Top Priority for Woman Appointed CBS News Chief: Repair Morale

John Paul Filo/CBS
Susan Zirinsky

“We want to make sure the right people are in the right places,” says Susan Zirinsky, who has worked for the network since 1972.

Susan Zirinsky, the incoming president of CBS News, earned a huge round of applause at the 10 a.m. editorial meeting on Monday at CBS News headquarters on West 57th St. She stressed the “gold standard” of CBS News, a division built by Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. And she read from the script that Cronkite delivered on the night that President Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974.

Zirinsky salvaged it from the garbage in the CBS News Washington bureau, where she spent nearly 20 years, beginning in 1972 as a part-time desk assistant mere weeks after the Watergate break-in. “It’s one of my prized possessions,” she told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday during a phone interview.

Zirinsky’s appointment is significant on multiple levels. Media reports in the hours after her appointment, announced Sunday night by acting CBS Corp. CEO Joe Ianniello, noted Zirinsky’s gender. She is the first woman to lead the division, and her ascension comes as CBS News has endured unprecedented roiling amid the #MeToo reckoning, which first hit the division more than a year ago with a flurry of serious misconduct allegations against CBS This Morning anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent Charlie Rose and culminated in September with the ouster of Leslie Moonves, the company’s longtime powerful CEO who directed virtually every decision at the company, including the firing of Rose.

“I realize that there is a significance to it at CBS,” she said, “But my male colleagues are in absolutely in the same lane that I am. The tectonic plates have shifted, they’re not locked yet. #MeToo is not behind us.”

Continued Zirinsky: “I have been on the road since I’m 20 years old. It never mattered at all except that I looked like I was 10 years old and people would be looking for some tall, sophisticated White House producer and the cameraman would say, ‘See that girl in braids and clogs? That’s my boss.'”

Zirinsky is among only a handful of women to lead a TV news division. (Suzanne Scott was named Fox News CEO last May.) She will replace David Rhodes beginning March 1, with Rhodes set to stay on through the transition period and then move to a consultancy role at the network.



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