Fager out at 60 Minutes as the crisis at CBS spirals

Jeff Fager, only the second person to lead CBS’s 60 Minutes, was fired Wednesday after “he violated company policy,” according to a memo from CBS News president David Rhodes. Fager, executive producer of the venerable television news program since 2004, had been accused of inappropriate touching and overseeing a dangerous workplace culture in reporting by Ronan Farrow. He denied those claims, and Rhodes said Wednesday that the action was not directly related to those allegations, which would be investigated independently. His outster comes three days after CBS CEO Leslie Moonves left the network following a second report by Farrow about allegations of abuse and harassment.

In his statement Fager said he was fired for sending a “harsh” text message to one of the network’s own journalists investigating the accusations raised by Farrow’s stories—“demanding she be fair in covering the story,” in Fager’s words. “CBS did not like it,” Fager said. One such note should not result in termination after 36 years, but it did.” The message, later revealed by the reporter, threatened her job if she dug into allegations raised by Farrow’s reporting.

Fager’s termination was met with consternation from the 60 Minutes staff, reports John Koblin and Michael M. Grynbaum of The New York Times. Fager was only the second person in 50 years to oversee 60 Minutes, and he had been at the network for 36 years. Koblin and Grynbaum report that more than 60 members of the show’s staff gather with Fager for drinks at a Manhattan bar on Wednesday afternoon after the move was announced, but before the contents of Fager’s text message were revealed.

RELATED: After Moonves’s exit, will change come to CBS?

In a dramatic segment on the CBS Evening News, national reporter Jericka Duncan revealed herself to be the reporter referenced by Fager, and read his message on-air. “If you repeat these false accusations without any of your own reporting to back them up you will be held responsible for harming me,” Fager wrote in the text, adding: “Be careful. There are people who lost their jobs trying to harm me and if you pass on these damaging claims without your own reporting to back them up that will become a serious problem.”

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Even as news of Fager’s exit was breaking, details about Moonves’s contentious departure from the network continued to spill out. The New York Times’s James B. Stewart has a must-read on the behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to the CBS board defending, then turning, on Moonves. “I don’t care if 30 more women come forward and allege this kind of stuff,” Stewart reports board member Arthur Kopelson said in a meeting shortly after Farrow’s first story was published. “Les is our leader and it wouldn’t change my opinion of him.” But then the board learned that one of Moonves’s accusers was threatening to go public, and instead of reporting that to the board, Moonves was trying to find her a job at CBS to ensure her silence. “In the end, it was the evidence that Mr. Moonves had misled his board—even more than the allegations of abuse from multiple women—that doomed him,” Stewart writes.

CBS, perhaps more than any news organization with the possible exception of Fox News, has seen its culture challenged and leadership reshaped by women who have spoken up about harassment and abuse. As The Washington Post’s Amy Brittain tweeted: “In a span of just 10 months, the face of CBS’s morning news show (Charlie Rose), the head of its signature investigative program, 60 Minutes, (Jeff Fager) and the CEO of the entire company (Les Moonves) have been ousted after #metoo allegations.”

Below, more on a network in turmoil.

  • Support for Duncan: Evening News anchor Jeff Glor praised Duncan’s reporting on the story, and expressed his support for her. “The message was unacceptable,” Glor said. “It’s important for you to know, for everyone to know back there, that I, we, the entire team at evening news supports you 100 percent.”
  • Dual exits: The Wall Street Journal’s Keach Hagey reports that Fager’s exit “was seen as inevitable” after Moonves left the network earlier this week. “Once Les was gone, he had no hope,” a person familiar with the matter told Hagey.
  • Leadership change: Bill Owens, Fager’s longtime No. 2, will take over 60 Minutes on an interim basis as the network searches for a permanent replacement.
  • Fallout: Quinnipiac University is rescinding the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award that it presented to Fager in June, according to The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr.
  • Nothing for Moonves: Earlier this week, CBS said it was withholding Moonves’s potential severance package of $120 million as it waited for the outcome of internal investigations. But the Times’s Stewart reports that “whatever the outcome of CBS’s continuing investigations, board members said that it’s all but certain that the company will pay Mr. Moonves nothing.”

 

Other notable stories:

  • Woodward week rolls on. Bob Woodward’s Fear sold 750,000 copies on its publication day, according to publisher Simon & Schuster. I looked at the challenge Woodward faced in assembling a reliable book from unreliable sources. Woodward’s approach to reporting hasn’t changed; the climate in which his sources are viewed has.
  • The American Society of News Editors, which conducts an annual study of diversity in newsrooms, said that only 234 out of nearly 1,700 newspapers and digital media outlets filled out this year’s survey. For CJR earlier this year, Farai Chideya covered the failing diversity efforts of newsrooms.
  • CJR’s Amanda Darrach reports that it’s getting harder for foreign journalists to work in America. “Since April 2017, when Trump issued his ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order, immigration officials have made what seem like small changes to policy that add up to large obstacles for foreign journalists aiming to work for US outlets,” she writes.
  • Hurricane Florence coverage from national outlets began in earnest on Wednesday, with all three network evening news anchors broadcasting from the Carolinas. Cable newsers are flooding the field with reporters, and local outlets are stocking up on supplies as they prepare to cover Florence’s impact on their communities. TV Newser’s A.J. Katz has details on who’s where from the national outlets.
  • Meredith Corp. is cutting 200 jobs, reports The Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg. Meredith, which purchased Time Inc. earlier this year, continues to look for buyers for Time, Fortune, Money, and Sports Illustrated.

ICYMI: Most Americans say they have lost trust in the media

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.