Exclusive: CBS News President/AOC/Alice Tapper

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Exclusive: CBS News President Tells People She Regrets Accepting the Job

Six sources who spoke to me said that Susan Zirinsky, the newly installed CBS News president, has been telling people that she regrets taking the job as the network’s news division chief. I asked my sources if she made these remarks jokingly, as there is no doubt that Zirinsky has her hands full remaking a news division that has been “taking on water,” as “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Gayle King recently put it. Perhaps she joked, understandably, in a moment of frustration? But I was told that Zirinsky has expressed her regrets in serious tones.

In an email, Zirinsky wrote: “I have ZERO regrets about taking this job. This is a great job and my way of dealing with the pace is with humor. Obviously, some people don’t get it. Check back with me in a year and I’ll let you know how it’s going.”  

For the past sixteen months, CBS News has been in a state of tumult. Like all major network news divisions, it’s always been dysfunctional, but since Charlie Rose was fired in November 2017 over allegations of sexual misconduct, things have been a mess. Rose’s firing was followed by the September 2018 termination of CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who was also accused of sexual misconduct. And just days later, Jeff Fager, the longtime executive producer of “60 Minutes,” was ousted for violating company policy by threatening CBS News reporter Jericka Duncan.

Then came the news at the start of 2019 that CBS would not be renewing the contract of David Rhodes, who had served as its news division president for seven years. Sources inside CBS News were anxious and didn’t know what to expect, but when Zirinsky was named as Rhodes’ replacement, many of my sources said they breathed a sigh of relief.

Zirinsky is often referred to as “legendary,” which, if it's possible, is an understatement. Over the course of her 47 years at CBS News, she has played a part in nearly every program in the news division. CBS News employees love her for being affable and generous with her time. And they are in awe of her skills as a producer. As one source described to me, “She is the kind of newsperson that people long for these days.” Another source recounted a time when Zirinsky was serving as a producer on a program (which I am not naming intentionally): She had wrapped up her work for the day, but instead of going home, she offered to log tapes or do anything the staff needed. Not the kind of thing a senior producer normally does.

But since Zirinsky officially took over March 1 (she was in a state of transition with Rhodes for two months), CBS News sources, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, told me they are concerned that morale is continuing to sink in the news division.

While a big part of this comes from the fact that CBS News employees have been living for almost two years with a news division/network mired in scandal and are impatient for things to calm down, another part of it, my sources say, comes from the fact that Zirinsky has been frustrated with her new role.

This isn’t about capability; Zirinsky could work everyone at CBS News under the table. This is about what she enjoys doing.

As CBS News president, Zirinsky now has to deal with contractual matters and business affairs; she has to be on the phone all day dealing with agents and lawyers complaining about how their clients are being treated. And even though her title is CBS News president and senior executive producer, dealing with the personalities and drama in the news division instead of producing news programs is said to be causing her great frustration.

Zirinsky’s apparent regret is not helping the mood at CBS News, where employees are bracing for more changes.

Earlier this week, I was the first to report that Zirinsky was moving Bianna Golodryga out of “CBS This Morning” after she served as co-anchor for less than six months. Zirinsky was said to have preferred a program co-anchored by three people instead of four. She’s expected to make more changes; rumors of Norah O’Donnell taking over “CBS Evening News” from the current anchor Jeff Glor won’t quit, and Zirinsky has made no serious effort to try to stop those rumors. And while King is expected to renew her contract, no one knows if any of these changes will help to steady the ship.

Scooplet: AOC’s Twitter Fundraising Power

Last Saturday, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s new policy to blacklist campaign vendors (pollsters, political ad agencies, fundraising firms, digital consulting firms, etc.) who work for Democrats challenging incumbents in their own party. The policy, which was announced in late March, means that the DCCC won’t hire those vendors and it will discourage incumbents from hiring those firms as well.

The policy announcement was met with a lot of controversy, particularly from progressives.

AOC, who won her seat after defeating Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley in the primary, tweeted that the policy is “extremely divisive & harmful to the party.” She then went on to encourage small-dollar donors to “pause” their donations to the DCCC and instead donate to individual candidates.

One candidate AOC tweeted about is Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.). In November, Levin won his election to take over the seat previously held by Republican Darrell Issa.

So how much fundraising power does one tweet by AOC have? A source familiar with Levin’s fundraising tells me he hauled in more than $30,000 just from the congresswoman’s tweet. Members of Congress would be delighted to raise that much from an in-person fundraising event. While those events will not fall by the wayside any time soon, AOC’s social media fundraising power is something to behold.

What I’m Reading

I have a lot of godchildren. I’m also “Uncle Yashar” to a lot of other friends’ kids. I don’t often buy clothes for my godchildren because they’ll just outgrow them, and I don’t feel like clothes create lasting memories. Instead, I buy books … lots of books.

And when I find a children’s book I love, I buy dozens of copies and give them as gifts.

I recently discovered another book I love and just bought 20 copies.

Alice Paul Tapper, who is 11 years old, has written a book for 4- to 8-year-olds titled “Raise Your Hand.” Alice wrote the book after noticing that girls weren’t engaging in class with the same enthusiasm as boys were. Alice’s book is charming and inspiring, and she’s donated her advance to the Girl Scouts!

Alice was named after Alice Paul, the suffragist and feminist who was a major force in passing the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Alice Paul also co-wrote the Equal Rights Amendment. How perfect that one of her namesakes (I’m sure there are many) is helping to move the ball forward.

Order Alice Paul Tapper’s book here (I don’t benefit in any way if you buy Alice’s book): https://amzn.to/2G27LBE