Candor, because from the look of things even his own employees don’t appear to trust the integrity of Moonves or CBS, once widely touted as the “Tiffany” network. On Tuesday night, within hours of Moonves’ issuing a staff memo describing “how shocked, disappointed and dismayed I was about the incident” and pledging an internal probe (though the MTV Web site promised “shocking moments”), CBS’s own David Letterman used his show as a forum to opine: “It’s all a lie. It was all planned beforehand. And CBS signed off on it and loved the idea.” Asked to comment, Moonves’ mouthpiece, CBS executive vice president Gil Schwartz (a.k.a. writer Stanley Bing of Esquire and now Fortune and those sardonic business books), said, “Dave is a very funny guy.” Told that Letterman wasn’t laughing during or after he made the remark, Schwartz sighed, “I don’t know what to tell you.”
He did know how to respond, though, when asked whether Moonves should resign: He started to hang up the phone. “We’re the number-one network. We have more viewers than anyone else. It’s an outrageous and moronic question not worthy of an answer.”
In other words: Les is making money. That should be enough. Shut up.
It is exactly this sleazy attitude which has long permeated show biz and led to its most deplorable moments, ranging from keeping David Begelman as head of a studio even though he committed fraud, to supporting Michael Ovitz despite his bullying and blacklisting business tactics, to dealing with crooked and anti-Semitic Giancarlo Parretti after he bought MGM, to propping up investment broker Dana Giacchetto when there was ample evidence he was fleecing clientele, and so on. But in recent years this shut-up-and-put-up stance has especially corrupted the networks and the previously maintained broadcast standards that they pledged to uphold as the price for using the airwaves that belong to all of us.
When it comes to Slime TV, it’s genuinely hard to say if NBC, ABC and Fox have cleaner hands than CBS. But even The New York Times this week suggested they do (even though Friends, in the previously sacrosanct 8 p.m. family hour, uses bitch in its dialogue, and NYPD Blue shows ass and talks about “assholes,” and Fox News continues to sneer at the Democratic presidential candidates). Those powers-that-be may have to exit eventually. But Moonves should be out the door first.