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When 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager returns to the office Monday, he will face a CBS newsroom reeling from fresh allegations of a “toxic” work environment and uncertainty over the future of chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves as twin investigations play out at the company.
“Every time you read one of these disclosures it tests your capacity for disappointment,” CBS News president David Rhodes said during a tense July 30 editorial meeting with staff, according to a person who was present. Rhodes was speaking about the July 27 exposé by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker that includes allegations from six women of sexual misconduct by Moonves. On Aug. 1, the CBS board of directors selected two law firms to investigate those claims.
But while the alleged Moonves behavior has received most of the attention, Farrow also painted a portrait of an abusive workplace environment at 60 Minutes under the stewardship of Fager. And Fager’s handling of Charlie Rose’s now-controversial tenure at CBS News was called into question, with Farrow characterizing Fager and the show as a “focal point of allegations” that should have raised red flags about Rose’s conduct. Indeed, the New Yorker story is the third exposé to engulf CBS’ venerable news division after two reports in The Washington Post, one in November that detailed allegations of misconduct by Rose at his PBS program, and a second in May.
The result is widespread speculation both externally and internally about Fager’s future at the network.
In the New Yorker story, Fager, 63, is accused of ignoring and enabling bad behavior by two high-ranking male producers at 60 Minutes. Anonymous former employees who spoke to Farrow also accuse Fager of misconduct. Six former employees say that Fager “while inebriated at company parties, would touch employees in ways that made them uncomfortable.” In one blind quote, a former producer accuses Fager of “getting really handsy.”
Fager strenuously denies the allegations in the story: “It is wrong that our culture can be falsely defined by a few people with an ax to grind who are using an important movement as a weapon to get even, and not by the hundreds of women and men that have thrived, both personally and professionally, at 60 Minutes.”
Fager was previously scheduled to be out of the office when the story hit, but he is said to have been in contact with Rhodes and others at CBS News as the fallout spread this week. Rhodes and other CBS News leaders were in Detroit on Thursday for the annual National Association of Black Journalists conference. But they are all set to return to CBS’ recently remodeled newsroom Monday amid a sea of questions and two separate ongoing investigations. “No one knows what’s going to happen with Les,” says one CBS News veteran. “And that makes it very tricky.”
In March, CBS hired the Proskauer Rose law firm to investigate allegations raised in the Post story, which says that at least three managers were told of Rose’s behavior. And sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that many women inside CBS News took claims about Rose to human resources in the wake of the broadcaster’s firing in November.
Rhodes, in a memo posted on CBS News’ internal Slack messaging board, wrote Thursday to staff to expect conclusions from the Rose report in August. “In recent days we have been advised that the Proskauer investigation at the News Division is in high gear and is expected to return its conclusions this month. The independent nature of this probe means News management does not get incremental updates on its findings — although one factor in its duration is that since March, we have added new areas of inquiry for the lawyers,” he wrote.
Rhodes then addressed the new investigation sparked by the New Yorker story, which is being handled by separate firms, Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton. “Our read of last night’s Board announcement is that Proskauer will continue to investigate issues at News, and the findings will be part of the larger CBS investigation,” he wrote to staff. “They are proceeding on that basis.”
Many staffers at 60 Minutes were questioned by investigators in the spring, multiple sources tell THR. And the Proskauer investigation includes some incidents that were made public in the New Yorker article.
Fager has been at CBS News for 36 years; joining the network in 1982 after a stint at the CBS station in Boston. He was the executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather for a few years in the mid-1990s. But his most significant contribution has been to 60 Minutes. He is only the second executive producer of the broadcast, taking over from creator Don Hewitt in 2004. The program has hundreds of awards; this year it received 24 of the news division’s 31 Emmy nominations. It averaged more than 11 million viewers this season — more than double the viewership of competing TV newsmagazines — and is regularly in TV’s top 10 most watched programs.
60 Minutes also has been known as a challenging place to work thanks to the highly competitive correspondent and producer corps, titanic egos of the on-air talent, often difficult and dangerous assignments, and long hours and a lot of time on the road.
In the show’s formative heyday, with its notoriously difficult correspondent stars — Mike Wallace admitted to snapping and attempting to unhook the bra straps of unsuspecting female colleagues — 60 Minutes, like so many businesses, was also a sexist place to work. “There was sexism,” Meredith Vieira recalled. “But I never experienced harassment.” Vieira was a correspondent on 60 Minutes from 1989-91. She quit after Hewitt refused to let her work part time while she was pregnant with her second child.
But several 60 Minutes staffers, men and women, tell THR that the culture has changed, just as it has in many TV newsrooms. At 60 Minutes — which has 150 employees — a majority of the shows senior producers are women. Fager is known as a direct and decisive boss and he had been seen as well-regarded at the program.
“It’s such a hard moment because if you defend anyone you get labeled part of the problem,” says one frustrated female CBS News staffer. “But how do you just let Jeff get trashed like that? I never felt undervalued or disrespected because I’m a woman.”
Before the #MeToo reckoning began to roil the media industry, Fager had been contemplating stepping away from the broadcast, according to sources. He was also less involved in the day-to-day management of the program when Moonves tapped him as chairman of CBS News in 2011; a position he held until Jan. 1, 2015. At that time, Bill Owens, who was promoted to executive editor of the broadcast in 2008, took on a larger role managing the program.
The leadership team at 60 Minutes also includes Alison Pepper, Fager’s chief of staff; senior producer Tanya Simon (the daughter of the late correspondent Bob Simon); story editor Claudia Weinstein; Ann Silvio, who is in charge of 60’s digital platform; and senior broadcast producer Deb DeLuca (who started her career at 60 Minutes as an associate producer for Wallace, working with him on the infamous tobacco investigation that was dramatized in the Russell Crowe film The Insider). Those close to Fager say he is demoralized, concerned about his legacy, and worried about the future of 60 Minutes, which is immensely important to the company, and an iconic and defining broadcast for CBS News.
“People want Jeff to come out of this well after everything he’s done,” says a CBS News manager. “Nobody’s perfect but everyone who’s worked at 60 Minutes knows who Jeff is.”
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