vanity Fair Party during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 16, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 13: Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen attend The Weinstein Company's 2013 Golden Globes After Party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 13, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 06: TV personality Julie Chen and CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves attend AFI's 41st Life Achievement Award Tribute to Mel Brooks at Dolby Theatre on June 6, 2013 in Hollywood, California. 23647_003_SK_1164.JPG (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: President and chief executive officer of CBS Corp. Leslie Moonves and television personality Julie Chen attend the Costume Institute Gala for the 'PUNK: Chaos to Couture' exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14: Producer Julie Chen and President and CEO of CBS Corporation Leslie Moonves attend the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Vanity Fair Party at State Supreme Courthouse on April 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Producer Julie Chen (L) and President of CBS Leslie Moonves attend Universal Music Group's 2016 GRAMMY after party at The Theatre At The Ace Hotel on February 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 13: Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen attend the 2015 CBS Upfront at The Tent at Lincoln Center on May 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: TV personality Julie Chen (L) and CBS' Leslie Moonves arrive at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: TV personality Julie Chen (L) and CBS' Leslie Moonves arrive at the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Television personality Julie Chen (L) and CEO of CBS Leslie Moonves attend the premiere of CBS's 'Star Trek: Discovery' at The Cinerama Dome on September 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
THE OSCARS(r) - The 89th Oscars(r) broadcasts live on Oscar(r) SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2017, on the ABC Television Network. (Tyler Golden/ABC via Getty Images) JULIE CHEN, LESLIE MOONVES
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