CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves was hounded by journalists questioning his decision to retain CBS News President Andrew Heyward following an investigation over the 60 Minutes scandal that resulted in the network calling for the resignation of several other CBS news people.
Questions about the scandal overshadowed efforts by Moonves to focus on his network’s rise to the top spot in the ratings race.
In the face of the barrage of questions about the crisis in the news division, Moonves was resolute in his support for Heyward.
Moonves charged that Heyward’s subordinates were responsible for the “screw up.” At least half a dozen reporters asked Moonves to explain his reasoning. “At every step of the way Andrew asked the right questions,” Moonves said. “He Demanded the right answers. He didn’t get them. I think he was let down by his people.”
The press conference came Tuesday at the beginning of a full day of presentations on CBS’s programming plans for the second half of this year.
Although news wasn’t on the day’s agenda, the 60 Minutes scandal and the search for a new nightly news anchor were the focus of the 75-minute Q&A session with Moonves.
CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler was next to him on stage, but didn’t get much chance to talk about her programming plans because the audience was focused on CBS News. Ironically, Moonves began the session by telling reporters that he believed he had already answered all possible questions about the investigation – since he had personally done interviews with more than 20 news organizations over the past week. But, he said borrowing a phrase used by President George Bush, “Bring 'em on.”
As he was grilled by reporters, Moonves tried to ease the tension in the room with jokes. “So there’s no questions about Listen Up out there,” he said, referring to the CBS freshman comedy starring Jason Alexander. When he responded with a joke to a direct question about the chain of command at CBS News, it didn’t go over well with the crowd. “I think that question deserves an answer, more than just a quip,” said one journalist. Moonves responded: “Andrew Heyward has my support. I made a decision. You obviously disagree with the decision. But that’s the decision I made.”