Two CBS executives have been placed on administrative leave following a Los Angeles Times report that they allegedly “cultivated a hostile work environment that included bullying female managers and blocking efforts to hire and retain Black journalists” at CBS-owned stations, including Philadelphia’s CBS3, where one of them was alleged to have described longtime anchor Ukee Washington as “just a jive guy.”
“Peter Dunn, President of the CBS Television Stations, and David Friend, Senior Vice President, News for the TV Stations, have been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of a third-party investigation into issues that include those raised in a recent Los Angeles Times report,” the company announced in a statement released Monday night.
Dunn, a former general manager at CBS3, “maintains a tight grip on the stations and has final say over which local anchors and reporters appear on CBS, according to current and former employees and court testimony,” wrote the Times, which quoted Margaret Cronan, a former CBS3 vice president of news, and Brien Kennedy, the station’s general manager from 2015 to July 2019.
Cronan, who had been brought in by Kennedy, left the station in July 2017. “I just could not tolerate the culture anymore,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
Since the Times’ story appeared Sunday, “the number of messages [of support] I have received is so humbling and my prayer is that with all of that support behind that effort, we will see change and we will see workplaces that are no longer racist, discriminatory, and downright offensive,” Cronan said.
Washington wasn’t available for comment for this story, but the anchor signed off Monday night’s newscast, saying, “Thank you for watching and thank you for your support on every level.” He expanded on that in an early evening newscast Tuesday.
“I want to thank everyone for the love and support over the past couple of days,” he said. “I’m good. Keeping the faith. Staying strong, and I want all of you to do the same. I feel your love, and we all feel the pain of the subject matter.
“Clearly, the past few days have been difficult for everyone, including my teammates,” he said, adding that the details reported “are painful for all of us, but we cannot, and we will not, tolerate the type of behavior that’s been alleged. There’s no room for it, anywhere, anytime.”
On Tuesday evening, CBS3′s current general manager, Brandin Stewart, released a statement calling the allegations documented in the Times’ story “disturbing,” and expressing support for “all of our colleagues who were affected by these recent stories. In particular, we stand strong with Ukee Washington, one of the leaders of this organization and this city. Ukee is a pillar and a role model — an amazing, talented individual who is the heart and soul of CBS3.”
“I plan to meet with the leaders of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and other organizations in the coming days. Their guidance will be helpful as we plan our path forward,” Stewart said.
On Twitter, Washington was responding to statements of support with his customary grace.
When Jerod Dabney, a former CBS3 writer and producer who’s now an associate producer at NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, posted that he was “[a]ppalled and disgusted at some of the allegations leveled in this article [and] ... stand behind @UkeeWashington, who is without question a great journalist and was a mentor to me during my time at CBS3,” Washington responded, “We got this my friend! Continue to make us proud and thank you for the love! "
Kennedy, now the general manager of WIVB, a Nexstar Media Group-owned CBS affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., filed a complaint a year ago with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, alleging that he was fired at CBS3 not, as Dunn had said, for poor performance, but as retaliation for talking with a company lawyer about Dunn’s management.
In an interview on Monday before CBS’s announcement that Dunn and Friend had been put on leave, Kennedy recounted much of what he’d told the Times. He said that only months before his dismissal he’d received both a positive performance report and 110% of his target bonus, based on the previous year’s results.
It was Kennedy who, shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia from Minneapolis, moved Washington from mornings to replace Chris May as co-anchor of the 5, 6, and 11 p.m. newscasts on CBS3 and the 10 p.m. newscast on CW57 as part of a shake-up at the station that included the exits of May, sports director Beasley Reece, and chief meteorologist Kathy Orr.
Looking at research that had been done shortly before his arrival, “I realized that Ukee needed to be the face of the station, he was really the best person we had on the team at the time to lead us through the change,” Kennedy said. Beyond that, “I was uncomfortable with our level of diversity at the station,” with the evening newscasts then being led by two white anchors, May and Jessica Dean. He was also interested in focusing on on-air people with ties to Philadelphia, such as Washington and Kate Bilo.
Washington, who was born Ulysses Samuel Washington III, joined KYW in 1986 as a sports anchor, moving to news 10 years later. He grew up in West Philadelphia and traveled the world as a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir.
Dunn, who had worked with Washington at CBS3, approved the promotion, Kennedy told the Times, but also “frequently disparaged Washington, calling him ‘just a jive guy,’ ” and complained that “all he does is dance.”
Asked if he thought Washington had been aware of any of this, Kennedy replied, “No, no, because that was really important to me. And I love Ukee. I mean, I promoted him. I believe in him. I’ve been in events with him. He is one of the best partners I’ve had in a TV newsroom. In my entire career.”
After meeting with CBS officials on Sunday night, the National Association of Black Journalists on Monday called for Dunn and Friend to be fired.
“It is clear that there is a massive problem among CBS owned-and-operated stations, and in order for the company’s culture to be transformed, it must begin with the firing of Dunn and Friend,” said the group.
In an interview before CBS’s announcement that Dunn and Friend had been placed on leave and before Stewart released his statement, Ernest Owens, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, agreed that dismissing the two executives “makes a lot of sense” but said he’s interested in what happens next at CBS3.
“We really need to zero in on what kind of environment shapes” the kind of allegations raised in the Times’ story, said Owens, who’s editor at large for Philadelphia Magazine. “What made this executive even feel comfortable disregarding Ukee Washington, who we hold the utmost respect for, in his craft and his work? What made them feel that they can even say that?” Owens said.
“We look forward to having a conversation with [the station]. ...This is a situation I know has been happening for a very long time,” Owens said, noting that there have been leadership changes at CBS3 since the incidents referred to in the Los Angeles Times’ story. Manny Smith, a past president of PABJ, is now CBS3′s managing editor, and “they have a Black [general] manager,” referring to Stewart.
“What we have to understand is that the people who tolerate, or are complicit with that kind of behavior, they still linger in those newsrooms,” Owens said. “We have to work to enforce anti-oppression training, and other … measures and policies that will protect Black employees in those places.”
The allegations in the Times’ story represent an opportunity “to look at the problem, and to fix it,” he said.