Following a year of turmoil in which CBS was rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct and the ouster of several high-profile figures, the president of its news division, David Rhodes, is stepping down. On Sunday night, the network announced that he will be replaced by veteran producer Susan Zirinsky, who will become the first woman to lead the division when she takes over as president in March.
Toward the end of his eight-year stint as president of CBS News, Rhodes oversaw the removal of both longtime host Charlie Rose and Jeff Fager, the chairman for CBS News and executive producer for “60 Minutes,” both of whom were accused of mistreating employees.
Joseph Ianniello, CBS Corp.'s acting CEO, wrote in an email to staffers on Sunday night that Rhodes “has decided the time is right to move on to new opportunities” and thanked him for his “integrity and editorial rigor” in leading the news division for eight years. In his own missive sent to staffers on Sunday night, Rhodes said that he plans to stay with the company after the transition, serving as a senior adviser to Ianniello and the news division.
“The new year is a time for renewal, for new goals,” he wrote. “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.”
Zirinsky, his replacement, has spent nearly five decades at CBS News, beginning as a part-time desk assistant in the midst of the Watergate scandal in 1972 while she was still a student at American University. She is now a senior executive producer on “48 Hours,” a weekly newsmagazine covering crime and justice, and will continue to hold the title of senior executive producer after her promotion, indicating that she will be closely involved in overseeing the network’s news content.
In his companywide email, Ianniello noted that Zirinsky “has touched virtually every division and every CBS News broadcast over the decades she’s worked here,” covering major world events from the Tiananmen Square student protests to the Gulf War. She also contributed to the 1987 romantic comedy “Broadcast News” as an adviser and associate producer and loosely inspired the hard-driving character played by Holly Hunter in the film.
Described as a “legendary figure” by the Los Angeles Times and “a respected newsroom leader and consummate insider” by New York magazine, Zirinsky is ascending the corporate ladder during a tumultuous time in the network’s history.
Her predecessor, Rhodes, became CBS News’s president in 2011 and launched CBSN, the network’s 24-hour news channel, in 2014. He had previously been an executive at Bloomberg and Fox News. But with his contract set to expire next month, speculation had grown that Rhodes could be out amid declining ratings on key programs during a period of significant upheaval at the network.
Rose, the longtime host of “CBS This Morning” and PBS’s “The Charlie Rose Show,” was fired in November 2017 after The Washington Post reported that eight women had accused him of making unwanted sexual advances toward them. (The total number of accusers has since risen to 35 women, 14 of whom worked with him at CBS News.) Rose has denied any wrongdoing. According to the Hollywood Reporter, viewership for “CBS This Morning” has been in decline since his ouster.
In September 2018, Leslie Moonves, the company’s powerful chairman and chief executive, resigned after the New Yorker reported that a dozen women had accused him of sexual misconduct. Moonves has denied the allegations, which ranged from forced oral sex to exposing himself. In December, CBS announced that it had completed an internal investigation and found Moonves guilty of “willful and material malfeasance” and that, as a result, he would not be receiving his $120 million severance.
Days after Moonves’s September resignation, Fager, the executive producer for “60 Minutes,” was ousted from the company. Fager had been under investigation amid reports that he touched employees inappropriately and overlooked abusive behavior — charges which he has denied. His departure came after he sent a threatening text message to a CBS correspondent who was covering the story, calling the accusations false and telling her to “be careful.”
Given that backdrop, seeing a woman ascend to the top position at CBS News struck some observers in the media as poetic, even though Rhodes had not been directly implicated in the negative reports about CBS workplace culture. “A new woman boss at CBS News is good news,” Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, wrote on Twitter.
“What a twist,” tweeted Irin Carmon, who broke the story of Rose’s sexual misconduct for The Post and currently writes for New York. “After the departures of Moonves, Fager, and Rose after allegations of assault, harassment, and/or hostile environment for women, the inspiration for Broadcast News' brilliant, nuanced lead character takes over.”