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CBS News President David Rhodes on Stormy Daniels Interview, Fake News and Charlie Rose

JERUSALEM — CBS News boss David Rhodes hasn’t seen Stormy Daniels’ “60 Minutes” interview with Anderson Cooper, but he promises that it’s coming soon. Its delay is due to good-old boots-on-the-ground journalism, he says, rather than a flurry of legal action from the 45th president of the United States.

“The only reason it hasn’t run is that there’s still a lot of journalistic work to do,” Rhodes told the crowd at INTV, Keshet International’s annual gathering of small-screen talent and management in Jerusalem. Rhodes kicked off day two of the conference, held at Jerusalem’s YMCA, in a conversation with Israeli anchor Yonit Levy that skipped from fake news to porn stars to his own network’s response to #MeToo.

Stephanie Clifford, aka adult film star Stormy Daniels, was paid $130,000 in hush money to not speak about an affair she had with President Donald Trump, but she is now suing the president and alleging that an NDA she signed when receiving the funds is null due to the lack of president’s signature.

The much-touted CBS segment is still without an air date, leading to swirling rumors that Trump’s lawyers are scrambling to keep a lid on it. But Rhodes swatted away the idea. “I haven’t seen such an injunction, and I can’t imagine what the basis for that would be… The encounter between Anderson Cooper and Stormy Daniels was accompanied also by conversations with attorneys, documents were provided, and so we have to run all that down before it runs.”

As for the potential impact of the interview when it does hit the airwaves, Rhodes won’t hedge his bets.

“It’s hard to know [what its impact will be] in advance, especially since so many controversies in the current political environment have not necessarily broken the way you would expect them to,” he told Levy. “In many cases they’ve just hardened everybody’s position,” he said, adding, “I encourage everyone to see it.”

Levy then shifted the conversation to CBS’s November firing of Charlie Rose in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.

The morning of the firing, Rhodes said, he asked Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell to respond openly and without a script, a choice he says was crucial.

“It was most important to me, as management, that they not feel managed in what they said,” he explained. “So we didn’t prepare statements for them… we asked them to address it in their own words however they felt they should.”

Rose was fired swiftly after allegations against him came to light, a move that Rhodes says was definitely the right one, but only a small step in what he believes will be a long process toward correction on the part of the entire news industry.

“We’re only partly through a process of addressing how we got to a place like that,” Rhodes said. “We’ve tried to make the statement that what might have once been acceptable should never have been acceptable… you’ve really got to communicate, over and over again, that you really do want to know [about allegations of harassment and assault] and you really are going to take it seriously.” 

Another issue facing the news industry where there remains a great deal of work to do? That of fake news, and its ubiquitousness on social media.

“There is not a strong enough effort to clean that up,” Rhodes said. “I’ve yet to meet somebody who left a job in journalism to become one of these supposed ‘content moderators’ — the platforms are not doing a good enough job sifting through true and false, and that’s a big, big problem.”

Fake news is a particularly menacing threat, Rhodes said, because so many people actually want to read and consume it.

“Some people want to be manipulated,” he told Levy. “A lot of what we report and a lot of what’s going on out there is scary and people would rather it’s not true. So if someone presents a compelling narrative for how it’s not, they’ll grab hold of that and they’ll like that. There’s a market for manipulation.”

Rhodes, who rolled out the 24/7 streaming hub CBSN, insists that the value of the evening news isn’t waning — it’s just adapting.

“There’s significant evidence that the reason why the audience still comes night after night, even knowing the basic contours of what happened during the day, is they want this period on the sentence of the sentence, which is an evening news broadcast,” he said. “But it has to be more relevant than ever.”

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