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What you need to know for 12/15/2017

New '60 Minutes' book has troubled history

New '60 Minutes' book has troubled history

Concerns about sexual harassment have emerged over years
New '60 Minutes' book has troubled history
"60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley in the reception area of the show's offices in New York on Sept. 15, 1997.
Photographer: Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times

Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” took over the writing of a book on the CBS show’s 50-year history after objecting to the direction of the original author’s research, according to three people familiar with how the book came to be.

The assignment originally went to Richard Zoglin, a former editor at Time magazine and the author of a 2014 biography of Bob Hope. After having completed roughly a dozen interviews in 2015, however, Zoglin was summoned to meet with Fager, who told the writer that he was focusing too much on the negative.

Specifically, Fager expressed concern that Zoglin had asked his interview subjects about the treatment of women in the “60 Minutes” workplace, according to three people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal matters. Fager also asked Zoglin why he had brought up the rocky tenure of Katie Couric, a onetime correspondent for the show and former CBS News anchor who left the network on bad terms.

The men agreed that Zoglin should leave the project. In October, when “Fifty Years of ’60 Minutes'” was published under Fager’s name, the 400-page book included scant mention of the issues raised by Zoglin.

The winner of 145 Emmy Awards, “60 Minutes” remains vital to CBS, regularly attracting a weekly audience of more than 12 million viewers and generating more than $100 million in annual advertising revenue. The network marked the show’s 50th anniversary with an hourlong retrospective clip-fest Sunday night, celebrating the correspondents (Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley) and the big interviews (the Clintons, Ayatollah Khomeini, Bob Dylan) that have helped make it the longest-running newsmagazine program.

But concerns about sexual harassment at “60 Minutes” have emerged over the years, dating back to the era before Fager succeeded the show’s mercurial creator, Don Hewitt, as executive producer in 2004.

In 1991 — seven years after the show hired its first female correspondent, Diane Sawyer — “60 Minutes” dropped Meredith Vieira from its roster of on-air reporters after she became pregnant with her second child. “I need someone who can pull his or her own weight,” Hewitt said in an interview with The New York Times at the time, adding that Vieira’s performance had been subpar. “She never made anybody sit up and take notice.”

Vieira’s exit is not ignored in the anniversary book, but it is treated gently. “In retrospect,” Fager writes, “I think Don made a mistake not allowing Meredith Vieira more flexibility. But he was also a creature of his generation. Don had many strong women around him, especially in the producer ranks.”

The treatment of female co-workers by Wallace, the show’s signature correspondent, was also often insensitive. “What would now be called sexual harassment was par for the course back in the ‘50s and early ‘60s,” Wallace said in a 1996 Playboy interview. “And I would indulge in it.” In the same interview, he admitted that he had once had a habit of “snapping a bra” in the “60 Minutes” office.

A 1991 Rolling Stone article also described instances of inappropriate workplace behavior, including by Hewitt. The former executive producer denied that he had made unwelcome sexual advances on those who worked at the show but admitted he had made a pass at journalist Sally Quinn in the 1970s while they were covering a British royal wedding for CBS.

“You’re damn right I did!” Hewitt told the author of the Rolling Stone piece, Mark Hertsgaard.

In an interview last month, Hertsgaard recalled an incident that took place in a “60 Minutes” hallway during the time he spent reporting the Rolling Stone article. As he was speaking with a female producer, the reporter saw Wallace approaching with a rolled-up magazine in hand.

“As he passes by,” Hertsgaard said, “she puts her hands behind her, like a little kid would to ward off a spanking. And, sure enough, as Mike’s walking by, he swats her on the butt with this rolled-up magazine. I said to her, ‘Does that happen often?’ She said, ‘You wouldn’t believe.'”

The anniversary book does not address the issue of a possibly toxic workplace environment and it skips any mention of inappropriate behavior by Wallace, who died in 2012, or Hewitt, who died in 2009. Instead, Fager describes Wallace as “tough, edgy, fun, bighearted, occasionally mean, full of life, and difficult to work with,” adding: “Mike was a troublemaker, and he loved that role, on and off air.”

The publisher of “Fifty Years of ’60 Minutes'” is Simon & Schuster, a subsidiary of the CBS Corp. The original author, Zoglin, is now at work on another book — on Elvis Presley’s Las Vegas years — for the same publisher, which had previously put out his Bob Hope biography. He declined to comment for this article.

In a statement, Simon & Schuster said, “After working on the project for a short while, Richard decided he didn’t like being a writer for hire. At the same time, Jeff Fager, who had been with ’60 Minutes’ for decades and lived through some of its most dramatic moments, was asked to be the author for the project.”

CBS News has fallen under scrutiny since the firing of Charlie Rose, one of the network’s morning anchors and a “60 Minutes” correspondent from 2008 until his forced departure last month. Before joining the Sunday night show, Rose was a star of “60 Minutes II,” which had Fager as its executive producer during its six-year run. CBS cut ties with Rose in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct lodged by women who worked at his PBS talk show, and subsequent complaints later surfaced concerning his behavior at CBS.

Last month, to promote the “60 Minutes” book, Fager appeared on Rose’s PBS show in a segment taped days before the host was fired. “I’m so pleased to have as good a friend as a man can have back at this table,” Rose said in welcoming Fager.

Fager told Rose that, with “Fifty Years of ’60 Minutes,'” he had sought to create a guide for people coming up in the news business. “I really hoped that this could be a book for journalism students,” he said. “All of the different things that we do, all of the practices and values that we adhere to for all these years, I tried to get that in there.”

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