New ‘woke’ boss at CBS News got top job despite HR probe: sources

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By Dan Sears

The new president of CBS News has been accused of using her clout to promote minorities while unfairly sidelining white journalists — a “woke” and “divisive” practice that sparked multiple employee complaints and a major internal probe in 2021, The Post has learned.

Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews — a 30-year veteran of the third-place network who took the helm in August after her boss Neeraj Khemlani left in a storm of controversy — also had been top deputy to ex-president David Rhodes, who exited CBS News in January 2019 following a slew of high-profile scandals. 

Those included sex-harassment allegations against Charlie Rose and allegations that “60 Minutes” boss Jeff Fager presided over a discriminatory culture. Rhodes’ boss, CBS CEO Les Moonves, was ousted over accusations of sexual misconduct which he denied.

Now, some insiders are chafing over the promotion of Ciprian-Matthews, a Dominican-born exec, who is now the top-ranked woman of color at CBS News.

Current and former employees reveal that two and a half years ago, she was the target of a six-month human-resources investigation by CBS parent Paramount Global into accusations of discriminatory hiring and management practices.

CBS News President Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews has been accused of using her clout to promote minorities while unfairly sidelining white journalists. Getty Images

Among the explosive claims were that Ciprian-Matthews supported the promotion of an African-American correspondent after she personally witnessed him verbally abusing a female colleague. 

Elsewhere, she was accused of cooking up phony excuses to replace a white reporter with an African-American for a plum assignment covering the aftermath of the Capitol riots.

In yet another instance, a white job candidate claimed Ciprian-Matthews told her it would be easier to hire her if she were a “different color” as she passed her over.

Ciprian-Matthews declined to comment on the allegations through a spokeswoman.

HR probe ‘cut short’

The HR probe conducted by Jennifer Gordon, an executive vice president of employee relations at Paramount Global, was allegedly cut short, according to sources.

The investigator failed to interview key witnesses before she concluded merely that Ciprian-Matthews was a “bad manager” with limited resources, a source close to the situation told The Post.

The scandal-plagued network ousted Charlie Rose (left) and then-CBS News CEO Les Moonves amid sexual misconduct allegations. WireImage

Ciprian-Matthews’ elevation to president has left some employees scratching their heads and speculating that it’s a case of corporate overlords — among them Paramount Global boss Bob Bakish and CBS CEO George Cheeks — who are reluctant to clamp down on a diverse female executive. The result, according to critics, has been a “toxic” newsroom whose management has turned a blind eye to misconduct.

“At the very highest level of Paramount Global, there’s pressure to bring in diverse talent,” a source close to CBS said. “I think Ingrid wants to be able to say she’s diversified the network, but at the end of the day, you’re enabling people who abuse others while simultaneously advancing those abusive people.” 

Another source with knowledge of the 2021 HR probe griped that “nobody wants to contend with this issue” and put it more bluntly: “It’s bad business to drive out young talent who are making next to nothing. That’s why CBS is a third-rate network.”

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Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish did not respond for comment regarding Ciprian-Matthews HR probe and complaints over the years. Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

Bakish and Cheeks declined to comment through a spokesperson.

“Ingrid’s record and decades of experience as a highly respected and admired news executive are well known and speak for themselves,” Ciprian-Matthews’ boss Wendy McMahon, president and CEO of CBS News, Stations and CBS Media Ventures, said in a statement to The Post.

“Any claims of discriminatory behavior are simply false,” McMahon added. “Like so many others at CBS News, I not only enjoy working with Ingrid but I am inspired by her care for her colleagues and the culture of CBS News.”

‘I was aghast’

The Post spoke to nearly a dozen current and former CBS journalists — many of whom say they left CBS News in the last five years for bigger jobs at major news outlets after they felt Ciprian-Matthews’ alleged discrimination denied them opportunities. 

Pamela Browne—  an award-winning investigative producer with stints at Fox News, ABC News and NBC News— said she was interviewed by Ciprian-Matthews for a job in July 2019 in the exec’s swanky West 57th Street office, which was adorned with a Zen-inspired sandbox and rake.

Pamela Browne alleged that Ciprian-Matthews said she would have an easier time getting hired. Pamela Browne/Linkedin

After going over Browne’s qualifications, Ciprian-Matthews told her: “It would be so much easier to get you hired if you were a different color,” Browne recalled.

“I was aghast,” Browne told The Post, adding that after being turned down for the position she later gave her testimony to Gordon at Paramount Global. 

Several others said they did not immediately complain to HR out of fear of retaliation. Even after leaving the network, they declined to speak out publicly because they inked settlements with nondisclosure agreements — a trend that gained momentum following the “60 Minutes” shakeup, multiple sources said. 

Ciprian-Matthews was promoted to vice president of news under Neeraj Khemlani, who exited this summer amid bullying claims. Getty Images

“Why do people have NDAs? It’s because the company doesn’t want them to talk,”  said one outraged insider. “So what do you do? You promote them to the No. 2 of the division, then you promote her to the presidency.”

’20-minute rant’

In spring 2021, Gordon launched her probe into Ciprian-Matthews, including allegations that she roadblocked the advancement of young, promising reporters – mostly white women – in favor of elevating minority staffers.

Sources said the probe began after CBS correspondent Jeff Pegues dressed down a white female reporter in front of Ciprian-Matthews and other higher-ups. One source said Pegues, who is African-American, went on a 20-minute rant in which he claimed his colleague was a “nobody” and that she “didn’t know anything” despite her seasoned background.

Insiders claim that CBS CEO George Cheeks and other higher-ups are
reluctant to clamp down on a diverse female executive. Getty Images

Ciprian-Matthews did not initially report the incident and attempted to “blame” the female correspondent when it was finally reported to HR, multiple sources said. That’s despite prior allegations that Pegues had been “lashing out” and “bullying” younger female reporters who “outworked” him, according to a former CBS manager.

“Ingrid has a number of HR issues regarding favoritism and protecting certain correspondents, allowing talent to verbally abuse other talent,” the source claimed.

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An investigation into Pegues’ behavior concluded that his conduct was unprofessional, but to the shock of some of his colleagues, Ciprian-Matthews then supported his promotion to Chief National Affairs and Justice Correspondent later that year, sources said.

An HR investigation was launched after correspondent Jeff Pegues allegedly verbally abused a female reporter in a meeting. Eyewitness News ABC7NY/YouTube

In August, sources said Pegues got into an altercation at a CBS Sports party during the National Association of Black Journalists in Birmingham, Ala. The correspondent followed a woman into the party and appeared to be “bothering her,” sources said.

An ESPN journalist who was at the party tried to defuse the situation and security was called, sources said. Afterwards, Pegues emailed Chairman of CBS Sports Sean McManus, who hosted the party, to explain his bad behavior, a source said.

It is unclear if HR ever looked into the incident. Pegues has remained on air.

Sources claimed that Paramount Global’s probe of CBS News exec Ciprian-Matthews was “cut short.” Getty Images

Pegues didn’t respond to requests for comment. McManus and CBS declined to comment specifically on Pegues.

‘Exiled to Denver’

According to an insider, the HR probe of Pegues “opened a Pandora’s box” that revealed allegations of cronyism that led to the probe of Ciprian-Matthews.

In another case, Emmy Award-winning CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave was allegedly pushed out of a plum congressional beat by Ciprian-Matthews.

During the weeks after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, sources said Ciprian-Matthews, who was Washington bureau chief at the time, pressed for correspondent Nikole Killion to appear on CBS shows and special reports to provide analysis.

Paramount Global’s probe looked into allegations that reporter Kris Van Cleave was exiled to Denver by Ciprian-Matthews. Getty Images for Global Citizen

That’s despite the fact that Killion wasn’t at the Capitol during the attack — and that Van Cleave “was part of ‘CBS Mornings” Emmy win for Best Live Newscast” last year for his breaking Jan. 6 coverage, according to his CBS bio.

