It may finally be the starting of a brand new day at CBS.
The hosts of CBS This Morning praised incoming CBS News President Susan Zirinsky on their Monday broadcast, celebrating her as a cornerstone of the news operation, and a potential savior after what has stretched into years of sexual-harassment and -assault allegations against the network’s executives.
“I feel that we were sort of like a ship, not sinking, but taking on water,” co-host Gayle King said. “And I feel that she is somebody who can right the ship. She is a smart cookie, and she is a bad-ass in every sense of the word.”
Co-host Norah O’Donnell chimed in:
“She is known for her original reporting, her great producing skills, she is a great journalist, and in addition to that she also happens to have a kind heart and cares about the people that work here,” she added. “A new day is on the horizon.”
In March, Zirinsky will become the first woman to lead CBS’ news division. She is a 46-year veteran of the network, and reportedly served as the inspiration for Holly Hunter’s iconic hard-hitting newswoman in 1987’s Broadcast News. Zirinsky started at CBS in 1972, mere weeks after the Watergate scandal broke, and now serves as senior executive producer of 48 Hours. David Rhodes, the current CBS News president, is departing his position after eight years, but will stay on as a senior adviser.
The change at the top comes after an epic streak of bad headlines at CBS News.
In late 2017, This Morning co-host Charlie Rose was fired amid numerous reports of sexual harassment and misconduct. On the morning of a bombshell Washington Post report about the abuse, a visibly angry O’Donnell told viewers “This is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women,” she said. “Let me be very clear. There is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive and I’ve been doing a lot of listening... Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning.”
Then, in July of last year, CBS Chief Executive Les Moonves was accused of decades of sexual misconduct, including nonconsensual sex, by 12 women, several of whom say their careers suffered or they were fired after they refused his advances, according to a report by The New Yorker. Among the many allegations, the women alleged Moonves exposed himself and several accused him of forcing them to engage in oral sex.
Moonves was forced out of CBS in September after the allegations came to light.
That same month, Rhodes, now the outgoing CBS News president, fired longtime rival and 60 Minutes chief Jeff Fager. Rhodes’ action came amid published allegations of sexual-harassment complaints against Fager alleging he inappropriately touched and groped women, and fostered a sexist work environment.
After the executives’ departure, CBS went through a period of self-reckoning, with the network asking employees to fill out a voluntary 100-question survey on “cultures and values” in the company, which included questions asking employees if they’ve ever been sexually harassed or assaulted by a co-worker, or felt threatened by management. The survey appeared to be an attempt to find out whether sexual assault had become part of the company’s culture.
That appeared to bear fruit Monday, when King opened the broadcast with joy. “See my big smile?” she asked, as her co-hosts chuckled. “All 106 teeth smiling today.”