At a Divided Network, What Now for CBS News and ‘60 Minutes’? - The New York Times

Image The CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan, which houses the CBS News division, is across West 57th Street from the BMW Building, where the offices of “60 Minutes” are. Credit Credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images

For decades, the headquarters of CBS News and the offices of “60 Minutes” have stood on opposite sides of a windswept block of Manhattan’s West 57th Street.

It was a symbolic divide as much as a physical one. And these days the gap between the two might as well be miles wide.

The ouster on Wednesday of Jeff Fager, the 63-year-old “60 Minutes” executive producer, after he threatened the career of a CBS reporter who was looking into harassment allegations against him has exacerbated tensions between the House of Cronkite and its most popular, most profitable show.

Populated by eminences like Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl, the weekly newsmagazine prides itself on a culture of exceptionalism — with the ratings to back it up. No matter if CBS News is having a good or a bad year — and there have been plenty of bad ones — “60 Minutes” performs.

“The people at ‘60 Minutes’ were paid more, they had longer time to work on stories, they got incredible recognition in terms of ratings and prestige, so naturally the people in the trenches would sometimes be resentful of that,” said Andrew Heyward, a former CBS News president. “It was like a hit TV show that happened to be at CBS News.”

The show keeps its footage on a separate server inaccessible to other CBS News employees. When the network wants to broadcast a newsworthy clip from “60 Minutes,” producers must include the show’s onscreen watermark — as it if it were a rival station.

Even the contrast in office space tells a tale. The CBS Broadcast Center is a 1950s-era hulk, lamented by some employees for its windowless rooms. “60 Minutes” operates out of the sleek BMW Building, with panoramic views of the Hudson River.

Image “60 Minutes” journalists celebrating the show’s 25th anniversary in 1993. From left, Mike Wallace, Andy Rooney, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft, Ed Bradley, Lesley Stahl and the founding executive producer, Don Hewitt. Credit Bob Strong/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

David Rhodes, the 44-year-old CBS News president, who fired Mr. Fager, is virtually unknown to much of the “60 Minutes” staff, which effectively operated under Mr. Fager’s sole authority. Officials on both sides of the news division say Mr. Rhodes now faces a daunting task: winning over a shocked team that is worried about its future and responsible for the crown jewel in the CBS News lineup.

All of this has happened days after CBS’s chief executive, Leslie Moonves, stepped down while facing allegations of sexual misconduct. The 51st season of “60 Minutes” premieres in a little over two weeks. And two law firms are still investigating the workplace culture at CBS, as well as at “60 Minutes.”

“Nobody is surprised by the solidarity that was shown by everyone on the floor yesterday,” Bill Owens, the interim executive producer and Mr. Fager’s longtime No. 2, wrote in a staffwide email on Thursday morning. “‘60 Minutes’ is a collection of superb journalists but we are also as close to a family as any group can be.”

In its half-century on the air, however, “60 Minutes” has never been at home within the larger CBS News family.

A 2017 book on the show’s history — written by Mr. Fager, after he stymied another author who was asking questions about the show’s treatment of women — noted that a feeling of independence permeated the place. “The rituals and obsessions of most every other television news organization, including our own CBS News organization, did not matter so much,” Mr. Fager wrote.

On Thursday, according to multiple people who work at the show, the mood inside the “60 Minutes” offices remained tense.

The animating concern was whether Mr. Rhodes, perceived by the show’s staff as more of a technocrat than a reporter, planned to wrest control and finally fold the show into the news organization. Many “60 Minutes” veterans fear that such a move would amount to dismantling their institution.

Image Jericka Duncan, who received the threatening text message from Jeff Fager, reported on his firing on “CBS Evening News” on Wednesday. Credit Cbs News

The chilliness is all the more notable considering Mr. Fager hired Mr. Rhodes from Bloomberg News in 2011. When Mr. Fager announced that he was relinquishing the CBS News chairman role in late 2014, Mr. Rhodes described Mr. Fager as “a great mentor and a close friend.”

Mr. Rhodes so rarely visits the “60 Minutes” office that one staff member likened his appearance there on Wednesday, to discuss Mr. Fager’s firing, to the sighting of a unicorn. Likewise, “60 Minutes” officials are infrequent attendees at Mr. Rhodes’s editorial meetings for senior producers every Monday morning. So when he did show up, many staff members reacted in anger.

Mr. Fager has been accused of touching women at company parties and allowing harassment to go unchecked inside “60 Minutes,” allegations that he denies. But at an impromptu toast on Wednesday at an Upper West Side bar, Mr. Fager was hugged by teary-eyed employees dismayed by his sudden departure.

A few blocks away, their colleagues at “CBS Evening News” were preparing a damning segment — about Mr. Fager, and the threat that he had leveled against a network reporter, Jericka Duncan.

“Be careful,” Mr. Fager wrote to Ms. Duncan, in a text message shown on Wednesday’s newscast. “There are people who lost their jobs trying to harm me.”

Jeff Glor, the “CBS Evening News” anchor, who was once close to Mr. Fager, told Ms. Duncan on the air that everyone at the newscast “supports you 100 percent.” Mr. Glor ad-libbed his comment, according to a person familiar with the broadcast, which was taken as a sign of network unity in denouncing Mr. Fager’s actions.

Still, the rancor at “60 Minutes” toward Mr. Rhodes had subsided somewhat on Thursday after staff members learned the exact words that Mr. Fager had used in his threat.

Image David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, was hired by Mr. Fager in 2011. On Wednesday, Mr. Rhodes fired the man he once described as “a great mentor and a close friend.” Credit Richard Shotwell/Invision, via Associated Press

Sharyn Alfonsi, a “60 Minutes” correspondent, told The New York Times before Wednesday’s newscast that she did “not understand how you get fired over a text message.” By Thursday, after looking at the text message, she said: “I was stunned. It was very upsetting.”

Likewise, Mr. Kroft, the veteran correspondent, told The Times that the text was “threatening and inappropriate.”

Mr. Owens, the interim boss, has the enthusiastic support of the “60 Minutes” rank-and-file, but names of possible permanent replacements for Mr. Fager are now circulating. With two active investigations into sexual harassment at CBS, some wonder if the network will look outside its walls for Mr. Fager’s permanent successor. But there is also skepticism about whether an outsider can successfully wrangle a place as idiosyncratic — and valuable to the brand — as “60 Minutes.”

The list includes Susan Zirinsky, the well-respected “48 Hours” executive producer who inspired Holly Hunter’s character in the 1987 film “Broadcast News,” and Tanya Simon, a producer at “60 Minutes” and the daughter of Bob Simon, the longtime correspondent who died in 2015.

As Mr. Rhodes works to move an old-school series into a modern media age, he might reconsider his methods of communication.

On Monday, a day after Mr. Moonves was fired, Mr. Rhodes sent a message to the news division on Slack — an instant-messaging system used by many contemporary media companies — talking about next steps.

“These are terrible stories to read and yet, if you were hoping to make changes to our culture, there aren’t many changes bigger than the ones underway,” Mr. Rhodes wrote. “Change at the top of the whole company offers a fresh start for all of us.”

But few employees at “60 Minutes,” where several correspondents are in their 60s and 70s, saw the note on Monday. According to the show’s staff members, most of them do not use Slack.

A version of this article appears in print on

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‘60 Minutes’ Staff Worry Over Impact Of Tumult

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