At the time, sources claim Ciprian-Matthews falsely told producers that Van Cleave, who is white, was on vacation or was out sick. That, in turn, sparked chatter that Killion — a veteran DC journalist who covered every presidential election since 2008 for CBS News and Hearst Television — was getting the assignments because she was African-American rather than because of her qualifications.

Insiders say Van Cleave caught wind of the alleged deception and complained to colleagues — and that soon after, he was told he would be moved to Denver as a general assignment reporter.

“He was being exiled to Denver without a real beat or any producers,” said an insider with knowledge, adding that he was being moved mid-contract.

The insider said Van Cleave approached Gordon to give his testimony, but backed out over fear of retaliation. Instead, a job opened up in Dallas as a national correspondent and Van Cleave took it.

Former CBS News President Susan Zirinsky kept Ciprian-Matthews “at arm’s length,” sources said. Getty Images for Paramount+

“Ingrid is tipping the scales,” said the source. “There was no reason to put Van Cleave in that situation. All he wanted to do is the reporting.” 

Van Cleave didn’t respond to requests for comment. CBS declined to comment specifically on Van Cleave.

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‘At arm’s length’

Ciprian-Matthews’ own career hit a bump under Susan Zirinsky, the legendary newshound who inspired Holly Hunter’s character in “Broadcast News.” After Zirinsky was named CBS News president in 2019 following the chaotic exit of Rhodes, she moved Ciprian-Matthews from executive vice president of news to head of strategic and professional development. 

At the network’s New York City offices, Zirinsky kept Ciprian-Matthews — who wasn’t happy about her new role — “at arm’s length,” according to one source, moving her office far from hers to a spot near the elevator bank. In 2020, Zirinsky named Ciprian-Matthews as CBS News’ interim bureau chief in Washington DC — a role that Ciprian-Matthews also did not want, according to a source. 

Ciprian-Matthews’ boss Wendy McMahon is taking a close look
at how the network runs. Golden Globes 2024 via Getty Images

“She was forced to take the job,” the source said, noting that Ciprian-Matthews “never moved to DC” even after serving a brief stint as permanent Washington bureau chief, but instead stayed in a corporate apartment as she traveled back and forth from New York. 

A source close to Zirinsky insisted Ciprian-Matthews was a “top advisor” who was consulted on “every decision” she made and that she helped “right the ship” at a troubled time for the network.
The source said Zirinsky didn’t want Ciprian-Matthews to be “bogged down” with day-to-day newsroom duties like sending reporters to “Maine or Afghanistan.”

Zirinsky stepped down in April 2021 and Khemlani was named co-president of CBS News. The probe of Ciprian-Matthews appeared to be over in the fall, sources said. In November, she was named No. 2 to Khemlani.

“She must know where the bodies are buried,” a former colleague speculated, claiming Ciprian-Matthews has been a “loyal foot soldier” for a trove of scandal-ridden executives over the years.

Ciprian-Matthews was cleared of claims of discriminatory hiring
and management practices. CBS News

Now, Ciprian-Matthews’ boss Wendy McMahon, who came from top-ranked ABC News, is examining how to revive CBS News. McMahon is creating a new role of executive producer of daily news. The new hire will give McMahon a window into how the news gathering process runs, sources said.

“Wendy is looking at why CBS News is in last place,” an insider said. “The one common denominator is Ingrid. She has been a constant in a leadership role over the last two decades and has had a hand in everything.”

But insiders weren’t buying into the idea that the seasoned exec would be easily sidelined, given her status as one of the few diverse leaders in the upper echelons of the company — and one of its most strong-willed and savvy.

“Ingrid won’t take this sitting down. She thinks she’s running the news division, and she won’t bend to Wendy,” the insider added. “Her ego is too big.”

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