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5 Things to Know About Susan Zirinsky, the New Head of CBS News

Susan Zirinsky.
Susan Zirinsky. Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

On Sunday night, CBS announced that David Rhodes would be resigning as president of CBS News — and that 48 Hours senior executive producer Susan Zirinsky would be taking over the role.

The news, as my colleague Irin Carmon put it, was poetic; Zirinsky will be CBS News’ first female president and senior executive producer — and she was appointed after several senior men (including former CBS This Morning co-host Charlie Rose and former CEO Les Moonves) at the network were accused of sexual harassment and assault.

Moreover, Zirinsky, 66, is a media icon in her own right — an acclaimed producer whose career has spanned decades (and was the inspiration for the lead character in an extremely popular movie). Here are a few things to know about Zirinsky, or as she’s affectionately known at CBS, Z.

Zirinsky has worked at CBS for decades …

Zirinsky first joined CBS at the age of 20 — and has now been at the network for over 45 years. She has covered major events, from the Watergate scandal to the Gulf War, and has been the senior executive producer of news program 48 Hours for the past two decades, the Los Angeles Times reports.

… and said she was once nearly fired (though she ended up outlasting the man who tired to fire her).

In a 2008 interview with TV Newser, she revealed that she was once nearly let go. “Truth be told, I was even fired from one CBS News broadcast,” she said at the time, “but in the end, was held to my contract and not allowed to leave the company. Turned out I outlasted the man who fired me and I now have his desk.” Again: poetic.

She served as the inspiration for the lead character on Broadcast News.

Holly Hunter in Broadcast News.
Holly Hunter in Broadcast News. Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection

Zirinsky’s early work in the network’s Washington bureau was cemented in pop culture through the 1987 film Broadcast News. Its main character — news producer Jane Craig, played perfectly by Holly Hunter — was crafted around Zirinsky, who met with writer and director James L. Brooks (and according to the Ringer, even left her City Hall wedding to chat with him) and garnered an associate producer credit on the movie. As Jen Chaney wrote for Vulture, the film’s magic lays in the fact in that “it’s a film in which a woman working in a tough business succeeds, not in spite of the men around her, but because those men recognize her talent and are rooting for her, too.”

Zirinsky reportedly knows she has a mess to clean up.

Over the past year, CBS has been criticized for its alleged mishandling of sexual-misconduct claims, and one of its star producers, Jeff Fager of 60 Minutes, left the network after he was accused of tolerating toxic behavior. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Zirinsky made it clear that she is aware that a lot needs to be done to improve the CBS News workplace. “The #MeToo movement isn’t behind us, it’s alongside us in our thinking,” she told the Times. “There will be a new and more powerful human resources person in the news division that is working on culture change. It’s really important to me to have an environment where there is transparency, where you can talk, where there are reactions based on actions.”

Women at CBS News seem to be excited about her new job.

On Monday, the morning after news of Zirinsky’s new role broke, the hosts of CBS This Morning seemed excited that she would be taking over the news division. Gayle King, who had been rumored by “Page Six” to have recently been unhappy with the network, said during the show on Monday, per the Daily Beast: “I feel that we were sort of like a ship, not sinking, but taking on water. And I feel that she is somebody who can right the ship. She is a smart cookie, and she is a bad-ass in every sense of the word.”

Norah O’Donnell, King’s co-host, added that Zirinsky is “known for her original reporting, her great producing skills,” and that she is a “great journalist” with a “kind heart and cares about the people that work here.” Beyond that, Carmon wrote for Vulture on Sunday night that “several women” at CBS told her that they idolize Zirinsky, and that her staff is known to be incredibly loyal to the producer.

What to Know About Susan Zirinsky, the New Head of CBS News