CBS News President Susan Zirinsky Says Corporate Execs Have Discussed Pay Cut

John Paul Filo/CBS
CBS News president Susan Zirinsky

The company, which underwent layoffs this week, has not yet docked executive pay, which has "upset" some network staffers.

Unlike executives at NBCUniversalFox Corp. and ABC parent company Disney, top executives at ViacomCBS have not taken reduced salaries amid the financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic — though the company's management ranks have been thinned out in connection with its recent merger.

During an all-staff Zoom call on Wednesday, however, when CBS News president Susan Zirinsky was asked by an employee whether pay cuts were considered, she said that cuts have been discussed at the corporate level, though they have not been enacted.

"There were discussions about pay cuts across the board at the corporate level. And that is still at the corporate level," Zirinsky said, according to staffers who participated. "But that was not part of our discussion, and it was not anything that has been decided. That is just kind of floating out there."

In light of the cuts at the news network, which are estimated to be in the range of 50 to 75 employees, some CBS News staffers are unhappy that the network's parent company did not cut executive salaries first in an effort to save jobs.

"I think people are upset," one staffer told The Hollywood Reporter. "The ViacomCBS CEO's salary is very high. ... It seems to be a sticking point amongst employees." (According to a new contract filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in August, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish could make as much as $31.5 million in compensation, though the overall economic environment could push that number lower.)

A slew of executives at other media companies have already pledged to forgo their salaries or donate them to coronavirus-related relief efforts, as Comcast chief Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell are doing.

"We are restructuring various operations at CBS as part our ongoing integration with Viacom, and to adapt to changes in our business, including those related to COVID-19," the network said this week.

Zirinsky had told staffers on Wednesday that the company "did everything in our power to try to mitigate not having to cut people. ... We absolutely did everything in our power to make the human cuts as the last resort."

The network president said that pay cuts for staffers are "not on the table," though she said that employees with contracts ending soon "are going to be tougher," adding that "it's likely you're going to be flat" in terms of potential salary bumps.

Zirinsky also said "no" when asked whether furloughs are on the table for CBS News staffers.

The layoffs, which occurred mostly on Wednesday, affected some of the network's most veteran journalists.

Don Dahler, who was the first network news correspondent to report live from the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, confirmed in an email to THR on Thursday that he was affected by the cuts. Dahler, a veteran of both NBC News and ABC News, joined CBS News in 2013 after six years with the network's New York station.

Dahler shared the note he sent to his CBS News colleagues, titled "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish."

"I’m going to be fine," he wrote. "We’re going to be fine. Don’t feel bad for me. We’re all healthy here in the wilds of Jersey, and ultimately that’s the main thing that matters. So don’t feel bad, except, perhaps, because I will no longer get to see you all in the mornings, or hear your ideas on the calls, or visit you in the other bureaus, or haggle with a brilliant producer over an additional :10 or turn of phrase on a script, or hover over an artist in the edit room debating a change of one particular shot, or scramble onto an airplane and then haul ass to a breaking news story, or experience the thrill of winging it on a live shot, or, frankly, do what I was born to do, what I always wanted to do, and that is report for the best news operation in the world. You can feel bad about that. Because I do. I will miss all that and you terribly."

CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller also discussed his status at the network. "Thanks to all for the many kind words. Much appreciated," he wrote. "For the time being, I'm still on the job, still keeping count on the president. Will see what happens. Thanks again."