Susan Zirinsky, CBS Veteran, Is First Woman to Lead Network’s News Division

“This may be a new role, but the mission is the same: deliver quality, in-depth journalism and engaging storytelling. CBS News has an incredible legacy to build on,” Susan Zirinsky said on Sunday.

Susan Zirinsky, the longtime producer of “48 Hours” on CBS, will succeed David Rhodes as the president of the network’s news division in March, the company said Sunday night.

The surprising announcement was the latest major personnel change for CBS, which also forced out Leslie Moonves, the company’s longtime chief executive, in September after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.

The news division, which has struggled in the ratings, has weathered significant upheaval in the last year. Charlie Rose, the anchor of the morning show, was fired in November 2017 after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. Jeff Fager, the longtime executive producer of “60 Minutes,” was fired by Mr. Rhodes in September after he threatened a reporter and colleague looking into allegations of sexual harassment against him. And Ryan Kadro, the executive producer of “CBS This Morning,” announced last month that he was departing.

Mr. Rhodes’ contract was set to expire early this year but his departure was not expected within the ranks of the news division. In fact, over the last few months, he has been weighing who should replace Mr. Fager at “60 Minutes.” Ms. Zirinsky was the leading candidate for the position. Now, as the first woman to lead CBS News, she will decide who will take over the program.

In a Sunday night email to the staff, the acting CBS chief executive, Joe Ianniello, said that Mr. Rhodes “decided the time is right to move on to new opportunities.”

Of Ms. Zirinsky, he wrote, “I can think of no one more equipped than ‘Z’ for the job, and we are delighted she has welcomed these new responsibilities.”

Ms. Zirinsky, 66, has been with CBS News for more than 40 years and has touched almost every part of the division, from its morning show to its evening newscast and its coverage of the White House before joining “48 Hours” in 1996. She was the inspiration for Holly Hunter’s character in the 1987 movie “Broadcast News.”

She now is one of a very small number of women who have been elevated to the position of network news division head.

“I have been honored to work closely throughout my career with great CBS News journalists,” Ms. Zirinsky said in a statement. “This may be a new role, but the mission is the same: deliver quality, in-depth journalism and engaging storytelling. CBS News has an incredible legacy to build on.”

Suggesting that ratings could be improved, Ms. Zirinsky added, “The public’s interest today for news and information is intense, and CBS News is uniquely positioned to expand its reach.”

Mr. Rhodes, 45, became president of CBS News in 2011. He oversaw several key changes at the network, including at its evening news program and Sunday public affairs programs, as well as a revamp of its morning show. He also introduced the network’s 24-hour digital news channel, CBSN.

But CBS News was the subject of an investigation into the larger cultural issues at the company undertaken after the misconduct allegations against Mr. Moonves became public. (Mr. Moonves has denied all the allegations and said any sexual acts he engaged in were consensual.) The investigation, which was conducted by two outside law firms, concluded that though there were several issues that could be improved — including at “60 Minutes” and in the promotion of women into key positions — the news division did not have “a toxic work or ‘frat house’ environment for women,” according to a draft report of the inquiry reviewed by The New York Times.

But since Mr. Rose’s firing from the network’s weekday morning show — and the appointment of John Dickerson to replace him — ratings for “CBS This Morning” have plummeted. Additionally, a change at the helm of “CBS Evening News” — from Scott Pelley, with whom Mr. Rhodes had a strained relationship, to Jeff Glor — has been rocky.

“The new year is a time for renewal, for new goals,” Mr. Rhodes said in an email to the staff on Sunday night. “The world we cover is changing, how we cover it is changing — and it’s the right time for me to make a change too.”

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