Four days after CBS put two of its local television executives on administrative leave for alleged racist and sexist conduct, the ViacomCBS-owned company has instigated an external investigation into the potentially damning matter.
“We are committed to creating a company culture that is diverse, equitable and inclusive for all of members of our CBS and ViacomCBS community,” said Entertainment Group boss George Cheeks in an email to CBS Stations staff today (read the full correspondence below)
Proskauer Rose partner Keisha-Ann Gray has been “engaged” by CBS to conduct the investigation, Cheeks revealed. This all comes out of a LA Times piece published last week that detailed claims President of CBS Television Stations Peter Dunn and Senior Vice President, News David Friend “cultivated a hostile work environment that included bullying female managers and blocking efforts to hire and retain Black journalists.” Dunn was also said to have racist language in regards to CBS’ well respected Philadelphia news anchor Ukee Washington.
These newest claims come after years of CBS being accused over and over of condoning and covering up such behavior within its White Boy’s Club walls. In the #MeToo era, the spotlight has turned again and again to the likes of the apparently predatory conduct of former CEO Les Moonves to repeated indulged showrunners acting abysmally to women and people of color. There have also been reports of abusive behavior in such divisions as CBS News by top brass, as well as sexual harassment suits against former CBS Morning co-host Charlie Rose and secret payoffs and more up and down the hierarchy and across various divisions in the company.
On a number of those occasions when matters became public, outside lawyers like Proskauer Rose were brought onboard. In fact, the firm looked into claims at CBS News several years back and became involved in the probe of Moonves at a later date. Some of the claims about long time CBS execs Dunn and Friend reportedly came to light during the Moonves probe three years ago, but seemingly was never dealt with in any significant manner, a well positioned source say.
In such cases like the Moonves investigation and others, there were concerns that the lawyers were not always siloed off from their paymasters. Repercussions were commonly feared by employees who spoke up.
A state of affairs Cheeks, in his first such crisis like this, sought to allay today.
“I also understand that some employees many be hesitant to come forward and share their concerns, but I assure you that your voice will be heard and that we will act on the findings of the investigation both swiftly and appropriately,” a chastened Cheeks told staff on Friday in the latest corporate response to the allegations.
“To be clear: our company takes any allegation of misconduct very seriously, which is why we have moved quickly to engage an external investigator to conduct a review of this matter,” added ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish in an accompanying memo that was distributed widely in the corporation Friday. “Importantly, we are encouraging employees to assist in the investigation by coming forward to share their concerns,” Bakish noted.
“Please know that we prohibit any retaliation against an employee who does the right thing by speaking up,” Bakish also stated in what is a clear hope to get this most recent set of claims dealt with effectively. “Your participation is essential in our efforts to build a safe and inclusive workplace for everyone.”
Dunn and Friend were placed on leave on January 25. At that time CBS said that they would be instigating a third-party investigation.
“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 National Association of Black Journalists said earlier this week after meeting with CBS.
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