Viewers of “CBS This Morning” often tune in to see the show’s signature “eye opener,” a first-moment montage that recaps the newsy events that took place overnight. They got one of a different sort Tuesday morning: Co-anchors Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell told their audience in stark terms how much they were shaken by allegations of sexual harassment leveled at the third member of their team, Charlie Rose.
Their comments made it seem difficult at best for CBS to bring Rose back to his seat after a lurid report published Monday by The Washington Post detailed allegations by eight women saying that Rose harassed them with in certain cases with lewd comments, unwanted advances and appearing before them in states of undress.
CBS News said it has suspended Rose from his duties. PBS and Bloomberg, which have long distributed the anchor’s “Charlie Rose” program, have also suspended their association with him.
“None of us ever thought we’d be sitting at this table in particular telling this story, but here we are,” said King, making a reference to the round-topped glass table that has become the center of the CBS morning program, which features Rose, King and O’Donnell not only reporting the news but talking over the ramifications of the stories they deliver. “This is not the man I know, but I’m clearly on the side of the women who have been very hurt and very damaged by this,” she added.
During remarks delivered just after the show opened with a report on the allegations against Rose, O’Donnell said, “Let me be clear: There is no excuse for this alleged behavior.” She added: “This I know is true: Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or society until there is reckoning.” She also said: “This will be investigated. This has to end. This behavior is wrong, period.”
Their remarks add a sense of turmoil to one of the biggest successes in morning TV in recent years. More people watch ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today” than they do CBS’ offering, but the program is the first CBS A.M. offering to gain ratings traction in nearly three decades. Indeed, “CBS This Morning” is more or less the first competitive morning program CBS has mounted since “Captain Kangaroo” went off the air in 1982.
Rose has been integral to the effort. While “CBS This Morning” has its fair share of celebrity interviews, the show places more of a focus on harder news. There are more stories about business and foreign affairs than on its two rivals, and the program eschews cooking segments and other morning-time frivolities. Rose, 75 years old, adds gravitas to the program, thanks to his many years of nabbing longform interviews with heads of state and business on “Charlie Rose,” the program he has done for PBS nationally since 1994.
“It is essential that these women know I hear them and that I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I am greatly embarrassed. I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate,” Rose said in a statement. “I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.”
Earlier this year, CBS executives said they hoped the morning program would pose even more of a challenge to “GMA” and “Today.” “I want to be north of 4 million viewers on more days than not,” said Ryan Kadro, the program’s executive producer, in an interview with Variety in January. For the week of November 6, “CBS This Morning” lured about 3.82 million viewers, compared with nearly 4.35 million for “Today” and more than 4.51 million for “Good Morning America.”
But King and O’Donnell are equal partners in the venture. King, a longtime broadcaster who enjoys a friendship with Oprah Winfrey and helps oversee the namesake magazine she publishes with Hearst, has a flair for feature reporting, and can get even serious newsmakers to share lighter moments. In 2016, for example, she interviewed then-President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, live during CBS’ broadcast of the Super Bowl pre-game show. Her mission was to get the pair to talk about life at the White House as they headed into their last months in his tenure as President.
O’Donnell has in recent weeks generated a number of big scoops — and has the worn shoe leather to prove it. She has traveled to Texas and Massachusetts to cover the aftermath of the recent hurricane as well as interview Patriots football star Tom Brady. CBS News executives have been eager to get O’Donnell out into the field more often in an effort to distinguish the morning newscast.
The remarks delivered on Tuesday’s broadcast made it seem as though CBS would have to mull for some time whether Rose could return to its air. “Tis is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women,” said O’Donnell. “I really am still reeling. I got an hour and 42 minutes of sleep last night, both my son and my daughter called me. Oprah called me and said, are you okay?” said King. “I am not okay. After reading that article in the Post, it was deeply disturbing, troubling and painful for me to read.”
King said she intended to speak with Rose later in the day. “We are all deeply affected,” she said. “We have all rocked by this.”