Law firms investigating CBS News detail abuses — but some employees question findings

An investigation into CBS News has reportedly focused extensively on abuses at “60 Minutes” and finds that a woman who was allegedly assaulted multiple times by legendary executive producer Don Hewitt has been paid in excess of $5 million over the years to keep quiet, according to a draft report on the investigation seen by the New York Times and published Thursday evening. 

The report, according to the Times, also expresses concern about women being promoted into important positions at CBS News and calls for a better process to protect employees who allege misconduct.

However, the Times said the report does not find that there was “a toxic work or ‘frat house’ environment for women” at the news division outside “60 Minutes.” 

But CBS News spoke to eight employees on Thursday evening, after the New York Times story published, who disagreed with that finding. 

One CBS News employee said the culture on one show was rampant with bullying, and sexually explicit conversations about fellow employees. 

Several women described holiday parties with inappropriate contact and managers sexually pursuing subordinates.

The investigation was commissioned by the CBS board of directors and conducted by two outside law firms,  Debevoise & Plimpton and Covington & Burling. CBS News has not seen a copy of the report. 

One CBS News employee said they contacted the law firms and was never called back. Several women said they disclosed complaints of sexual harassment and bullying to human resources, but were never contacted by the investigators. 

Most of the report focuses on “60 Minutes” and the institutional makeup that permitted inappropriate behavior. 

“The physical, administrative and cultural separation between ’60 Minutes’ and the rest of CBS News permitted misconduct by some ’60 Minutes’ employees,” the report says, according to the Times.  

Hewitt died in 2009 after leading “60 Minutes” for 36 years. His successor, Jeff Fager, was fired in September after threatening the career of a CBS News reporter who was reporting on allegations of misconduct against him.

According to the Times report, CBS continues to pay out a legal settlement to a woman who accused Hewitt of sexually assaulting her and then destroying her career. A settlement was reached in the 1990s, but revised several times, including as recently as this year. In all, CBS has paid the woman more than $5 million, the Times reported.

The law firms found Fager’s firing was justified, noting the threatening text message and instances of harassment and tolerating abusive behavior by others. Fager has denied the allegations against him. And Thursday has said he “regrets” the threatening text he sent to the CBS News reporter.  

“We built a broadcast made up of fine men and women who do quality work,” Fager said in a statement. “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.”

According to the Times, investigators find that “60 Minutes” and Fager have shown support for women professionally. “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,” finds the report, according to the Times. 

The report comes days after the Times reported that the CBS investigators found that former CEO Les Moonves “deliberately lied about and minimized the extent of his sexual misconduct,” partly to protect his $120 million severance package. Moonves was forced out as CEO and chairman of CBS in September, after several women came forward with accusations of harassment or abuse.

CBS has its annual shareholders meeting on Tuesday, December 11, and the Times said the law firms’ report will be presented to the board in advance of that.

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