Although Moonves is embattled and likely to be ousted from CBS amid sexual harassment allegations (reportedly with a significant severance payment) following an investigation by The New Yorker, many women and men whom I contacted about Moonves’ conduct were reluctant to speak to me, even when I told them they could speak off the record.
One target of Moonves’ ire and vengefulness, according to multiple sources, was Janet Jackson.
Jackson became a years-long fixation for Moonves after the so-called “wardrobe malfunction” of 2004, when her breast was exposed for nine-sixteenths of a second after Justin Timberlake tore a piece of fabric off her bustier during their Super Bowl halftime performance. CBS and MTV (a subsidiary of Viacom, the parent company of CBS at the time), which produced the halftime show, faced a torrent of criticism and a $550,000 Federal Communications Commission fine.
Jackson and Timberlake both said the incident was truly a malfunction ― that Timberlake was only meant to rip away the leather on Jackson’s bustier to reveal red lace, but instead ripped away everything, leaving her breast exposed to over 100 million Super Bowl fans.
Moonves, however, was convinced it wasn’t a malfunction, but rather an intentional bid to stir up controversy. Moonves has been open about the fact that the incident caused him embarrassment, and he told sources who spoke to me that Jackson, in his mind, was not sufficiently repentant.
Moonves banned Jackson and Timberlake from the 2004 Grammys broadcast airing on CBS the week after the Super Bowl. But Timberlake was allowed to perform after he tearfully apologized for the incident, according to conversations Moonves had with my sources.
The CBS chief executive, according to sources who spoke to me, was furious that Jackson didn’t make a similarly contrite apology to him. The fallout from the incident inflicted significant damage on Jackson’s career ― which until that point had produced 10 No. 1 hits ― and still reverberates to this day.
Moonves ordered Viacom properties VH1 and MTV, and all Viacom-owned radio stations, to stop playing Jackson’s songs and music videos. The move had a huge impact on sales of her album “Damita Jo,” which was released in March 2004, just a month after the Super Bowl.
“We interrupt this broadcast of Gruesome Sex Crimes Unit: Billings to apologize for nearly destroying the country by exposing an image of a woman’s breast for nearly a full second.”
Oh, and of course:
“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” he said of the presidential race.
It’s a real mystery that the Republican candidate openly boasting about sexual assault never became a story on the level of, say, his opponent’s compliance with email server management best practices.