Moonves Ouster Could Hasten Leadership Change at CBS News

iStock; Courtesy of CBS

The company's board has not updated rank and file on the progress of the investigation.

The ouster of CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves after a new wave of serious misconduct accusations is also threatening to engulf CBS News and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager.

On Sept. 9, The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow reported that a television producer has accused Fager of touching her inappropriately while she interned at CBS in 2008. In late July, Farrow reported that six women have accused him of inappropriate touching, but they were not named. At the time, he also cited 19 current and former network employees claiming that Fager "tolerated harassment" in the workplace. 

Internally, news staffers have voiced concern that the CBS board — which has hired two law firms to investigate allegations against Moonves first raised last July, as well as the broader culture at the company — could institute a house cleaning “motivated by optics, instead of facts,” one insider says. This could sweep out not just Fager, but other employees with decades of experience in television news. 

"It would seem that his days are numbered now that Moonves is gone," says a television executive familiar with the workings of CBS. "He’s too closely tied into the Moonves story."

Moonves tapped Fager as chairman of CBS News in 2011, a position he held until the end of 2014. But multiple 60 Minutes staffers say that though Moonves was a very hands-on executive, he respected the autonomy of the news division. He was known to send emails or lob phone calls to praise a particular interview or broadcast, but for the most part he did not insert himself into the business of 60 Minutes. (The one notable exception was in 2017 when Moonves helped woo Oprah Winfrey to the show as a special correspondent.) 

When the first New Yorker story was published, much of the 60 Minutes staff was at the end of a traditional summer break. And Fager extended his own vacation one week in anticipation of the conclusion of an investigation conducted by the law firm Proskauer Rose that began last March and was prompted by allegations against Charlie Rose. That investigation was expected to conclude by the end of August. But it was then folded into the Moonves investigation — which is being conducted by Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton — leaving Fager under a cloud and in limbo.

The CBS board has not updated rank and file on the progress of the investigation. (Proskauer Rose lawyers began interviewing 60 Minutes employees last spring.) On Sept. 9, Time’s Up issued a strong statement calling for “full transparency” of the investigation. But the settlement between Moonves and Shari Redstone’s National Amusements Inc. that resulted in Moonves’ exit as CBS Corporations chief executive includes non-disparagement and confidentiality provisions that cover the findings of the probe. At this point, it's unclear what CBS can or will release about the findings.

Before the #MeToo movement began roiling the media industry, Fager, 63, was contemplating retiring from the broadcast. He’s been at CBS News for 36 years, with more than two decades at 60 Minutes, where he came up under creator Don Hewitt. And many close to Fager thought he would step down after the show’s 50th season. But now he’s in a fight to salvage his reputation and his legacy as only the second executive producer among the last iconic newsmagazines on TV.

Fager has his backers at CBS, who believe that what he's accused of pales in comparison to Moonves and the newsmen who have been caught up in the #MeToo movement, including Rose, whom Fager hired for multiple roles. "Jeff has been a force for civility at 60 Minutes," said one executive, though another conceded that even one named accusation of inappropriate touching could merit termination.And while 60 Minutes has long been known as a challenging and highly competitive environment, the culture there, and within the industry overall, has evolved. Much of the top leadership under Fager are women. 

 

There's also the question of who would replace Fager at the helm of the show, no small task for network president David Rhodes. "That is a tough act to follow," one executive said. Meanwhile, the staff has a broadcast to put on, with the 51st season premiere slated for Sept. 30. “It’s extremely frustrating and extremely distracting,” said one senior staffer.

comments powered by Disqus