TV station executives are leaving after the LA Times investigation

CBS has ousted the heads of two powerful TV stations in the wake of racist and abusive behavior that shook the two-story media giant.

Peter Dunn, who has been president of the TV Stations group since 2009, and David Friend, the vice president of news for more than a decade, are no longer part of CBS, the company’s CEO George Cheeks announced on Wednesday.

The move comes two months after a Los Angeles Times investigation claimed the couple is cultivating an environment that involves intimidating female managers and blocking efforts to recruit and retain black journalists. The Times series shed a hard light on an often-overlooked corner of the company that lacks the prestige of the CBS television network but remains a vital local news source for millions of Americans.

New York-based Dunn maintained close ties with 28 CBS-owned TV stations, including KCBS-TV 2 and 9 KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, based on interviews and court testimony. In 2010, Dunn led Friend veteran, a news agency who oversees WCBS-TV Channel 2 news operations in New York, to head CBS’s national news services.

Dozens of current and former employees in Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia and New York complained about a hostile work environment. New York journalists argued that managers often made news decisions that neglected colorful communities. The WCBS flagship station in New York – one of the country’s most diverse cities – was missing a full-time black male reporter until March 2020, the same month that Biracial Cheeks took over the reins at CBS.

“Removing these two people is a good start,” black-reputed journalist Roland Martin said in an interview. “But a lot more work needs to be done across CBS. There are some systemic and cultural issues that I would like to hear a deeper and broader plan to address. “

Allegations were made that Dunn made racist remarks about Ukee Washington, one of the beloved black anchors of the CBS-owned Philadelphia TV station. Former CBS station managers claimed that Dunn called Washington “just a jive guy” and that Dunn laughed at the dance moves of the popular anchor, who is a distant cousin of actor Denzel Washington.

Peter Dunn at the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame Awards in New York in 2017.

Peter Dunn will attend the 27th Anniversary Gala of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame Awards in New York in October 2017.

(Andy Kropa / Invision / AP)

Following The Times series, Washington colleagues spoke in support of him, and Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution recognizing Washington for his “professionalism” and “outstanding work and service to the community”.

The series also raised questions about the $ 55 million acquisition of a TV station on Long Island in New York – the only station acquisition during Dunn’s 11-year tenure overseeing the CBS station group. The 2011 agreement brought the privileges of Dunn and other high-level CBS executives to an ultra-exclusive golf club at Hampton where they played hobbies with billionaires, including Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

In January, CBS called the acquisition of a station in Long Island a “strategic acquisition” that created value by giving the broadcaster two stations in New York, the country’s largest media market, and by announcing Dunn’s membership in advance to senior management and legal counsel.

Amid pressure from the National Assn. of the black journalists, CBS suspended the two leaders a day after the publication of the Times report in January.

The company quickly hired an experienced attorney, Keisha-Ann Gray, from Proskauer Rose’s law firm to investigate allegations about Dunn and Friend, as well as other senior executives in the station group, which employed about 2,800 people.

Cheeks in an email stressed that Gray’s investigation is ongoing.

Dunn and Friend had previously denied misconduct.

On Wednesday, Dunn’s attorney, Larry Hutcher, said his client had fallen victim to a “culture erasure” and that Dunn expects to remain on CBS’s payroll until the investigation is completed.

“Peter Dunn didn’t find any violations,” Hutcher said in an interview. “We are confident that he will be fully released upon completion of the investigation. But the situation has gone so far as to make him a scapegoat. In this heightened age, when we don’t want to offend anyone, lives and fame are sacrificed. “

Hutcher said Dunn had not yet been questioned by investigators.

His friend’s lawyer, David Pohl, did not comment immediately.

In a statement in February, Pohl said the allegations against Friend were “completely unfounded and clearly opportunistic given the timing and absurdity of the claims. To be clear, the news industry is incredibly demanding, and Mr. Friend does not apologize for his passionate and relentless pursuit of excellence. He has always placed his decisions on the best foundations for the success of the News Department and his staff, and any claim that his decisions were made on the basis of race, sex, or gender is completely false and uninformed. “

So far, dozens of current and former executives have met with Gray and his colleague at Proskauer Rose as part of the investigation, and further interviews are scheduled throughout April. Several told The Times that they had complained about the allegedly abusive working conditions of a group of TV stations beyond Philadelphia and New York.

“We appreciate those who have already provided information to investigators,” Cheeks wrote. “This whole process, while sometimes painful and emotional, is an important step forward in delivering on our promise of a safe, inclusive, respectful and fair workplace for all of us.”

In a letter to staff, Cheeks wrote, “We have found that CBS station president Peter Dunn and managing director of News David Friend are not returning to their positions and are leaving the company. Until we introduce new leadership, Bryon Rubin will continue to lead the group of stations, while Kim Godwin will oversee the news operations of the stations. I will be sure to update you with information on the ongoing leadership of the group as soon as it is ready. “

Cheeks has been running CBS for just over a year.

The Times series documented that in 2018, several people complained about the management of the TV channel group, and that CBS internal investigators examined Dunn and Friend’s 2019 behavior. Among the allegations, Dunn allegedly asked that an anchor role was “too hot for Philadelphia.”

Former Philadelphia news director Margaret Cronan said Friend humiliated her at a meeting of senior officials and asked [expletive] idiot. “He says his efforts to hire black male journalists have been thwarted. Cronan left CBS, saying he didn’t want to be part of a culture he considered racist and sexist.

“I prayed that CBS executives would make that decision and I am relieved that it was made,” Cronan said Wednesday. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but outside of these two individuals, promises await us. There’s hope – and that’s what those who worked in that division of CBS haven’t felt in a long time. “