CBS’ Scott Pelley publicly blasted his former bosses on Sunday—training most of his fire on ex-news division president David Rhodes, who he claimed fired him as anchor of the CBS Evening News for complaining internally about a “hostile work environment” for male and female news division staffers.
In surprising remarks on CNN that ended the relative Memorial Day Weekend calm for his current bosses, especially Rhodes’ successor Susan Zirinsky, Pelley told Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter:
•That Rhodes threatened his job over his “hostile work environment” complaints.
•And that further conversations with Rhodes’ boss at the time—presumably CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager—and Fager’s boss, CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves, resulted in no action other than his dismissal as anchor in May 2017.
Reached by The Daily Beast, Rhodes vehemently disputed Pelley’s claims.
“That simply never happened,” Rhodes said. “And if he had those conversations about this with anybody, it wasn’t with me.”
Pelley didn’t respond to an email sent to his CBS News account requesting further details, and Fager declined to comment. CBS News President Zirinsky said they were working on an official response to Pelley’s remarks, and more than 12 hours later, past midnight on Monday, CBS News issued this statement:
“Scott was expressing his own opinion. We disagree. CBS News has been working hard to advocate for an inclusive, safe and dignified workplace for everyone at CBS News and Scott has been a supporter of these efforts.”
Pelley said on CNN: “We’ve been through a dark period of the last several years of incompetent management and sort of a hostile work environment within the news division ... I lost my job at the Evening News because I wouldn’t stop complaining to management about the hostile work environment.”
Pelley continued: “Several years ago—four or five years ago—I went to the president of the news division [Rhodes] and explained to him that this hostile work environment couldn’t go on for women and men. He told me that if I kept agitating about that internally, then I’d lose my job.”
Pelley added: “I went to his boss [Fager] and he told me that he didn’t share my concerns, and, having exhausted the possibilities in the news division, I went to the chairman of the CBS Corporation [Moonves], who listened to me very concerned for an hour, and asked some penetrating questions about what was going on. I didn’t hear back from him, but in the next opportunity in my contract, I was let go from the Evening News.”
It was unclear precisely what Pelley meant by “hostile work environment,” and Stelter didn’t ask him to specify.
A longtime CBS News insider, however, told The Beast that Pelley was probably referring to his ongoing “war” with Rhodes, who was known within the news division for a tough, at times intimidating, management style that demonstrated little patience for the concerns of underlings.
Rhodes and Pelley simply didn’t like each other, this source said—a poor relationship that was aggravated by Pelley’s demands for more money at a time of budgetary belt-tightening, coupled with flat and declining ratings for the CBS Evening News.
In contrast to his criticisms of Rhodes and Moonves—whom he didn’t mention by name—Pelley showered praise on interim CBS Corp. chairman Joseph Ianniello, “a visionary leader,” and Zirinsky, the first woman to head CBS News, who he said “has CBS News DNA.”
Pelley, these days a full- time 60 Minutes correspondent who was on CNN to promote his new book Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter's Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times, also praised Bill Owens, the new executive producer of 60 Minutes and Pelley’s longtime personal producer.
“It’s all blue-sky from here on,” Pelley said. “I’m very excited. I know these people. I know we’re on the right track.”