Allegations of Sexism and Racism At CBS

One of the most interesting aspects of Mort Meisner’s new memoir Enough to Be Dangerous is looking back at how sexism and racism thrived in the news industry in the 1980s.

It’s also one of the saddest.

First, because treating women and people of color as second class citizens was acceptable behavior. This always bothered Mort and he would not tolerate it in his newsroom.

But second, the latest news of allegations of sexism and racism at CBS shows that things hadn’t changed everywhere as much as we’d hoped they had. However, the quick response to it has.

The Dawn of a New Day?

For many of us, we felt a collective weight lifted from our shoulders in the last seven days. This past week instilled new hope and put at least a little of that proverbial skip back into our steps.

And in the midst of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements back in 2018, it looked like CBS was ready to start cleaning up its act when they invited employees to report “sexual harassment, retaliation or the unfair treatment of women.”

But looks can be deceiving.

A year earlier, Margaret Cronan had walked away from a prestigious and high-paying position she loved at a CBS station in Philadelphia because she could no longer stomach the rampant sexism and racism. Especially coming from the President Peter Dunn and a top lieutenant who went to great lengths to bully female managers and block efforts to hire and retain Black journalists.

She stepped up to the plate to offer what she’d experienced. And when others offered allegations of serious misconduct, she was relieved that they would finally be exposed.

But it took until January 24th, 2021, to see justice served.

Some Positive Changes at CBS

CBS can’t be accused of being completely in the dark ages.

Sure, Charlie Rose was fired three years ago amid allegations of sexual misconduct. CBS also gave other bigwigs the boot for abusive behavior. Furthermore, they now offer programs that prominently feature Black characters and have brought Black men and women into the folds as managers, news directors, and even executives.

Yet, despite the allegations, Dunn continued to run a chain of 28 CBS-owned TV stations that employ 2,800 workers. He ran a tight ship; with final say over which local anchors and reporters appeared on CBS. And you can bet that women and people of color were the vast minority.

One station of particular interest in these allegations has been KYW in Philadelphia. The station made a major move when they brought on Ukee Washington as lead evening anchor. He’d been with KYW for over 30 years and was Black. And his expertise and professionalism are what inspired Cronan to return to TV news.

Yet in a 2016 meeting, when Dunn asked about Washington’s transition to lead anchor, he said, “He’s not doing that ‘jive talking’ anymore? Sometimes, he’s just not speaking my language.”

Cronan was shocked.

As they set out to retool their morning lineup, Cronan remembers Dunn asking of a potential host if he was “too gay for Philadelphia.”

How could this possibly be happening in 2016? Why were these two men permitted to keep their job?

Allegations of Sexism and Racism At CBS Put Nail in the Coffin

Finally, after a revealing article from the Los Angeles Times exposed both Dunn and senior vice president David Friend and the long line of allegations against them, they were required to take administrative leave.

It was much too long a time coming though.

During her time as news director, Cronan witnessed racism and experience verbal assaults – even being called a fucking idiot.

Cronan finally left her job as news director at KYW in 2017. “I no longer could tolerate a culture in which I was expected to defend corporate decisions that I found offensive,” Cronan told The Times.

And she wasn’t the only one.

Unfortunately for them, KYW has lost several prominent Black journalists. In 2015, Steve Patterson hit the bricks and headed over to the more receptive NBC News. In 2016, the stations’ only Black male reporter Justin Finch, also left to head over to NBC.

And Rahel Solomon is now at CNBC after leaving as KYW’s morning co-anchor. Dunn wouldn’t extend her contract. During a two-hour-plus phone call to discuss the matter, one of the objections he raised was that, “I hate her face.”

It’s vile, disgusting, appalling, and so incredibly shameful that this was allowed to happen for as long as it did. And despite the fact that these two key figures were finally relieved of their duties, Mort Meisner was heartbroken by it all.

Still, he can’t help but to feel that his continued fight against sexism and racism is making a difference. So he’ll continue to fight the good fight into 2021… and beyond.

Insisting on Higher Standards

That these allegations of sexism and racism at these specific stations is definitely disappointing. But we HAVE made progress since Mort’s days in the 1980s newsrooms.

To get a glimpse the ways Mort fought sexism and racism and refused to accept them as “business as usual,” grab a copy of Enough to Be Dangerous.

It’s an inspirational read during a time when things are finally looking up.