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At ‘60 Minutes,’ Independence Led to Trouble, Investigators Say

The New York Times logo The New York Times 2 days ago By RACHEL ABRAMS and JOHN KOBLIN
Leslie Moonves et al. sitting on a bench: Leslie Moonves, left, the former chief executive of CBS, with Charlie Rose, a former CBS host and “60 Minutes” correspondent, in 2006. Both lost their jobs after allegations of sexual misconduct. © David Livingston/Getty Images Leslie Moonves, left, the former chief executive of CBS, with Charlie Rose, a former CBS host and “60 Minutes” correspondent, in 2006. Both lost their jobs after allegations of sexual misconduct.

For decades, “60 Minutes” has reigned at the top of television news, bringing in hundreds of journalistic awards, not to mention weekly ratings for CBS that are the envy of the industry. The success has allowed “60 Minutes” to operate independently from the larger network news division to which it belongs.

But that independence came at a cost: The show proved unable to prevent inappropriate conduct by some of its top executives, according to lawyers hired by the CBS Corporation board of directors to investigate the workplace culture of the program.

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In a draft of a report for the board, investigators wrote that “the physical, administrative and cultural separation between ‘60 Minutes’ and the rest of CBS News permitted misconduct by some ‘60 Minutes’ employees.”

The executive producer of “60 Minutes,” Jeff Fager, was fired in September after he threatened a CBS News reporter looking into allegations about his behavior. The investigators wrote that the firing was justified, adding that Mr. Fager had “engaged in certain acts of sexual misconduct” with colleagues and failed to stop misbehavior by others.

They also said the misdeeds during Mr. Fager’s run as executive producer, which began in 2004, were less severe than under his powerful predecessor, Don Hewitt, who died in 2009.

Mr. Hewitt, who created the program in 1968 and produced the show for 36 years, is a journalistic legend. But investigators revealed that CBS continues to pay out a settlement to a woman who claimed that Mr. Hewitt sexually assaulted her on repeated occasions and destroyed her career. The settlement, reached in the 1990s, has been amended multiple times, including this year. In total, CBS has agreed to pay the former employee more than $5 million.

The investigators’ report will be presented to the CBS board next week, during a period of reckoning for the company. CBS forced its longtime chief executive, Leslie Moonves, out of his job in September after he faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied.

The board hired two law firms, Debevoise & Plimpton and Covington & Burling, to conduct the investigation into the allegations against Mr. Moonves, CBS News and “60 Minutes.” They were asked to determine, in part, if Mr. Moonves had violated his employment agreement. That would allow the company to fire him for cause and withhold his $120 million severance.

The draft copy of the report says the investigators “believe that the board would have multiple bases” on which to claim Mr. Moonves was fired for cause, The Times reported this week. The copy was drafted in late November and could be adjusted before being presented to the board.

In the draft, the investigators expressed concern that women were not being promoted into key positions at CBS News, and that a more muscular process was needed to protect employees who alleged misbehavior. But they also did not find that there was “a toxic work or ‘frat house’ environment for women” at the wider news division.

CBS declined to comment on the draft report, as did a representative for the board.

Since Mr. Fager’s dismissal, “60 Minutes” has been operating under a cloud of uncertainty. The show is currently run by Bill Owens, who was second in command to Mr. Fager and is on a short list of candidates to take over the show.

The investigators wrote that Mr. Fager had behaved inappropriately with colleagues in several instances. They said they believed that he had “engaged in some type of sexually inappropriate conduct” toward a CBS employee who alleged in 2009 that he had groped her. Another CBS News employee alleged that Mr. Fager had tried to kiss her with an open mouth at a corporate event about six years ago. The report also said a female employee had been instructed to drive him and other producers to a legal brothel while reporting a story in Nevada.

“This is the first I am hearing some of these allegations about my personal conduct,” Mr. Fager wrote in an email to The Times. “I’m surprised and devastated to hear them from The New York Times since I was not given the opportunity by CBS investigators to respond to their accuracy.”

Mr. Moonves, during an interview with CBS’s outside investigators in September, disclosed that CBS had paid $950,000 to a woman who had made claims of age and sex discrimination and had accused Mr. Fager of sexual misconduct. Investigators were not able to interview the woman, they wrote in the report, and while they could not rule it out, they found “no credible evidence” to confirm her account of misconduct.

The investigators found that Mr. Fager had failed to respond appropriately to accusations of bullying against Michael Radutzky, a former senior producer on “60 Minutes,” and harassment against Ira Rosen, currently a producer on the show.

Mr. Radutzky, they wrote, was “abusive, screamed and threw objects at other ‘60 Minutes’ staff.” The lawyers noted that while many people at “60 Minutes” were aware of the conduct, Mr. Fager tolerated it because he viewed Mr. Radutzky as an “extraordinarily talented” producer.

In a statement, Mr. Radutzky said: “Some people may have found me difficult, but I was committed not only to getting the story but getting it first and getting it right. In that intense environment, I’m sure I said things that may have been hurtful to my colleagues. Now, with some distance, I regret the toll that it took on all of us.”

Mr. Rosen, the investigators wrote, “occasionally made inappropriate sexual comments to his female subordinates, such as asking them to twirl and encouraging them to use their sex appeal to secure information from sources.”

Mr. Fager was aware of these accusations, according to the report, but took no action. Mr. Rosen, who has previously denied the allegations, declined to comment.

Investigators added that “in more recent years, the broadcast has promoted more women to producer and to other senior roles, and Mr. Fager demonstrated sensitivity and support for working women.”

Mr. Fager was a close friend to Charlie Rose, who was ousted from his roles at CBS’s morning show and as a “60 Minutes” correspondent after several women accused him of sexual misconduct. The draft report said investigators did not believe Mr. Fager — or any current CBS News executive — had been “aware of the severity of Mr. Rose’s inappropriate conduct.”

The draft report did say CBS was justified in firing Mr. Fager for sending a threatening text message to a CBS reporter who had asked him for comment after The New Yorker reported allegations of inappropriate behavior against him.

Two days after he sent the text, investigators wrote, they asked him about it and he denied sending any message. After Mr. Fager was presented with a printed version of the text, he “admitted sending it and acknowledged that it could be perceived as threatening.” They wrote that they believed his lying, too, was grounds for dismissal.

In his email, Mr. Fager said: “We built a broadcast made up of fine men and women who do quality work. It hasn’t always been perfect and, like anyone who has been in a leadership position, there are things that I would do differently, including the angry text I sent to a CBS reporter. My intent was only to demand fairness in the coverage of a news story, but I regret the manner in which I accomplished that.”

The investigators recommended that the next executive producer of “60 Minutes” report to the president of CBS News. Mr. Fager reported to Mr. Moonves.

“We note that the misconduct of individual ‘60 Minutes’ employees, including Mr. Fager and Mr. Rosen, should not have been tolerated, but we find that it was not as severe as the media accounts or as severe as the sexual misconduct that occurred during the Don Hewitt era at ‘60 Minutes,’” the investigators wrote.

The settlement involving Mr. Hewitt in the 1990s was reached after CBS investigated allegations that he had sexually assaulted a female employee. The alleged abuse had carried on over a period of years, the lawyers wrote in the report, and derailed the woman’s career.

CBS determined more than 20 years ago that her allegations were credible, and agreed to pay her a $450,000 settlement. Since then, CBS has renegotiated six amendments to her agreement, each time agreeing to pay additional money in exchange for her silence. The settlement has exceeded $5 million in total, plus annual payments of $75,000 for the rest of her life, according to the report.

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