CBS, Part II: It Gets Worse

We have an update to our first post about CBS earlier this week, examining the mistakes CBS and its chief compliance officer made while handling a whistleblower retaliation claim from actress Eliza Dushku. Dushku has now elaborated on the harassment she experienced on set for the show Bull, and her tale makes the judgment of CBS’s chief compliance officer look all the more preposterous.

Dushku penned an opinion column that appeared in the Wednesday edition of the Boston Globe (she’s originally from Boston and lives here), and it’s painful reading. She recounts harassment she experienced from her co-star Michael Weatherly, her complaints to CBS management, and producers’ decision to write her off the show within 48 hours of Dushku raising her concerns to Weatherly personally.


When the New York Times first broke Dushku’s story last week, one subplot were the actions of CBS chief compliance officer Mark Engstrom. As CBS and Dushku’s attorneys were negotiating a settlement last year, the Times reported, Engstrom released outtakes of Dushku swearing on set to her attorneys — but those outtakes also capture the harassment Dushku had been alleging.

A blunder like that is bad enough on its face. Now, however, Dushku has detailed exactly what that harassment was. It makes CBS’s conduct and Engstrom’s actions look 100 times worse.

Quite simply, how could any chief compliance officer with 30 years experience see the behaviors on those outtakes, and not recognize the misconduct there?

Some examples from Dushku’s column:

Weatherly harassed me from early on. The tapes show his offer to take me to his “rape van, filled with all sorts of lubricants and long phallic things.” There was also his constant name-calling; playing provocative songs (like “Barracuda”) when I approached my set marks.

Weatherly had told the Times that he was ad-libbing lines about his character taking Dushku’s character to a windowless van. I don’t know what a set mark is, but I can certainly see that attempts to single out a person and make him or her feel self-conscious — that’s harassing.

More from Dushku:

He made the threesome remark to me about himself and me in a room full of people. Minutes later, a crew member sidled up next to me and, with a smirk, said in a low voice, “I’m with Bull. I wanna have a threesome with you too.” For weeks, Weatherly was recorded making sexual comments, and was recorded mimicking penis jousting with a male co-star — this directly on the heels of his threesome proposal.

Again, Weatherly gave the same response to the Times about the threesome remark, that he was ad-libbing a line for his character. Even if you believe that excuse, it was a dumb idea under the best of circumstances.

Moreover, the detail about the crew member underlines an important point: Weatherly is a big-time star, and other people take their cues for acceptable conduct from him. In compliance officer land we would call him a gatekeeper, just like a CFO or divisional president — someone who needs sufficient training to understand the higher duty of care that someone in his lofty position carries.

In compliance officer land we would call Weatherly a gatekeeper, just like a CFO or divisional president — someone who needs sufficient training to understand the higher duty of care that someone in his lofty position carries.

Literally, training for gatekeepers is in the Justice Department’s guidelines for evaluating the effectiveness of a compliance program. Those guidelines came out nearly a year before CBS inked its settlement with Dushku. You’d expect the chief compliance officer of a major corporation to know that, and grasp how the guidelines might apply to his or her company.

Then Dushku talks about the retaliation. Within 48 hours of her telling Weatherly that his language made her uncomfortable, showrunner Glenn Caron told her he was writing her off the show — despite CBS’s original plans to have Dushku be a show regular for up to six seasons.

The fact is that Caron wrote me off the show within 48 hours of my complaints about Weatherly. According to what top production brass at CBS told my agent, Caron had gotten rid of me without the knowledge or consent of the CBS team.

Amblin Entertainment is the production company that makes Bull for CBS. So if Caron did sack Dushku without CBS’s knowledge, that raises questions about CBS’s training and oversight of third parties.

Then again, those are only questions worth raising if we assume CBS leadership actually cared about preventing sexual harassment and retaliation against whistleblowers. Then again, all this happened under the leadership of long-time CBS chief executive Les Moonves, who resigned in September amid accusations about his own personal misconduct. 

So the real question worth asking is whether CBS cared about a speakup culture at all, or just put a labor lawyer in charge of its ethics and compliance function while the company continued business as usual: tolerating harassment from big-time money makers, then shutting out people with the courage to say that’s not right. Could the leaders of CBS not have done better than this?

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