Susan Zirinsky named president of CBS News, succeeding David Rhodes

Susan Zirinsky, a 46-year veteran of CBS News and the top producer of the "48 Hours" newsmagazine, is about ...

Posted: Jan 7, 2019 2:15 PM
Updated: Jan 7, 2019 2:15 PM

Susan Zirinsky, a 46-year veteran of CBS News and the top producer of the "48 Hours" newsmagazine, is about to become the first woman to run the network's news division.

CBS News president David Rhodes is stepping down in March. Zirinsky will succeed him.

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Staffers were thrilled about Zirinsky's promotion. "When I heard the news last night, I was doing the happy dance," Gayle King said on "CBS This Morning" Monday morning.

King likened CBS News to a ship, "not sinking -- but taking on water -- and I feel that she is somebody who can right the ship. Because she gets us. She knows us. And by us I mean this organization."

King's co-host Norah O'Donnell agreed, calling Zirinsky a great journalist and producer. "A new day is on the horizon," O'Donnell said.

Joe Ianniello, the interim CEO of CBS, announced the news on Sunday night after CNN Business began to inquire about the imminent change.

Ianniello said Rhodes "has decided the time is right to move on to new opportunities."

Rhodes' contract was set to expire in February, and there had been widespread speculation within the news division about his future, as CBS is cleaning house after the scandals that have plagued the news division, the network and its parent company recently.

Ratings woes have also been a major topic of conversation within CBS, although those difficulties are nothing new for the network's newscasts.

Rhodes will remain in the CBS fold as an adviser, the network said.

"I'm grateful to David for his 8 years with the Company, during which time he led CBS News with integrity and editorial rigor and launched CBSN," Ianniello wrote in an internal memo, referencing the company's digital news streaming network.

Ianniello described Zirinsky as a "widely respected and trusted colleague."

Indeed, Zirinsky, known as "Z" within the news division, is a popular figure, having worked in various roles there since 1972. She worked her way up at CBS and covered everything from Watergate to the Tiananmen Square uprising to royal weddings.

"You may think of her as Holly Hunter from 'Broadcast News,' but she is so much more," Ianniello wrote, in a nod to the fact that Zirinsky inspired the "Broadcast News" character portrayed by Hunter. She was also a consultant on the film.

"I have been honored to work closely throughout my career with great CBS News journalists," 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. The public's interest today for news and information is intense, and CBS News is uniquely positioned to expand its reach."

Zirinsky will also have the title of senior executive producer — a sign that she will be closely involved in show production.

"Being a producer is my oxygen and the core of who I am," Zirinksy told the Los Angeles Times in an interview about her promotion. "I've got to manage money and contracts, but management people will be there for me. My whole approach is as a producer and that's what will differentiate us."

CBS did not immediately name a replacement for her at "48 Hours."

The network has been upended by sexual misconduct scandals since late 2017, when "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose was fired one day after the Washington Post published sexual harassment allegations.

Rhodes found himself in an unenviable position, reporting to CBS CEO Les Moonves, who was the subject of rumors about his own behavior.

The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow published the first of two stories about allegations against Moonves in July 2018.

Moonves admitted to some "regrets," but denied any instances of nonconsensual sex. The CBS board commenced an investigation and pushed Moonves out in September. Ianniello has been running the company on an interim basis ever since.

Within days of Moonves' departure, Rhodes fired "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager, a close ally of Moonves. Fager was accused of sending a menacing text message to a CBS reporter who was covering his uncertain future.

"60 Minutes" still doesn't have a replacement executive producer.

Other CBS News programs are also in flux. The morning show is without a top producer. Zirinsky will have to immediately turn her attention to those programs.

Rhodes, a former Fox News and Bloomberg executive, has been the president of CBS News since 2011. He emphasized a hard news direction for the division despite commercial pressures.

In a memo to staffers Sunday night, he did not signal what's next for him. But he wrote of his pride in the news division, saying "we've proven our Real News commitment throughout. Our global news report is strong. And so are our people. I couldn't be prouder of our work together during these extraordinary times."

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