The Agenda article suggested, through Mr. Moonves’s now-retracted comments, that he was contemplating action against CBS.
So what happened?
The reporters, Stephanie Forshee and Jennifer Williams-Alvarez, did what most writers do when trying to track down a high-profile subject: They trawled the Nexis database. After they entered his name, the database spit back several phone numbers. The reporters tried each one, until someone on the other end of the call identified himself as “Les Moonves.”
The interview lasted a few minutes. In a follow-up, the reporters called the same number — which has a Maryland area code — to ask a few more questions, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to discuss what happened publicly. They also shared relevant emails with The Times.
A few days after the article appeared, Chris Giglio, a spokesman for Mr. Moonves, said the former executive had not spoken with Agenda. Mr. Moonves himself called Lionel Barber, the editor of The Financial Times, to complain, according to the two people. Mr. Barber, who used to be the managing editor of the newspaper’s United States operation, had become friendly with Mr. Moonves over the years.
Mr. Barber told Mr. Moonves that he was unaware of the article and would look into it, one of the people said. But Agenda is editorially independent of The Financial Times, and the decision on how to handle the complaint fell to the Agenda newsroom.
Mr. Moonves, through a spokesman, issued a statement on Tuesday: “Mr. Moonves did not speak with reporters from Agenda in December 2018 or at any other time. Any suggestion that he did is without any factual basis whatsoever.”
Agenda added an editor’s note to the article reflecting the statement, but did not make any substantial changes to the piece. After inquiries from media reporters, the publication removed the comments attributed to Mr. Moonves.