Veteran producer Susan Zirinsky will become president of CBS News in March, the first woman ever to hold the position. Coming as it does after a string of her powerful male colleagues have been ousted by credible harassment complaints—including reports of unwanted sexual advances, top-down bullying, and a pervasive boys' club vibe—Zirinsky's promotion feels timely, dare I say overdue?
Zirinsky's career at CBS began with a 1972 internship, and has seen her pilot breaking news, specials, documentaries, and (currently) 48 Hours, the L.A. Times reports. After CBS removed 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager in mid-September, amid allegations that he fostered a "frat house" culture, Zirinsky was reportedly slated to take over his role. According to the Times, however, acting CBS CEO Joseph Ianniello wanted to give her a bigger job. She will replace existing CBS News President David Rhodes when his contract runs out in March.
Speaking to the Times, Zirinsky said that "being a producer is my oxygen and the core of who I am," and that her professional experience would "differentiate" CBS content from its competitors' content. But also, putting Zirinsky at the newsroom's helm could help mitigate the legacy of male entitlement her predecessors established.
Fager, for example, has been accused of groping the women who worked for him and creating an environment wherein it was acceptable, even encouraged, for men to do the same. On top of which, he allegedly helped shield anchor Charlie Rose from the consequences of many years' worth of sexual harassment reports.
Fager is also said to have berated a CBS reporter charged with looking into sexual misconduct allegations against former CEO Les Moonves, who stepped down days prior to Fager's removal. Moonves's resignation came in the wake of a New Yorker report detailing decades of sexual coercion and abuse he (allegedly) committed in the workplace, the second such report to accuse Moonves of misconduct. While CBS did say at the time that it had hired outside firms to investigate the complaints, the company was conspicuously slow to act. Indeed, it wasn't until the New Yorker's second story that CBS revoked Moonves's over-$100 million exit package and he resigned.
Zirinsky told the Times that one of her priorities would be reforming the network's toxic work culture, about which details continue to emerge, months after Fager and Moonves left the company. In December, for example, the NY Times reported that actor Eliza Dushku saw herself written off the CBS drama Bull after confronting the show's star, Michael Weatherly, about inappropriate comments—including unsolicited appraisals of her appearance, a remark about a threesome, and a rape joke—he'd made to her during filming. CBS settled with Dushku for $9.5 million, the projected sum she would've made if she'd stayed on the show as scheduled.
"The #MeToo movement isn't behind us, it's alongside us in our thinking," Zirinsky told the L.A. Times. "There will be a new and more powerful human resources person in the news division that is working on culture change. It's really important to me to have an environment where there is transparency, where you can talk, where there are reactions based on actions."