CBS News Chief David Rhodes Steps Down
Veteran CBS News executive Susan Zirinsky will succeed Rhodes, beginning in March.
David Rhodes is out as president of CBS News.
Rhodes tweeted the news of his departure on Sunday evening, amid NBC's coverage of the Golden Globe Awards. Susan Zirinsky, a CBS News veteran who is currently the senior executive producer of newsmagazine 48 Hours, will take over in March. Acting CBS Corp. CEO Joe Ianniello announced Zirinsky's promotion to CBS News staffers on Sunday night, shortly after Rhodes sent out his tweet.
"For those who may not know, Susan has touched virtually every division and every CBS News broadcast over the decades she’s worked here," wrote Ianniello in an email. "She is a terrific collaborator who knows this company inside and out. She went from being a desk assistant to associate producer on the morning show, to the Evening News producer, to White House producer for more than a decade."
Zirinsky, known as Z to her CBS News colleagues, become the first woman to lead the storied news division that was once home to Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. As Ianniello noted, she has wide and varied experience at CBS News. And her title — president as well as senior executive producer — foretells more robust involvement in CBS News coverage. Zirinsky had been considered to take over as executive producer of 60 Minutes after longtime EP Jeff Fager was fired last September. But there was much internal speculation about a larger role for Zirinsky. Her elevation to the top job at the news division means that Bill Owens, the program's executive editor who has been running the show since Fager's exit, is likely to be named the show's permanent executive producer. But, of course, that is now Zirinsky's decision.
Rhodes’ exit comes as all three of the news division’s flagship broadcasts — CBS This Morning, Face the Nation and the CBS Evening News — have lost viewers amid a series of anchor changes. The ratings erosion at CBS This Morning — the major revenue driver at CBS News — has been particularly concerning at the highest levels of the company.
Rhodes’ contract was up in February and many at the news division anticipated his exit. "The new year is a time for renewal, for new goals. The world we cover is changing, how we cover it is changing—and it’s the right time for me to make a change too," said Rhodes in an internal email announcing his impending departure.
Zirinsky has her work cut out for her; the division — indeed, the entire company — has endured unprecedented upheaval for months, culminating last September with the ouster of powerful CEO Leslie Moonves amid myriad misconduct claims.
The anchor roiling at CBS This Morning was set off by the ouster in November 2017 of Charlie Rose amid widespread allegations of sexual misconduct (in December the network settled a lawsuit stemming from Rose’s behavior). The show has lost about 500,000 viewers since Rose’s exit. ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today — which weathered the ouster of Matt Lauer — also have declined, but CBS This Morning’s losses have been steeper. The worrisome ratings fall precipitated the exit of executive producer Ryan Kadro, who had been at the show since its inception in 2011 and premiere in January 2012.
Last year, Rhodes tapped John Dickerson to fill the void left by Rose, which necessitated an anchor change at Dickerson’s Face the Nation, so Margaret Brennan became that show’s anchor. But in early October, with CBS This Morning still failing to reverse its ratings slide, Rhodes named Bianna Golodryga as the show’s fourth anchor. Co-anchor Gayle King told The New York Times that she did not know about Golodryga’s addition to the show until the day it was announced. That lack of communication typified Rhodes' leadership in the waning days of his tenure, several CBS News sources have told The Hollywood Reporter.
Hanging over the news division have been numerous investigations into conduct at the company. The first investigation began last March and focused solely on the news division; it was conducted by Proskauer Rose. Then, after allegations against Moonves became public last summer, that investigation was folded into a company-wide probe conducted by Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton. The firms concluded the inquiry in mid-December and presented their findings to the CBS board. But before they could do so, 59 pages of the inquiry were leaked to the Times, which published a series of devastating reports about the findings, including that CBS is still paying a settlement to a woman who accused 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt of misconduct. The settlement had been renegotiated six times and has now cost the company more than $5 million; Hewitt died in 2009.
Rhodes joined the news division in 2011 in a leadership structure that had him running the news division with Jeff Fager, who was named chairman of CBS News while also maintaining his position as executive producer of 60 Minutes. Fager was ousted in September after sending a threatening text to a CBS News correspondent reporting on accusations against him. When Fager went back to 60 Minutes at the end of 2014, Rhodes was left to run the unit on his own. He has been tasked with modernizing the unit and breaking down some institutional silos that made CBS News something of a balkanized environment. To those ends, he successfully launched CBSN, the news division's streaming service and late last year unveiled a new open newsroom at the network's West 57th Street headquarters. But in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that was published on Dec. 6, he noted that he was hamstrung by the lack of resources. “We’ve done more with less in a lot of ways,” he said. “There are some areas where you can’t make up for lack of resources, and she’s going to need a commitment that the resources are going to be there.”
Rhodes joined CBS News from Bloomberg, where he was head of U.S. television, overseeing all development, editorial, newsgathering and programming and made important changes in the network’s talent and programming. He began his career in 1996 as a production assistant at the then-nascent Fox News Channel, where he eventually became a vice president, managing coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, three presidential elections, and natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina.