“60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley last fall tried to quash CBS executive Susan Zirinsky’s chances of becoming his boss at the award-winning news show, sources tell The Post.
Zirinsky — the TV news producer who inspired Holly Hunter’s character in “Broadcast News” — was named head of all CBS news programming this year. But a few months earlier, in October, she had been considered for the job of “60 Minutes” executive producer.
As The Post reported at the time, snooty correspondents from the magazine-style news show were apoplectic over the idea that Zirinsky — then boss of crime-focused news show “48 Hours” — could take the job over Bill Owens, then “60 Minutes” executive editor.
According to three sources with knowledge of those events, Pelley was among those protesting, marching with Owens into the office of CBS interim Chief Executive Joe Ianniello to demand that Owens be named “60 Minutes” executive producer — not Zirinsky.
“According to Pelley and Owens, there was no such meeting,” a CBS rep told The Post. Ianniello declined to comment.
The problem was solved several months later, in January, when Zirinsky was promoted to head of all CBS news programming in a reshuffling led by Ianniello that forced out then-president David Rhodes. As the new boss, Zirinsky named Owens head of “60 Minutes.”
“I strongly advocated for Susan Zirinsky to become president of CBS News and for Bill Owens to be executive producer of 60 Minutes,” Pelley said in a statement. “With these principled leaders in place, the public should have the greatest confidence in the future of CBS News.”
But CBS insiders have taken to yapping about the “60 Minutes” dustup, which centered on the only big job opening at the time, in the wake of Pelley’s head-turning interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter on May 26. In the interview, he heaped praise on Zirinsky, the first woman to head CBS News, saying she “has CBS News DNA.”
“He’s an ass and he and Bill actively campaigned against ‘Z’ getting ‘60,’ ” a source said, referring to Zirinsky by her “Z” nickname.
Also drawing gasps is Pelley’s claim in the interview that he was fired as the anchor of “CBS Evening News” in 2017 because he complained about the news division’s “hostile work environment … for men and women.”
Sources tell The Post that the only workplace complaints they heard from Pelley involved his own problems with Rhodes who, as head of the CBS News division, was behind his “Evening News” firing amid a ratings slump.
“I lost my job because I wouldn’t stop complaining to management,” the “60 Minutes” correspondent told Stelter.
Pelley said he went directly to Rhodes with his complaints “four or five years ago … and explained to him that this hostile work environment couldn’t go on, for women and men.
“And he told me if I kept agitating about that internally, then I’d lose my job.”
Rhodes denied this version of events, telling The Daily Beast, “That simply never happened. And if he had those conversations about this with anybody, it wasn’t with me.”
Pelley said he then took his complaints up the chain to Les Moonves, the now-disgraced chairman and chief executive.
“Having exhausted the possibilities in the news division, I went to the chairman of the CBS Corporation, who listened to me very concerned for an hour, asked me some penetrating questions about what was going on,” Pelley said. “In the next opportunity in my contract, I was let go from the ‘Evening News.’ ”
According to a source with knowledge of the Moonves meeting, it focused on Pelley’s complaints about Rhodes, not wider workplace issues.
Pelley’s comments about standing up for his fellow workers comes as a string of sexual misconduct scandals have rocked the network and led to multiple high-profile ousters, including Moonves and TV veteran Charlie Rose.
Pelley’s onetime boss, “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager, was also fired for a report of a text message sent to a CBS reporter asking questions about sexual misconduct allegations waged against him — resulting in Zirinsky’s name being floated for that job.
“No one believes this. No one,” one source said of Pelley’s claims of being an advocate for beleaguered CBS staffers. “People feel like it’s a joke.”
“CBS employees are taken aback,” another source said of Pelley’s claims.
“He’s rewriting history. He’s trying to sell books,” the source said, referring to Pelley’s book, “Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times.”
Pelley took over the nightly news program in 2011 when Fager, whom he was close with, was chairman of the news division, acting as co-head with Rhodes, the unit president.
In 2015, or roughly the time of Pelley’s meeting with Moonves, Fager had stepped down as chairman — leaving Rhodes with more authority over CBS’ news programming.
“David began laying the groundwork to replace Pelley,” a source said. “Pelley was making too much money and the ratings were down.”