CBS News boss Neeraj Khemlani faces internal HR review
The cost-cutting CBS News boss who clashed with Norah O’Donnell is facing an internal human-resources review over complaints about his sharp-elbowed management style, The Post has learned.
CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani — who was accused of being “rude” and “micromanaging” as he pared jobs and paychecks including those of “CBS Evening News” anchor O’Donnell — lately has been slapped with a spate of human resources complaints — the latest by an HR executive, sources said.
The complaint led to a larger internal review headed by CBS corporate HR exec Whitney Delich. The review, which began several months ago, is focused on how Khemlani speaks to women and employees of color, The Post has learned.
Prior to the investigation Khemlani had been subjected to a “360 performance review” by his bosses and direct reports. As a result, Khemlani was required to attend counseling in order to learn how to speak to employees “without sarcasm” while using “friendly body language,” multiple sources said. Staffers said that they noticed changes after the exec met with department heads over the summer to make sure he’s “communicating” clearly and that they “understand their roles.”
“Neeraj has been declawed,” an insider with knowledge of the situation told The Post.
Nevertheless, sources said Khemlani — a former Hearst executive with a mandate from CBS CEO George Cheeks to slash costs for what some see as a possible spinoff of the network from its parent Paramount Global — has been, in the words of one well-placed source, “cutting the division to the bone” and hamstringing its ability to compete in the US and abroad. With more belt-tightening on the way, some wonder if Khemlani will be the next casualty.
“This is a big deal,” said an insider with knowledge of the corporate probe, adding that CBS CEO George Cheeks is “very worried” and that Khemlani may not get his contract renewed in 2024.
“It’s just a question of when he gets his wings clipped,” the source said of Khemlani.
Even Cheeks himself has privately voiced doubts to colleagues whether Khelmani is the right man for the job, an insider close to the situation told The Post. That’s despite Khemlani winning praise for revamping CBS News’ streaming operation and the news network nabbing big scoops on the classified Biden documents, Britney Griner’s release from a Russian prison, Prince Harry’s explosive “60 Minutes” interview and luring a few notable hires such as journalist Robert Costa.
“We are not commenting on rumors or speculation,” a rep for CBS said.
Cheeks could not be reached for comment. Khemlani did not respond to requests for comment.
Insiders noted that Khemlani’s well-liked co-president Wendy McMahon, as well as his close ally, Alison Pepper, senior vice president of talent strategy, have lately played more of an upfront role. Cheeks could add Khemlani’s duties to McMahon’s plate, some speculated, while others said he could tap CBS News vet Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews, who holds the title of executive vice president of newsgathering, to replace Khemlani — or even elevate “60 Minutes” executive producer Bill Owens, who is said to not want the job.
In the case of O’Donnell, Khemlani was able to reduce her $7.2 million salary, but damaged her reputation when he actively searched for her replacement, sources said. In March, Khemlani held meetings with competitor Brian Williams, who left MSNBC last year. He also considered NBC’s Craig Melvin and even mulled promoting Tony Dokoupil, co-anchor at “CBS Mornings,” to helm the last-place news program, The Post reported.
O’Donnell’s camp complained to Cheeks and Shari Redstone, the chair of Paramount Global, going above Khemlani to hammer out a new deal for the anchor in April, sources said at the time. An insider said O’Donnell’s new contract proves that she “won” and is “running the show,” pointing to her longtime ally Adam Verdugo being promoted to executive producer, leapfrogging over senior producers Arturo Rhymes and Elizabeth Turner.
Khemlani’s cringeworthy moments — which have included telling staffers “your job is to listen not to talk,” and harassing underlings with around-the-clock emails and phone calls — came to a head when CBS News staffers blasted the exec in a companywide survey in May. Cheeks responded at June 2 town hall meeting that the company needs to prioritize work-life balance.
According to a transcript of the meeting obtained by The Post, Khemlani and McMahon also formed a “diversity and inclusion council” to “foster and cultivate a culture of belonging and well-being.” Khemlani stressed the importance of attracting “underrepresented employees” and said he would “go on a listening tour” and “get actionable advice” on how to improve the workplace.
Khemlani’s efforts mimicked attempts under prior news presidents to form employee-led advisory committees, a source said, opining that they were a “waste of time” because the findings are never made public and are hardly implemented.
“Every time there’s a crisis, CBS launches these committees,” the source said. “This is just horses–t. If you want to do something, you do it. You don’t have another advisory committee.”
Sources said Khemlani has taken a more friendly approach following an HR complaint lodged against him last year by a female African-American vice president of human resources at the network. The exec filed the complaint after Khemlani allegedly voiced frustration that he was not receiving direct communication from her superior, according to a source familiar with the situation.
“Neeraj was having issues and wondered why he was not getting more feedback from the No. 1 HR person, and not their No. 2 lieutenants,” the source said. “One of the lieutenants took offense and thought it was done because of racism and retaliation.”
Khemlani is a Singaporean-born American.