BY DAVID BAUDER
NEW YORK (AP) — CBS News on Wednesday fired “60 Minutes” top executive Jeff Fager, who has been under investigation following reports that he groped women at parties and tolerated an abusive workplace.
The network news president, David Rhodes, said Fager’s firing was “not directly related” to the allegations against him, but came because he violated company policy. Fager said it was because of a text message he sent to a CBS News reporter who was covering the story about him.
“My language was harsh and, despite the fact that journalists receive harsh demands for fairness all the time, CBS did not like it,” Fager said.
He said he didn’t think that one note would have resulted in a dismissal after 36 years at the network, “but it did.” CBS had no immediate comment on his characterization.
The investigation into Fager by an outside law firm is not complete. Fager has denied charges made by former CBS employees in the New Yorker magazine of personal misbehavior at parties and not disciplining people under him who had misconduct issues.
Some women have described the “60 Minutes” culture as a boy’s club that’s rough on women. “I really felt like this was one of the most sexist places I’ve ever worked,” Sarah Johansen, who worked as an intern in the 1980s and alleged Fager groped her, told the New Yorker.
But Fager has said that women have made significant advances at the broadcast, to the point where a majority its producers and associate producers are now women.
His firing came only three days after the CBS Corp. board ousted the company’s chief executive, Leslie Moonves, who was accused of sexual misconduct in the same New Yorker articles. Moonves has denied the allegations.
“60 Minutes” is the most popular and powerful news broadcast on television, and Fager is only the second person to lead it during its 50 years of history. He was appointed in 2004 to succeed founding executive Don Hewitt.
It’s a rough-and-tumble place populated by some of the best journalists in television, and they aren’t shy about letting you know it. The broadcast’s offices are physically removed from the main CBS News office across 57th Street in Manhattan, and Rhodes held a tense meeting there with staff members on Wednesday about Fager’s dismissal.
Fager once kept on his office wall a framed remnant of a curtain stained by a cup of coffee thrown at him by the late correspondent Morley Safer when the two worked together.
Fager worked to modernize the broadcast and uphold its standards during a changing of the guard from the show’s original cast of figures like Mike Wallace, Andy Rooney and Safer. He recently wrote a book to commemorate the broadcast’s 50th anniversary.
Fager and Rhodes had worked for several years as a team, when Fager was appointed CBS News chairman by Moonves. Rhodes was then brought in as news president, taking over full management of the news division when Fager went back to solely running “60 Minutes.”
Fager’s second in command at “60 Minutes,” Bill Owens, will run the show while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement, Rhodes said. The show debuts a new season on Sept. 30.
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