Stephen Colbert opened his Late Show monologue Monday night by explaining that he spent the weekend in his home state of South Carolina. “Real relaxing, no internet,” he said. “They don’t have it there yet. But I heard there was an article about CBS chairman and man I hope isn’t watching tonight’s monologue, Les Moonves.”
When the host found out that the article about his boss was by The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, he did a spit take, saying, “That’s not good.” Of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who helped expose Harvey Weinstein, Colbert added, “Ronan isn’t exactly known for his puff pieces about glamping.”
“Well, I guess we’re talking about this,” the host said, letting a news anchor lay out the specifics of the damning sexual-harassment allegations against Moonves and his “practiced routine.”
“Well, you know the old saying, ‘How do you get in a Ronan Farrow article? Practice, practice, practice,” he said. Colbert then joked that he doesn’t know why CBS was hiring outside investigators to examine the claims against Moonves: “They could just use the cast of the new CBS procedural, CSI: CEO.”
Colbert’s jokes about the serious allegations could be viewed as callous, but it seemed he was making a point to treat the story about his boss the same way he would if it were about any other high-powered executive. It was the same way Colbert went after his CBS colleague Charlie Rose last fall, making Rose’s co-host Gayle King “wince” in response.
Granted, Colbert is not married to Moonves, but his response stood in sharp relief to the way Moonves’ wife and co-host of The Talk Julie Chen reacted on her first show since the news broke. “I issued the one and only statement I will ever make on this topic on Twitter, and I will stand by that statement today, tomorrow, forever,” Chen said, moving on as quickly as possible.
Colbert, meanwhile, returned to the topic after a commercial break, asking, “Are we still broadcasting? You know what? Don’t tell me, I like a surprise.”
As the one-year anniversary of the #MeToo movement’s cultural explosion approached, Colbert said, “I think that milestone is worth celebrating, but it is hard to think of an appropriate anniversary gift when the entire Amazon wish list is just: ‘Stop it!’”
“And women over the past year have felt empowered to tell their stories in ways they haven’t before,” he continued, turning more serious, “which is an objectively good thing, because—and it’s strange to have to say this—powerful men taking sexual advantage of relatively powerless employees are wrong. We know it’s wrong now. And we knew it was wrong then. And how do we know we knew it was wrong? Because we know these men tried to keep the stories from coming out back then.”
Colbert admitted that as “naive” as it may sound, the number of accusations against powerful men in the entertainment industry over the past year have been “shocking” to him. “Now, as a middle-aged guy with some power in the entertainment industry, I may not be the ideal person to address this kind of systemic abuse.”
But because he works at CBS, people are asking him what he thinks is going to happen. “I don’t know. And I don’t know who does know. In a situation like this, I’d normally call Les,” he said. “Over the past year, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether the disappearing of the accused from public life is the right thing to do, and I get there should be levels of response, but I understand why the disappearing happens.”
He then quoted one of his favorite JFK lines: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”
“And for so long for women in the workplace, there was no change, no justice for the abused, so we shouldn’t be surprised that when the change comes, it comes radically,” he said. “This roar is a natural backlash to all that silence.”
“So I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do believe in accountability, and not just for politicians you disagree with,” Colbert continued. “Everybody believes in accountability until it’s their guy, and, make no mistake, Les Moonves is my guy.”
“He hired me to sit in this chair,” he explained. “He stood behind this show while we were finding our voice. He gave us the time and the resources to succeed. He has stood by us when people were mad at me, and I like working for him. But accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody, whether it’s for the leader of a network or the leader of the free world.”