CBS executives placed on leave after reports of “racist” and “sexist” comments

Two CBS local television executives were placed on administrative leave Monday, hours after the National Association of Black Journalists demanded they be fired over a Los Angeles Times investigation into allegations they “cultivated a hostile work environment.”

The Los Angeles Times story, published Sunday, includes images of a Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission complaint filed by a former employee who accuses one executive, CBS Television Stations President Peter Dunn, of making “racist, sexist, homophopic and discriminatory comments.” 

CBS said in a statement Monday night that Dunn and David Friend, Senior Vice President, News for the TV Stations, “have been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of a third-party investigation into issues that include those raised in (the) recent Los Angeles Times report.”

“CBS is committed to a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace where all voices are heard, claims are investigated and appropriate action is taken where necessary,” the company said.

Among the allegations reported in the Los Angeles story, two former employees in management positions at CBS’ Philadelphia station said Dunn used the word “jive” on multiple occasions to describe anchor and well-known Philadelphia journalist Ukee Washington.

In another allegation, one of the employees said that when Dunn refused to extend the contract of a Black female anchor, he “raised ‘bizarre objections,’ such as saying, ‘I hate her face.'”

That same employee claimed Dunn also questioned whether a job applicant for another anchor position was “too gay for Philadelphia.”

Friend is accused by the two former employees of inappropriate workplace behavior, including criticizing a new anchor’s accent, and screaming that she should shut the [expletive] up.”

In a statement posted to the National Association of Black Journalists’ website Monday, the organization, which represents more than 4,000 journalists nationwide, said it “has heard from numerous CBS employees across the country and has been made aware of multiple lawsuits and investigations.”

“It is clear that there is a massive problem among CBS owned-and-operated stations, and in order for the company’s culture to be transformed, it must begin with the firing of Dunn and Friend,” the organization said.

ViacomCBS told the Los Angeles Times in a statement that “in response to a CBS investigation in early 2019, senior management at the time addressed the situation with Mr. Dunn, and the company has not received any complaints about his conduct during the period since then.”

Friend told the paper that any comments he made about employees or candidates “were only based on performance or qualifications — not about anyone’s race or gender.”

“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,” Friend said in a statement, according to The Los Angeles Times. 

Senior ViacomCBS managers met Sunday evening with members of the National Association of Black Journalists to hear their concerns. The executives included CBS Entertainment Group CEO George Cheeks and Marva Smalls, the company’s global head of inclusion. According to the NABJ statement, they agreed on the need for an external investigation and “pledged to work with NABJ on a path forward.”

Brien Kennedy, the former general manager of CBS’ Philadelphia station who filed the Pennsylvania Human Relations complaint, also alleged that he was fired in retaliation for cooperating with an internal review of Dunn’s conduct. CBS disputed the retaliation claim and said that Kennedy “was fired for performance.”

In August 2018, CBS Corporation’s  board of directors hired two law firms to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against former CEO Les Moonves, as well as more general allegations about the corporate culture.

In a December 17, 2018, statement, the CBS board said Moonves was fired for “cause” and said that “the investigators learned of past incidents of improper and unprofessional conduct, and concluded that the Company’s historical policies, practices and structures have not reflected a high institutional priority on preventing harassment and retaliation.”

However, the statement also said that the law firms “concluded that harassment and retaliation are not pervasive at CBS.” 

The board of directors never publicly released the findings of the investigation.

Margaret Cronan, one of the employees who spoke to the Los Angeles Times about Dunn and Friend, wrote on her LinkedIn page  Sunday “that staying quiet wasn’t an option.”

“I have always believed that when we see racism, discrimination and other offensive behavior in the workplace, we MUST speak up. I only wish I had done so sooner,” Cronan wrote.

The Los Angeles Times reported in a separate story Sunday that the two law firms were also told of an unusual perk CBS received after it acquired WLNY, a small television station on Long Island, New York: A membership in an exclusive invitation-only country club with a $1 million initiation fee. The membership was put in Dunn’s name, according to the Times. The club is owned by WLNY’s founder, who sold the channel for $55 million.

In a statement, CBS said, “As part of the acquisition ten years ago, CBS was offered a membership to Long Island’s Sebonack Golf Club. The membership was disclosed in advance to senior management and legal counsel. While listed in one executive’s name due to club rules, this is a corporate membership used to host clients and business partners. Annual dues are paid by CBS and any personal expenses incurred by executives are paid from their own pocket.

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