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CBS Concludes Probe Into Racist, Abusive Conduct At Stations; “Difficult Period,” George Cheeks Says; L.A. & Chicago Managers Out

·7-min read

With a consolidation of CBS’ News and Stations divisions already underway, the network has now also finished its long external probe into allegations of racist and abusive behavior at local outlets – and change is coming to Los Angeles, Chicago and more, executives promise.

“After six months of an extremely thorough and exhaustive review of our organization and culture, I am writing to let you know the external investigation into leadership at our Stations has concluded and, as a result, we will be seeking new general managers for our Los Angeles and Chicago stations,” said Wendy McMahon in an email sent out to staff Thursday.

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Based on the findings of the Proskauer Rose law firm conducted investigation, general managers Jay Howell in Los Angeles and Derek Dalton in Chicago have been pink-slipped from their roles in their respective markets. Veteran Howell was promoted to his now former gig in 2019. Previously VP and GM of WHEC, the NBC affiliate in Rochester, NY, Dalton made the move to the Chicago market in 2018.

CBS News and Stations president and co-head McMahon added in her note that “we will begin our search for new leaders in Los Angeles and Chicago immediately and I will keep you posted as we move forward.” (Read her full email below.)

In that vein, just a few days ago, Johnny Green Jr. was named president and general manager of CBS News and Television Stations businesses in New York City, overseeing WCBS-TV, WLNY-TV, CBSN New York and CBSNewYork.com. That move comes after McMahon and Neeraj Khemlani were anointed as presidents and co-heads of CBS News and CBS Television Stations in May.

Looking forward and in the rearview, CBS Entertainment Group boss George Cheeks also sent out a corporate note Thursday offering the big POV on the lon- festering issue at the local stations and otherwise.

“This has been a difficult period for everyone in the group,” said Cheeks. “The investigation cited painful revelations about experiences that we cannot tolerate today or in the future.”

“While the investigation largely looked at events in the past, and the issues revealed were more pronounced in certain areas and at specific stations than others, there are clear themes that we need to address moving forward: our diversity, equity and inclusion standards need to be a top priority for leadership in every corner of our Stations business; our workplace culture needs to measurably improve; and, your trust needs to be restored with your CBS leaders,” he added, with “several steps” outlined in the correspondence. (Bold emphasis in Cheeks’ original email; read it in full below.)

“This is just a start – our first steps,” Cheeks wrote.

“The development of an operational culture focused on success, and steeped in values of inclusion, fairness and respect, will be a continuing journey on which we will all be accountable – from leadership to our newest colleague.”

In a pattern seen before, this latest scandal at CBS has resulted in a number of exits in hope of new beginnings.

Accused earlier this year of fostering a corporate culture in which female managers were bullied and Black journalists were denied opportunities, longtime CBS Television Stations execs Peter Dunn and David Friend were shown the door in April, a few months after the probe started. Dunn was president of the division and Friend was SVP News.

Here’s McMahon’s email:

Hi, everyone.

This is an important day for all of us at CBS Stations.

After six months of an extremely thorough and exhaustive review of our organization and culture, I am writing to let you know the external investigation into leadership at our Stations has concluded and, as a result, we will be seeking new general managers for our Los Angeles and Chicago stations.

I want to thank everyone who took the time to talk to the investigators. Your care and concern for your colleagues…and your courage…have enabled us to move forward.

Our future is dependent on our ability to lead the way in local news and to connect deeply with the communities we serve. Over the past weeks, I have been meeting with each of our station leadership teams, elevating content, culture and community as our priorities across CBS Stations. Our success is only possible if we come together and start rewriting the future we want for our stations now. It is only possible if leaders at every level of the organization share the same commitment…the same values and priorities.

While acknowledging the range of emotions from the past few months, today is an opportunity for all of us to look forward. George, Neeraj and I are committed to leading with transparency, respect and inclusion…to cultivating a spirit of collaboration and innovation…to doing the right thing for our united organization and teams as we reimagine our brands and businesses during a time of tremendous change.

We will begin our search for new leaders in Los Angeles and Chicago immediately and I will keep you posted as we move forward. In the meantime, I know this day may be difficult for many of you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your department head, Human Resources or me if there is anything we can do to support you.

Wendy

Here’s Cheeks’ email to staff:

CBS Stations Colleagues – I am writing to let you know that the external investigation into allegations of misconduct by leadership at the Stations group has concluded.

I want to thank every employee who spoke with the investigators to share their experiences. Your candor and perspective were invaluable, and I appreciate the courage it took for you to come forward. We were committed from the outset to ensuring every voice would be heard, without fear of retribution, no matter how long the process took.

This has been a difficult period for everyone in the group. The investigation cited painful revelations about experiences that we cannot tolerate today or in the future.

While the investigation largely looked at events in the past, and the issues revealed were more pronounced in certain areas and at specific stations than others, there are clear themes that we need to address moving forward: our diversity, equity and inclusion standards need to be a top priority for leadership in every corner of our Stations business; our workplace culture needs to measurably improve; and, your trust needs to be restored with your CBS leaders.

Several steps have already been taken in this direction:

• We have established new leadership at the Stations group and have already made important changes in the top three markets.
• Johnny Green is now our dedicated general manager at WCBS/New York, separate from the Stations’ central team.
• We have refocused our local priorities on content, culture and community connections, with special attention being paid to reflecting and representing our local audiences. This approach includes weaving the CBS News’ Race and Culture Unit into our community coverage.

In addition, your HR colleagues will be reaching out to you in the coming weeks and months on how we’ll continue this dialogue and crucial work together.

This is just a start – our first steps. The development of an operational culture focused on success, and steeped in values of inclusion, fairness and respect, will be a continuing journey on which we will all be accountable – from leadership to our newest colleague.

Wendy, Neeraj and I are committed to earning your trust – working with all of you and your local leaders to build on the steps we’ve taken and achieve these important goals together.

We are both a business and a division in transition. Change is as constant for us as it is in the world your news teams cover. At the same time, I’m very optimistic about our future. The integration of our News, Stations and Digital teams under your new dynamic leaders has the promise to drive growth and point us toward a brighter future together. I’m confident we can all meet the challenge of aligning these business objectives with our new cultural imperatives.

Thank you as always for caring for your colleagues and for your passion and dedication in everything you do at CBS.

George

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