CBS has set in motion “an external investigation” into allegations of racist and misogynist behavior by senior executives at its local-TV unit, a sign that the ViacomCBS company continues to grapple with these issues even though it has probed them in the recent past.
In a memo sent to staffers Friday, George Cheeks, CEO of CBS Entertainment Group, said the company had hired Keisha-Ann Gray, an attorney from the law firm Proskauer Rose, to examine recent allegations of misconduct levied by a report in the Los Angeles Times that raised issues about the conduct of Peter Dunn, president of CBS Television Stations, and David Friend, senior vice president of news for the stations. The two executives were placed on administrative leave Monday.
“Keisha-Ann is highly experienced in this work, and we believe she is well-suited to examine this matter thoroughly and thoughtfully,” Cheeks said in the memo, which asked staffers to come forward and discuss any misbehavior of which they had knowledge. “I assure you that your voice will be heard, and that we will act on the findings of the investigation both swiftly and appropriately. We also want all employees to know they can and should raise concerns in good faith and without fear, which is why we prohibit retaliation — in any form — against anyone who speaks up.
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 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 situation has also drawn the eye of the top executive at ViacomCBS. “To be clear: our company takes any allegation of misconduct very seriously, which is why we have moved quickly to engage an external investigator to conduct a review of this matter,’ said ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish, in a separate memo. “Importantly, we are encouraging employees to assist in the investigation by coming forward to share their concerns.”
The situation appears to be one Bakish and Cheeks have inherited from a period before the former Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. merged in late 2019. The company acknowledged to the Times that allegations had been 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.”
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 has been plagued by allegations about its internal workplace culture for some time. 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.
Proskauer Rose was previously employed by CBS to examine claims about workplace culture at CBS News. That probe was folded into the 2018 investigation tied to the allegations made against Moonves.
Gray, the attorney, is a partner in the law firm’s unit devoted to matters tied to labor and employment. “As important social change movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and LGBTQ Pride continue to shape society and businesses, Keisha-Ann is the go-to advisor when addressing issues related to discrimination, harassment and/or lack of diversity,” the law firm says on its web site.