CBS announced on Monday that it had suspended two senior executives after they allegedly created a hostile work environment, used racist and sexist language within the media company.
Peter Dunn, the 61-year-old president of CBS Television, and David Friend, senior vice president, news, were both ‘placed on administrative leave’, the network said.
CBS said the pair were suspended ‘pending the results of a third-party investigation into issues that include those raised in a recent Los Angeles Times report.’
On Sunday the LA Times catalogued a litany of complaints about Dunn and his close associate Friend.
Peter Dunn (left) and David Friend were placed on leave Monday following the LA Times report
Dunn, the paper reported, ‘maintains a tight grip on the stations and has final say over which local anchors and reporters appear on CBS.’
He has since 2009 run the chain of 28 CBS-owned TV stations, with a staff of 2,800 people and an estimated $1.6 billion a year in revenue.
Despite a shakeup at other branches of CBS in the light of the 2018 accusations of sexual harassment and abuse against Les Moonves, chair and CEO from 2003, Dunn’s division remained a hotbed of complaint, the paper said.
They reported that 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 television station in Philadelphia was seen as particularly problematic, despite the best efforts of Brien Kennedy, who since April 2015 attempted to improve the environment.
Kennedy was fired by Dunn in July 2019.
In Philadelphia, Dunn repeatedly used the word ‘jive’ to describe the work of anchor Ukee Washington, and used phrases that described the journalist as ‘dancing’ on air.
Ukee Washington was repeatedly mocked by Dunn for his ‘jive’ and his ‘dancing’
Washington was singled out for criticism from Dunn, which Kennedy felt was unfair.
Dunn asked the head of the newsroom, Margaret Cronan, whether one of the anchors under consideration was ‘too gay for Philadelphia.’
Cronan said she was startled but responded: ‘Philadelphia can handle it.’
The team trialed in 2015 Brooke Thomas, a TV news anchor from Oklahoma who was then working in Dallas.
The new morning show launched in April 2016, but Dunn and Friend were unimpressed – despite rave reviews from the rest of the newsroom.
Dunn rang Cronan immediately after the show to complain about Thomas.
‘It was just immediate screaming on the phone, not constructive criticism – just venom and profanity,’ Cronan said.
‘He screamed: ‘Tell her to shut the [expletive] up,’ in reference to Thomas. ‘I was flabbergasted.
‘I’ve never witnessed that type of behavior in the workplace.’
Brooke Thomas was singled out by Dunn and Friend for criticism many felt was unwarranted
Friend followed up with an email, also reviewed by The Times: ‘Can you please tell her to stop shouting, stop talking in a fake Southern accent and stop sucking the air out of the show,’ Friend wrote.
In October 2016, Dunn and Friend ousted Thomas.
Cronan left the company the following summer.
‘Corporate HR was well aware of the behavior and did nothing to stop it,’ Cronan, now 56, said
‘I no longer could tolerate a culture in which I was expected to defend corporate decisions that I found offensive.’
Dunn refused to comment on the allegations in the LA Times.
Friend said: ‘I believe that I — and our stations — have a strong track record of hiring, supporting and placing women and BIPOC journalists in important roles as anchors, reporters and news directors.
‘These comments I may have made about our employees or prospective hires were only based on performance or qualifications — not about anyone’s race or gender.’
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.’
‘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.’