Jeff Fager on CBS News: ‘The truth is everybody does a pretty damn good job at this place’

By Alex Weprin 

The top-rated news program on television has long been the Sunday CBS flagship “60 Minutes.” That program has been under the watchful eye of executive producer Jeff Fager since 2004.

Today, CBS announced a shakeup at the top of CBS News, putting Fager in charge with the title of Chairman. David Rhodes joins CBS from Bloomberg. 37-year-old Rhodes has been named president of CBS News, with current News president Sean McManus exiting to focus on CBS Sports.

TVNewser spoke with Fager shortly after the announcement about his plans for CBS News, recruiting Rhodes, and his star anchor, Katie Couric.


TVNewser: Congratulations on the new role.

Jeff Fager: Thank you very much, it is exciting.

How did this come about?

Well, I have been talking to the boss, Leslie [Moonves] about it. He brought it up in the last couple of months. He has never wanted me to leave “60 Minutes,” I didn’t want to leave “60 Minutes,” so this is a really good solution to that.

Were you involved in recruiting David Rhodes from Bloomberg?

Yeah, I actually spent quite a bit of time with him in the past month. He is just such a tremendously interesting and smart guy. I will tell you, the fact that David is so capable made it a lot easier for me to do both jobs. He is one of the sharpest people I have known, and I think we have very similar sensibilities. We want to be proud of our broadcasts, and we want them to be the highest quality broadcast journalism out there, so much the way we feel about “60 Minutes.” It is the combination of David as president and Bill Owens as executive editor [at 60 Minutes] that really allows me to do both of these jobs.

Considering David came from Bloomberg, there has long been talk about CBS News talking to cable networks…

That is not part of this at all. This is really about David Rhodes himself, and being a such a  capable individual. A real compliment to him and the name he has already made for himself in this business.

Do you foresee any changes coming to CBS News in the immediate future?

No, I really don’t. We are going to settle in, and really take stock of the place. We have at least two weeks now before we actually move in and take over, so this gives us a little breathing room to talk to everybody and really go through it.

What areas or programs do you think have the greatest room for improvement?

Well, I think that the truth is everybody does a pretty damn good job at this place. There is solid reporting every day. But the broadcasts are in third place, and that is a problem for all of us, anybody that works on them. In terms of the news broadcasts I mean, “Sunday Morning” is terrific, “48 Hours” is doing really well, and so is “Face the Nation.” There are a lot of good things about CBS News but I think that is a frustration for everybody.

What can you do to change that?

We will go through that as David and I get together and work on those things with the executive producers.

Obviously Katie Couric is very important to CBS, people are talking about her, her contract is up in a couple of months. What are your thoughts on Katie?

You know, I haven’t had a chance to talk to her yet, and I am looking forward to it, I am sure I will today. I have read about it, but I need to really sit down and see what she is thinking before I do anything else.

You are staying on at “60 Minutes,” do you see any changes happening at that show?

I don’t. I think Bill Owens is going to take on some more responsibility, but I am still going to be screening pieces here and this is the mother-ship. I really love this broadcast and am just thrilled to still be a part of it.