Friday, September 14, 2018

The Great Divide: CBS News and ‘60 Minutes’

For decades, the headquarters of CBS News and the offices of “60 Minutes” have stood on opposite sides of a windswept block of Manhattan’s West 57th Street.

According to The NYTimes, it was a symbolic divide as much as a physical one. And these days the gap between the two might as well be miles wide.

The ouster on Wednesday of Jeff Fager, the 63-year-old “60 Minutes” executive producer, after he threatened the career of a CBS reporter who was looking into harassment allegations against him has exacerbated tensions between the House of Cronkite and its most popular, most profitable show.

Populated by eminences like Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl, the weekly newsmagazine prides itself on a culture of exceptionalism — with the ratings to back it up. No matter if CBS News is having a good or a bad year — and there have been plenty of bad ones — “60 Minutes” performs.

“The people at ‘60 Minutes’ were paid more, they had longer time to work on stories, they got incredible recognition in terms of ratings and prestige, so naturally the people in the trenches would sometimes be resentful of that,” said Andrew Heyward, a former CBS News president. “It was like a hit TV show that happened to be at CBS News.”

The show keeps its footage on a separate server inaccessible to other CBS News employees. When the network wants to broadcast a newsworthy clip from “60 Minutes,” producers must include the show’s onscreen watermark — as it if it were a rival station.

Even the contrast in office space tells a tale. The CBS Broadcast Center is a 1950s-era hulk, lamented by some employees for its windowless rooms. “60 Minutes” operates out of the sleek BMW Building, with panoramic views of the Hudson River.

David Rhodes, the 44-year-old CBS News president, who fired Mr. Fager, is virtually unknown to much of the “60 Minutes” staff, which effectively operated under Mr. Fager’s sole authority. Officials on both sides of the news division say Mr. Rhodes now faces a daunting task: winning over a shocked team that is worried about its future and responsible for the crown jewel in the CBS News lineup.

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