Confronted with a revolt from below and the ouster of his ally at the top, Van Gordon Sauter resigned today after a tumultuous 10 months as president of CBS News.
The resignation came one day after network founder William S. Paley and Laurence A. Tisch, the company’s major stockholder, forced the resignation of Thomas H. Wyman as chairman and chief executive officer at the beleaguered broadcasting giant. (Story, Page 18.)
Gene Jankowski, president of the CBS Broadcast Group, sent a memo to CBS News employees saying he accepted the resignation by Sauter, a former Los Angeles TV executive, “with deep regret.” He said Howard Stringer will continue as executive vice president of CBS News and will handle the day-to-day operations of the division.
“In his 18-year career at CBS, Sauter made a remarkable range of contributions to the company in a wide variety of roles,” Jankowski said. “He is a man of unusual talents, and we wish him the best in whatever role he chooses.”
Sauter is a former vice president and general manager of KNXT, now KCBS-TV, in Los Angeles. His wife, Kathleen, the daughter of former Gov. Pat Brown and sister of former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., served on the Los Angeles City School Board from 1975 to 1980, when she resigned to move to New York with her husband.
‘I Leave With Pride’
Paley, 84, the company’s founder and leader for half a century, Wednesday returned to the position of chairman after a daylong board meeting that ended with the resignation of Wyman, the man who replaced Paley three years ago.
Tisch, who owns nearly 25% of the communications company’s stock, and Paley, the company’s second-largest stockholder with an 8.1% stake, won the power struggle for corporate control after Wyman tried in vain to convince the CBS board that he had a program to turn the company’s fortunes around.
Sauter said today, “My 18 years at CBS were joyful and rewarding, and while the difficulties of the past 10 months constituted an irreversible end-game, I leave with pride in my work and respect and fondness for my former colleagues.”
Sauter had been a close associate of Wyman, as had Jankowski.
Cronkite Ruled Out
Earlier today, Walter Cronkite, former CBS anchorman and board member, said he was not a candidate to replace Sauter, as had been speculated in one published report.
“I’m not in any way in the running,” Cronkite said in an interview on Cable News Network.
A CBS management source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Sauter’s departure was caused by the public dissension at CBS News that was reflected in criticisms from the likes of commentator Andy Rooney.
“The wounds at CBS have to be healed, and that was one of them,” the source said.
“I think the news division needs independence from the rest of the network,” Rooney said today. “I think Tisch would see fit to put somebody in to protect the news division from people like Mr. Tisch.”