Courtesy of Michael Buckner for Variety
Two of CBS’s two top local-TV executives were placed on administrative leave Monday night after the Los Angeles Times raised issues about their conduct over the weekend in a two-part report that examined their treatment of women and people of color at specific TV stations, among other allegations.
Peter Dunn, president of the CBS Television Stations, and David Friend, senior vice president of news for the stations, were placed on the leave “pending the results of a third-party investigation,” CBS said in a statement. “CBS is committed to a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace where all voices are heard, claims are investigated and appropriate action is taken where necessary.”
The Times report, based on interviews with female employees at CBS local stations, alleged that Dunn and Friend “cultivated a hostile work environment that included bullying female managers and blocking efforts to hire and retain Black journalists.” The National Association of Black Journalists on Monday said some of its officers had met with CBS executives on Sunday evening including CBS CEO George Cheeks and Marva Smalls, the company’s executive vice president and global head of inclusion, to discuss what the organization called “a massive problem among CBS owned-and-operated stations.”
The Times report raised allegations that Dunn used the word “jive” to describe the work of Philadelphia anchor Ukee Washington, and used phrases that described the journalist as ‘dancing” on air, and claimed Friend used inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
NABJ has called for both executives to be terminated.
The issues raised are sensitive ones for CBS, which, prior to its late-2019 merger with Viacom, grappled with issues of how its employees were treated. The former chairman of CBS, Leslie Moonves, was ousted from the company in 2018 after being accused of sexual misconduct. He denied the allegations. Claims of inappropriate behavior and treatment were also raised at CBS News, which ousted former “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Charlie Rose in the fall of 2017 after allegations of sexual harassment were raised. Rose denied the claims.
The former CBS Corp. in August of 2018 hired two law firms to investigate the claims made against Moonves as well as other allegations about the company’s culture. The CBS board of directors said in a statement that the firms’ investigation “concluded that harassment and retaliation are not pervasive at CBS.”
Dunn is a veteran TV executive who has been with CBS since 2002. He initially oversaw Philadelphia CBS outlets KYW and WPSG before moving to supervise the company’s flagship New York outlet, WCBS and president of sales for the local stations. Friend joined CBS in 2006. Both executives served in senior capacities at NBCUniversal in prior roles, with supervising business-news programming at CNBC.
CBS parent ViacomCBS told the Times that senior managers had addressed allegations with Dunn in early 2019 and that “the company has not received any complaints about his conduct during the period since then.” Friend told the Times in a statement that comments he made about staffers “were only based on performance or qualifications — not about anyone’s race or gender.”
“We aren’t satisfied with lip service. We don’t want promises that things will change,” said Roland S. Martin, NABJ’s vice president of digital, in a statement. “We are heartened by our discussion with George and Marva that there will be real, substantial and substantive changes at CBS to ensure that it is a welcoming place for Black and other journalists of color to work, rise and succeed.”
Variety's Brian Steinberg contributed to this post.