ViacomCBS executive cleared in sexual misconduct probe

Robert M. Bakish, the chief executive of ViacomCBS, appears in an undated social media photo. (Image: LinkedIn/Graphic: The Desk)

The chief executive of media conglomerate ViacomCBS was cleared of misconduct following a serious complaint made by a former employee that stemmed from a holiday party held four years ago.

The acknowledgement came from a ViacomCBS spokesperson following a report by Silicon Valley publication The Information which shed light on the little-known investigation within one of America’s biggest media companies.

The probe stemmed from a single complaint made by a former Nickelodeon employee who claimed Viacom’s then-acting CEO Robert M. Bakish touched her inappropriately during a holiday party in 2016. Nickelodeon is one of several pay television channels operated by ViacomCBS.

Bakish was later promoted to Viacom’s full-time CEO in 2017 and become the chief executive of the combined ViacomCBS when the media company merged with CBS last year.

It is not clear how the company learned of the allegation, but once it was made, ViacomCBS hired an outside investigator to conduct a thorough examination of the claim and surrounding circumstances. The outcome of the investigation “did not support the allegation,” a spokesperson said in a statement distributed to numerous media outlets on Thursday.

The conclusion does not mean that the alleged sexual misconduct did not occur. Instead, the outcome merely suggests that there were not enough facts to support the claim made by the former employee against Bakish.

The outcome was substantially different compared to a similar probe carried out by CBS against its former CEO, Leslie Moonves, before the company merged with Viacom in 2019. That investigation was conducted following a series of articles published by the New Yorker magazine that contained explosive allegations of sexual misconduct by the broadcaster’s top executive. Moonves resigned prior to the completion of the investigation.

Shari Redstone, the current chairman of ViacomCBS and a member of the family that has long owned its parent company National Amusements, has vowed to change what she described as a “flawed system” that led to a toxic workplace culture for subordinates who were preyed upon by executives at her company and others throughout the media industry.

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