CBS ousts L.A., Chicago station managers after misconduct probe

Cecilia Nysing

The Broadcast Center Building on the CBS Studios Center lot in Studio City. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

In a sweeping shake-up, CBS has ousted two senior managers responsible for its television stations in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Jay Howell, general manager of KCBS-TV Channel 2 and KCAL-TV Channel 9 in Los Angeles, and Derek Dalton, the head of the company’s Chicago station, WBBM-TV Channel 2, were ousted Thursday following a six-month investigation into alleged wrong-doing within CBS’ stations group.

The moves extend a dramatic management makeover at CBS News and network’s stations division in the wake of a Los Angeles Times investigation, which uncovered alleged misconduct, racism and misogyny at a handful of CBS-owned stations. .

In April, CBS tossed out the head of its flagship New York station, Peter Dunn, who also was the hands-on manager of the group of 28 CBS-owned TV stations for more than a decade. The company in April also ended the employment of one of Dunn’s top lieutenants, David Friend, who oversaw the chain’s news operations. Both men have denied wrongdoing.

CBS on Thursday did not disclose the reasons behind Howell’s and Dalton’s departures, but the moves were related to the external investigation that has been underway since The Times’ report in late January, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment.

“The investigation cited painful revelations about experiences that we cannot tolerate today or in the future,” CBS Chief Executive George Cheeks said in an email to staff members announcing the end of the leadership review and the management changes in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

Howell had served as general manager in Los Angeles for two years, stepping into the role after leading the company’s station in Pittsburgh.

The Southern California native, who has more than 20 years experience in the TV industry, replaced longtime KCBS boss, Steve Maudlin, who retired in 2019. Current and former KCBS workers told The Times that Howell clashed with others at the station.

KCBS and KCAL have been beset by management turnover for years. Current and former employees have long complained about the station’s alleged hostile workplace culture, which they said was rife with sexism, favoritism and ageism.

Outside investigators heard complaints about KCBS in early 2019 as part a review following the ouster of CBS’ former leader, Leslie Moonves.

The CBS stations in Los Angeles lag behind market leaders: Walt Disney Co.’s KABC-TV Channel 7, Univision’s KMEX-TV Channel 34 and NBCUniversal outlets, KCBS-TV Channel 4 and Spanish-language KVEA-TV Channel 52.

But despite its ratings woes, KCBS and KCAL have been a cash cow for the company, particularly during last year’s election, according to internal documents shared with The Times. Still, CBS engaged in deep cost-cutting a year ago, in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and cut several high-profile anchors, including Jeff Michael, Sandra Mitchell and Garth Kemp.

In late January, CBS hired attorney Keisha-Ann Gray of the Proskauer Rose law firm to conduct a widespread investigation into alleged workplace abuses within the station group. Gray and her associates spoke with dozens of current and former CBS employees, according to knowledgeable people.

CBS then set into motion the management overhaul, by combining CBS News and the TV stations group into one division led by former Hearst newspaper and cable executive Neeraj Khemlani and former ABC Owned Television Stations president Wendy McMahon as co-heads.

The company said it would launch a search to find new leaders for its Los Angeles and Chicago stations. Earlier this month, CBS installed journalist Johnny Green, to run WCBS-TV Channel 2 in New York.

In late January, CBS hired attorney Keisha-Ann Gray of the Proskauer Rose law firm to conduct a widespread investigation into alleged workplace abuses within the station group. Gray and her associates spoke with dozens of current and former CBS employees, according to knowledgeable people.

“This is just a start – our first steps,” Cheeks said in his note.

Howell had served as general manager in Los Angeles for two years, stepping into the role after leading the company’s station in Pittsburgh.

The Southern California native, who has more than 20 years experience in the TV industry, replaced longtime KCBS boss, Steve Maudlin, who retired in 2019.

KCBS and KCAL have been beset by management turnover for years. Current and former employees have long complained about favoritism, sexism and ageism at the station. Cost-cutting has also led to the departure of high-profile anchors, including Jeff Michael, Sandra Mitchell and Garth Kemp.

While KCBS received a bounty of political ad dollars last year, the station lags behind market leaders, Walt Disney Co.’s KABC-TV Channel 7, Univision’s KMEX-TV Channel 34 and NBCUniversal outlets, KCBS-TV Channel 4 and Spanish-language KVEA-TV Channel 52.

Dalton has served as Chicago’s general manager since 2018.

CBS has now changed its entire top management of the station group.

“While the investigation largely looked at events in the past, and the issues revealed were more pronounced in certain areas and at specific stations than others, there are clear themes that we need to address moving forward,” Cheeks wrote.

“Our diversity, equity and inclusion standards need to be a top priority for leadership in every corner of our Stations business; our workplace culture needs to measurably improve; and, your trust needs to be restored with your CBS leaders.”

This is just a start – our first steps. The development of an operational culture focused on success, and steeped in values of inclusion, fairness and respect, will be a continuing journey on which we will all be accountable – from leadership to our newest colleague.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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