Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

Another CBS News official is in hot water over allegations of sexual impropriety. Jeff Fager, a top executive for ‘60 Minutes,” was fired by the network based on reports that he “groped women at parties” and “tolerated an abusive workplace.”

Strangely, though, CBS president David Rhodes told the media that Fager’s firing wasn’t “directly related” to those allegations. Instead, Rhodes claimed Fager had been fired for “violating company policy” by allegedly threatening a subordinate. Fager, according to CBS, sent a text message to a reporter working on a story about him to “be careful” with her reporting of the allegations against him. According to CBS, it was the threat implied in this communication — and not the allegations themselves — that got Fager fired.

While this may be just cause for his firing, most onlookers don’t believe Fager’s fate was sealed by the text. Instead, they’re pointing to what has now become a few CBS officials recently forced out over allegations of sexual misconduct at work. In each instance, CBS has acted to do its best to protect the brand and distance itself from the accused as well as the implication that the network is a hotbed of sexually abusive culture.

When popular anchor Charlie Rose was dropped from the network last November, the company insisted he had his own show that he owned and produced, and that the alleged bad behavior occurred under those auspices and not on CBS’ watch. When now-former CEO Leslie Moonves was initially accused of certain misconduct, CBS stuck with their top executive, saying more investigations needed to be conducted before any conclusions should be made.

Now, though, it’s going to be tougher for CBS to avoid the reputation as a network that looked the other way when sexual misconduct was being perpetrated by some of its biggest, most influential names. Sure, there are extenuating circumstances and important details, but what the public is seeing — over and over and over again — is a network with top stars and executives not only turning a blind eye toward harassment, but being blamed for perpetrating this inappropriate behavior.

That emerging narrative and solidifying perception could very well be why CBS moved quickly to fire Fager after waiting to address the allegations against Moonves. The narrative around their situation was shifting out of their control, and the only way to gain back any momentum was to act. Fager gave them that opportunity when he sent a message to CBS News reporter Jericka Duncan that definitely crossed the line:

“There are people who lost their jobs trying to harm me and if you pass on these damaging claims without your own reporting to back them up that will become a serious problem …”

That message allowed CBS to take decisive action while effectively buying back some of the moral high ground the company sacrificed responding to the Rose and Moonves situations.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of leading PR agency 5WPR.