On Jan. 10, when the 224-page report on the investigation into CBS News’ 60 Minutes Wednesday memo scandal arrived, CBS president Leslie Moonves issued a statement dwelling on the failures of the employees involved in producing the disputed segment.
Prominent among the targets was executive producer Josh Howard. Mr. Howard, Mr. Moonves said, "did little to assert his role as the producer ultimately responsible for the broadcast and everything in it. This mistake dealt a tremendous blow to the credibility of 60 Minutes Wednesday and to CBS News in general."
The producer, he wrote, had been asked to resign, and the network was "taking a variety of actions to put this crisis behind us."
Five weeks later, the crisis is not yet behind Mr. Moonves. And far from resolving the problem of the network’s credibility, the independent report commissioned by CBS appears instead to be leading to a confrontation, with defenders of both the ousted CBS staffers involved in the debacle and top CBS management asserting two different truths from the same document.
Mr. Howard and two other ousted CBS staffers—his top deputy, Mary Murphy, and CBS News senior vice president Betsy West—haven’t resigned. And sources close to Mr. Howard said that before any resignation comes, the 23-year CBS News veteran is demanding that the network retract Mr. Moonves’ remarks, correct its official story line and ultimately clear his name.
Mr. Howard, those sources said, has hired a lawyer to develop a breach-of-contract suit against the network. Ms. Murphy and Ms. West have likewise hired litigators, according to associates of theirs, and all three remain CBS employees and collect weekly salaries from the company that asked them to tender their resignations.
None would agree to participate in this article.
Legally, CBS and the ousted staffers are in an unusual stalemate: The network cannot be sued for breach of contract unless it actually fires them. Theoretically, the network could refuse to offer an apology or correct statements and simply drag its feet, continuing to write paychecks to the trio until their contracts expire. (Neither side would discuss how long the contracts are scheduled to last.)
But Mr. Howard’s complaint about Mr. Moonves’ remarks could pose a serious problem for CBS. Sources close to Mr. Howard said he believes that the report—which was assembled by an outside team of former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Associated Press head Louis Boccardi Jr.—contradicts Mr. Moonves’ statement about Mr. Howard’s share of the blame.
Ah, to have that kind of leverage in your day job....just turns you green with envy if you're a "conservative," doesn't it? I mean, that's more leverage than a defined benefit pension!