19 Current and Former Staffers Tell Ronan Farrow That Jeff Fager Enabled Harassment at CBS News

By A.J. Katz Comment

The New Yorker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow has published another extraordinary story about a powerful man who has allegedly committed acts of sexual harassment spanning decades.

This time, it’s longtime CBS Corp. chairman Leslie Moonves, a man who made $70 million last year, and as Farrow writes, “oversees everything from 60 Minutes to Big Bang Theory,” as well as Showtime and the book publisher Simon & Schuster.

While Moonves has become a notable champion of the #MeToo movement in recent years (something that was also true of disgraced former New York AG Eric Schneiderman), his words seem to belie his actions.

Six different women are now accusing Moonves of sexually harassing them over the years.

Farrow writes:

Six women who had professional dealings with him told me that, between the nineteen-eighties and the late aughts, Moonves sexually harassed them. Four described forcible touching or kissing during business meetings, in what they said appeared to be a practiced routine. Two told me that Moonves physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers. All said that he became cold or hostile after they rejected his advances, and that they believed their careers suffered as a result.

Farrow, as we know, was formerly an NBC Newser, and while the first half of the story focuses on Moonves, a substantial portion focuses on the man he hired to run the news division, former CBS News chairman and current 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager.

Farrow writes about Fager’s actions at company parties:

 Six former employees told me that Fager, while inebriated at company parties, would touch employees in ways that made them uncomfortable. One former “60 Minutes” producer told me, “It was always ‘Let’s go say hello to Jeff, ’cause you have to pay homage to him, but let’s do it early in the evening, before he starts getting really handsy.’ ” In one incident, at which several employees were present, Fager allegedly made drunken advances to an associate producer, commenting on her breasts and becoming belligerent when she rebuffed him. (Fager denied the allegations, saying that “they never happened.”)

Katie Couric, who was the CBS Evening News anchor and a contributing correspondent for 60 Minutes from 2006 to 2011, told Farrow that CBS News “felt like an old boys’ club where a number of talented women seemed to be marginalized and undervalued.”

Farrow writes about how a woman named Erin Gee, who worked at CBS for more than 15 years, filed a lawsuit alleging that an executive director at CBS Evening News urged her to have sex with a co-worker with whom she was having difficulties in order to “break the ice,” and that she was demoted after complaining about gender discrimination.

Fager provided The New Yorker with the following statement, one which is rather defiant:

It is wrong that our culture can be falsely defined by a few people with an axe to grind who are using an important movement as a weapon to get even, and not by the hundreds of women and men that have thrived, both personally and professionally, at ‘60 Minutes.’  A majority of our senior staff are women. All of them worked their way up the ranks and are now managers of our broadcast. Half of our producers and a majority of our associate producers are women. It is a challenging place to do well and promotions are earned on merit and are not based on gender.

He continued, “There’s a reason these awful allegations have not been published before—despite the efforts of a few former employees who did not succeed at ‘60 Minutes.’ It is because they are false, anonymous, and do not hold up to editorial scrutiny.”

Lesley Stahl told Farrow, “This notion that ‘60 Minutes’ is an unpleasant, unwelcoming place for women isn’t true … In my own experience, Jeff is supportive of women and decent to women.”

And Anderson Cooper said to Farrow, “I work there part time, but in all the years I’ve been there I’ve never seen Jeff engage in any inappropriate behavior.”

Farrow’s tales about Fager come to the surface exactly one week after The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright published a story about how the legendary CBS Newser reportedly hired a law firm “that boasts about killing stories” to look into a Washington Post investigation surrounding his handling of the Charlie Rose debacle.

When we reached out to CBS News for comment, the network pointed us to a statement from the CBS Chief Compliance Officer:

CBS is committed to providing its employees, vendors, and guests with a safe and secure environment in which to conduct their business.  To that end, the Company regularly republishes its policies against discrimination and harassment in both our policy guide and our Business Conduct Statement, and supports these policies with regular mandatory training.

Both the policy guide and Business Conduct Statement policies offer employees multiple avenues to report concerns or file complaints about possible workplace misconduct.  It is the policy and practice of CBS to investigate all complaints and to promptly remediate any problems that are identified.  The primary purpose of the remediation is to stop the misconduct at issue, and that may be accomplished through additional training, the reassignment of the offending individual, or discipline up to and including the termination of employment.  Our internal investigators have received training to enable them to address complaints appropriately.

The policies against discrimination and harassment include anti-retaliation provisions, and anyone raising a complaint is assured that he or she will be protected from retaliation.  Similarly, those accused of discrimination or harassment are reminded of the anti-retaliation policies, and advised that they will face discipline up to and including termination if they engage in any retaliatory actions.  Employees who suspect that they may be experiencing retaliation are instructed to report it immediately.

On occasion, the resolution of allegations in the workplace has involved financial settlements.  There are many reasons why such cases get settled. CBS typically includes non-admission clauses in such settlements, and settlements do not amount to admissions of guilt.

CBS previously retained attorney Betsy Plevan of Proskauer Rose to conduct an independent investigation of alleged misconduct at CBS News.  Ms. Plevan’s work is ongoing, and includes investigating allegations in this story. CBS has taken the allegations reported in the press seriously, and respects the role of the press in pursuing the truth, which is a role that is central to the mission of CBS News.

Comments

Advertisement
Advertisement