CBS News Faces Leadership Void as Harassment Probe Drags On

David Rhodes - 2016 Winter TCA Tour - Getty - H 2017
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As the company investigates Leslie Moonves and Charlie Rose, and 'CBS This Morning's' executive producer steps down, employees are expressing frustration and dismay at the lack of communication from corporate bosses and CBS News president David Rhodes.

On Dec.?14, CBS This Morning executive producer Ryan Kadro told the show’s staff what they had already read in the news two days earlier: that, amid anchor turmoil and a worrisome ratings drop, he'd be leaving the network when his contract expired at the end of the year.

Kadro’s exit, following the ouster of longtime 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager in September, means that two of the news division’s most important — and profitable — programs are without a permanent leader. For CBS News, which, like its parent company, had previously been known for stability, it marks an extraordinary amount of upheaval.

The uncertainty was set off more than a year ago by sexual misconduct revelations leveled at CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose, which led to his expulsion. And the ouster in September of CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves — who had been hobbled by a nasty feud with majority shareholder Shari Redstone — created a leadership void at the company overall.

An investigation into the culture of CBS — spurred by allegations raised last summer against Moonves — likely played a role in delaying the selection of a permanent executive producer at 60 Minutes, among the focal points of the probe into the news division. The investigation by two outside law firms had been closely held — until 59 pages of it were leaked to The New York Times, leading to a succession of damaging stories about the company's handling of sexual misconduct claims stretching back decades. And news division staffers who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter have expressed frustration and dismay at the lack of communication from their corporate overlords and CBS News president David Rhodes.

“There’s a lot of anger right now,” says one staffer.

Rhodes’ allies argue that some of that anger is misplaced. The lack of closure from the investigations has been particularly frustrating, but out of Rhodes’ control, these sources contend. The first investigation, by law firm Proskauer Rose, began in March. It was focused solely on the news division but was eventually folded into the current and company-wide probes (by firms Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton).

Bill Owens, 60?Minutes’ executive editor and interim executive producer, and 48 Hours senior executive producer Susan Zirinsky are the internal candidates for the top job. Sources tell THR that top hires for 60?Minutes and CBS This Morning as well as the open position of executive producer of special events (including election coverage) are due to be unveiled early in the new year.

The law firms’ investigation also is expected to be wrapped up by year’s end. But it’s unclear if the CBS board will make a summary of the findings public or share them with employees. Meanwhile, the power vacuum atop the company that Moonves once ruled with an iron fist — he signed off on anchor changes, including the firing of Rose — has exacerbated what one news staffer characterized as a “rudderless” atmosphere at CBS News.

Shortly after The New York Times and New Yorker articles about Harvey Weinstein that spurred the #MeToo reckoning were published in October 2017, media gossip began to swirl about Rose. Investigators found no evidence that current or previous CBS News executives were aware of the extent of Rose’s misconduct, according to leaked pages from the external investigation into CBS. Setting that aside, Rose’s age (he’ll turn 77 in January) and health (he’s had multiple serious heart operations) should have propelled management to put a succession plan in place, say observers. And there were efforts on that front; sources say that there were informal talks with Andrew Ross Sorkin, the New York Times columnist and CNBC host, about a possible role on CBS This Morning. NBC News anchor Willie Geist, whose father, Bill Geist, was a longtime CBS News correspondent, was also on the wish list, but never became available. So when Rose was fired, the options were limited. John Dickerson joined the show in January, exiting Face the Nation to do so. Both shows are down: CBS This Morning is off 10?and 13?percent among total viewers and adults 25-54, respectively, while Face the Nation, now hosted by Margaret Brennan, has declined 10?and 15?percent among those groups, per Nielsen.

Virtually every broadcast news program declined during the 2017-18 season, including NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America, but CBS This Morning’s declines were steeper. The network also was last among cable and broadcast for its primetime midterm election coverage, pulling just under 4 million viewers, a point of frustration for many at CBS News. 

In October, Rhodes announced that Bianna Golodryga would join CBS This Morning as a fourth anchor. Co-host Gayle King told The New York Times that she was unaware of the move until the day it was unveiled. The lack of communication, staffers say, has sown mistrust, and led to leaks.

On Dec. 14, Rhodes sent an email to staff confirming that the new EP would be in place by January and promising closure on the company's long period of uncertainty. (Sources say that senior producers Diana Miller and Eva Nordstrom are on the shortlist to replace Kadro.)

"Even as the pace of change has challenged our organization I continue to be assured in conversations with [acting CEO] Joe Ianniello that our company is committed to positive change," he wrote. "We’re working in concert to bring everything to fruition as quickly as possible on a number of fronts."

But that may not assuage the concerns of employees. “There is a fundamental lack of transparency,” says another staffer. “We’ve gone from one bad incident to another and no one’s in charge.”  

A version of this story also appears in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.