Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes” and one of the most powerful figures in television news, is leaving CBS , the company said Wednesday.
Mr. Fager sent a text message to CBS News Correspondent Jericka Duncan, who has been covering the various scandals that have engulfed the company and its news division, warning her to tread carefully in her coverage in a way that was interpreted as threatening, according to people familiar with the matter.
CBS News President David Rhodes said in a memo to staff that Mr. Fager “violated company policy and it is our commitment to uphold those policies at every level.”
Mr. Rhodes added: “This action today is not directly related to the allegations surfaced in press reports, which continue to be investigated independently.”
Mr. Fager was named in two recent New Yorker stories outlining allegations of sexual harassment against recently departed CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves and a broader company culture that tolerated sexual harassment. One former employee told the magazine Mr. Fager groped her at a company party. Mr. Fager has denied the accusations.
“Be careful,” Mr. Fager wrote Ms. Duncan, according to a “CBS Evening News” report Wednesday. “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.”
“The company’s decision had nothing to do with the false allegations printed in The New Yorker,” Mr. Fager said in a written statement. “Instead, they terminated my contract early because I sent a text message to one of our own CBS reporters demanding that she be fair in covering the story. My language was harsh and, despite the fact that journalists receive harsh demands for fairness all the time, CBS did not like it. One such note should NOT result in termination after 36 years, but it did.”
CBS has named two law firms to investigate alleged misconduct inside CBS Corp., including its news division.
Mr. Fager will leave the company immediately, Mr. Rhodes said. In his absence, Bill Owens—Mr. Fager’s second in command—will lead “60 Minutes” and a search will be conducted for a new executive producer.
Mr. Fager, 63 years old, joined CBS News in 1982 and rose through the ranks as a producer, becoming an executive producer of “The CBS Evening News” and “60 Minutes II.”
In 2004, he took the reins as executive producer of “60 Minutes,” a leading newsmagazine show for half a century, from its creator, Don Hewitt. In 2011, under an usual power-sharing structure, he was named chairman of CBS News while Mr. Rhodes, nearly two decades his junior, was brought in from Bloomberg LP and named president in charge of daily operations.
Mr. Fager stepped down as chairman of CBS News in 2015, but he continued to report directly to and have the ear of Mr. Moonves, an unusual relationship for the CBS hierarchy, according to people familiar with the matter.
The people said that Mr. Fager’s departure was seen as inevitable after Mr. Moonves stepped down earlier this week amid a CBS board investigation into allegations he sexually assaulted and harassed multiple women, charges Mr. Moonves denied.
“Once Les was gone, he had no hope,” said one of the people.
The CBS News division has separately been the subject of numerous articles detailing allegations of sexual harassment. In November, the Washington Post reported claims that Charlie Rose, then co-host of “CBS This Morning,” harassed eight women. Mr. Rose apologized, even though he said he didn’t believe all the allegations were accurate. CBS fired Mr. Rose immediately.
In May, the Post followed up with allegations from 27 more women against Mr. Rose spanning three decades, including additional allegations that CBS News managers had been warned about his behavior. Mr. Rose told the Post its story was “inaccurate.” CBS News hired outside law firm Proskauer Rose LLP to investigate the claims and, as Mr. Rhodes put it, “ensure a safe and respectful environment.”
Before the law firm could complete its work, however, the New Yorker released its initial report on July 27, outlining both allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Moonves and a broader culture at CBS News that tolerated sexual harassment. The CBS board responded by hiring two independent law firms—Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton—to investigate both sets of allegations.
Proskauer Rose was told to “effectively hand over their notes” on the CBS News investigation to the two law firms hired to conduct the broader probe, according to a person familiar with the matter.
People inside the company had questioned how the Proskauer Rose investigation could be independent if it was reporting to CBS management, according to people familiar with the matter. The current investigations, which are continuing, report to a special committee of the CBS board, which includes several new members after changes implemented this week by controlling shareholder National Amusements Inc.
The details of Mr. Moonves’s separation agreement, released Monday in a public filing, caused some consternation within CBS News, because of a clause that appeared to make it seem that the results of the investigation would be kept confidential. “In our own house, we must have transparency,” said “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King on the show Tuesday.
A person familiar with the matter said that the language in the agreement with Mr. Moonves doesn’t preclude the CBS board from sharing results of the investigation, to the extent that is necessary to fulfill the board’s fiduciary duty to shareholders.
The new CBS board hasn’t met, and a representative for the special committee declined to comment on whether the board planned to release the results of the investigation.
Write to Keach Hagey at email@example.com