CBS News boss Neeraj Khemlani faces HR clampdown over ‘disrespectful’ tirade aimed at female execs: sources

CBS News’ sharp-elbowed, cost-slashing boss has landed in trouble after he allegedly dressed down two senior female executives in a tense, closed-door meeting over budget cuts at the embattled network, The Post has learned.

Sources said CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani — who has previously clashed with “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell over contract matters — allegedly unleashed a “rude,” “disrespectful” tirade aimed at Chief Financial Officer Stacey Benson and a female executive vice president at the April meeting, which was focused on long-term budget planning.

“They had a breakdown after the meeting,” an insider briefed on the incident said of the two women. “They were shaken.”

The source said the shell-shocked execs subsequently complained about the “rough treatment,” which prompted CBS to appoint Mehmet Dilsiz, senior vice president of human resources for CBS News & Digital, to closely monitor Khemlani and his meetings with co-workers.

CBS CEO George Cheeks was briefed on Dilsiz’s appointment, an insider with knowledge said.

Neither Khemlani or Benson responded to requests for comment.

Khemlani’s meetings are being monitored by a senior HR exec after he blew at the finance team in April.
Variety via Getty Images

It’s the latest in a series of blowups over Khemlani’s hard-knuckle management style, and comes despite his previous run-ins with HR, as previously reported by The Post.

It’s also another black eye for Cheeks, who in 2021 picked Khemlani and Wendy McMahon to jointly take the helm from Susan Zirinsky — the legendary producer who was the inspiration for Holly Hunter’s character in the 1987 flick “Broadcast News.”

One source close to the situation said Cheeks replaced Zirinsky with Khemlani despite the fact that his own boss, Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish, was “lukewarm” on the idea. Khemlani’s stint at the top — which he took with orders from above to trim expenses aggressively — has now stretched for more than two years.

Stacey Benson
CFO Stacey Benson was allegedly shaken after a rough meeting with Khemlani in April.

“George Cheeks doesn’t want to admit a mistake,” one source told The Post, and Cheeks is “going to have to pay him out,” the source predicted, referring to Khemlani. “He’s going to have to go to Bob Bakish and admit he made a mistake.”

Reps for Cheeks and Bakish declined to comment. A source close to Bakish said the exec knew Khemlani from Hearst and disputed that the CEO was unenthusiastic on the hire.

Some insiders, meanwhile, are speculating that Khemlani’s co-president, McMahon, will soon become the network’s sole president. They pointed to a series of eyebrow-raising June meetings, in which McMahon, who runs CBS News’ affiliates and local news stations, met with higher-ups based in the network’s New York offices.

George Cheeks
CBS sources wondered why CBS CEO George Cheeks has not ousted Khemlani after the exec has racked up a series of HR complaints.
CBS via Getty Images

One source claimed it was a “sign” that McMahon is “introducing herself” to bosses in preparation for the bigger job.

Although the well-liked McMahon appears to be the leading contender to lead CBS News, insiders also said Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews, the executive vice president of news gathering at the network, could be in the running.

In the meantime, sources said trusted HR executive Dilsiz, who is based in Washington DC, has been attending Khemlani’s meetings via video with the streaming and finance teams. One source said Dilsiz also sits in on Khemlani’s other high-level meetings but did not provide specifics.

Norah O'Donnell
CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell notoriously clashed with Khemlani when her contract was being renewed.

A rep for CBS News said: “This is a company with high standards for behavior across the board that addresses complaints promptly. While we can’t comment on speculative employee matters, we can point to the strong momentum at CBS News.”

The rep continued: “Under Khemlani’s leadership, CBS News has repositioned and expanded streaming efforts to strengthen the organization for the future. The weekend broadcasts are winning, the daily broadcasts are in their best competitive position in years and a string of high-profile talent has joined the Network, including Nate Burleson, Robert Costa and Lisa Ling. There have also been scores of journalistic wins  from breaking the news of the Brittney Griner release to the Biden documents – and just yesterday CBS News garnered 20 News and Documentary Emmy nominations.”

Since taking the reins the spring of 2021, Khemlani — a former Hearst executive — has been under “immense pressure” from Cheeks to hit certain budget numbers, insiders said.

Khemlani and Cheeks
Khemlani has been under intense pressure from Cheeks for the news division to hit certain budget numbers.
CBS via Getty Images

Khemlani’s combustible temper, meanwhile, has translated to plunging morale among CBS News staffers, who have described their boss as “rude” and “micro-managing.” 

As previously reported by The Post, those complaints have led to a larger internal review headed by CBS corporate HR exec Whitney Delich.

The review, which began in 2022, was focused on how Khemlani speaks to women and employees of color.

Prior to the investigation, Singaporean-born Khemlani had been subjected to a “360 performance review” by his bosses and direct reports, which resulted in mandatory counseling on how to speak to employees “without sarcasm” while using “friendly body language,” multiple sources said at the time. 

(L-R) Bob Bakish, President of Paramount Global, David Begnaud, television correspondent, and Jeremy Tardo leave a morning session at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 12, 2023 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Sources said Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish (left) was lukewarm on hiring Khemlani and that Cheeks went to bat for the exec.
Getty Images

Meanwhile, Khemlani has been, in the words of one well-placed source, “cutting the division to the bone,” in what some see as a possible path to spin off the network as its parent Paramount Global, which also owns Paramount Pictures, Showtime, MTV and Nickelodeon, among others, focuses on streaming.

Currently, Paramount Global boss Bakish is scrambling to offload properties such as book publisher Simon & Schuster and its BET Group, which owns BET [Black Entertainment Television] and VH1 along with the BET+ streaming service.

With all the rampant cost-cutting, insiders say Cheeks — despite uproar across the ranks at CBS — doesn’t appear to be in the doghouse with Bakish or his boss, Paramount Global chairwoman Shari Redstone.

Shari Redstone
Although Khemlani’s potential dismissal could be a black mark for Cheeks, Paramount Global chair Shari Redstone and Bakish view the CBS CEO in very positively, sources said.
Getty Images

“George is very well liked by both Bob and Shari,” a CBS insider said, noting that he is “personable and empathetic” which is rare in a leader.

In addition to layoffs, CBS under Cheeks has sold its Midtown headquarters in the iconic “Black Rock” tower in Midtown Manhattan. It also sold the CBS Studio Center in Los Angeles. Now, it is trying to sell CBS’ sprawling broadcast center on Manhattan’s West Side.

Some insiders lamented the once powerful and lucrative Tiffany Network pre-merger with Viacom in 2019.

CBS News building in NYC
CBS News has lost much of its market cap since it merged with Viacom to form Paramount Global.
CBS via Getty Images

“Streaming isn’t doing well. Paramount+ isn’t doing well. Cheeks isn’t doing well,” a CBS source said, opining that with an impressive content library that includes “Top Gun” and “Mission Impossible,” Paramount’s stock should be trading at between $40 and $60 a share. Instead, it has lately languished around $15 to $16 a share.

“Les Moonves [former CBS CEO] did not want to merge CBS with Viacom because CBS was worth more than Viacom,” the source added.

Prior to the merger, CBS had a market cap of about $20 billion and Viacom’s market cap was roughly $11 billion. Today, Paramount Global has a market cap of just over $10 billion.

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