CBS News president and longtime television producer Susan Zirinsky on Wednesday was awarded the National Press Club’s 2020 Fourth Estate Award, the organization’s highest honor for American journalists.
According to the Press Club’s website, the award is given each year to an individual who “has achieved distinction for a lifetime of contributions to American journalism.”
Zirinsky, who took over as president of CBS News in January 2019 following a series of sexual misconduct allegations against former head Leslie Moonves, was honored through a series of remarks from CBS journalists that were delivered virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Zirinsky, Z as we call her, rose to the occasion in a remarkable way,” “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty said. “She was able to change an outdated culture almost overnight. Able to add diverse voices in front of the camera as well as behind the scenes.”
“I always say she’s 5-foot-nothing, but she is mighty,” “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle KingGayle KingNate Burleson makes leap from football to news with 'CBS Mornings' Witness says R. Kelly kept watch over girlfriends during Gayle King interview Hillicon Valley: Feds lay down marker in Facebook fight MORE added. “There’s a lot in that packaging.”
Zirinsky, 68, began her career at CBS News two weeks after the Watergate break-in in 1972, according to the CBS News website. She eventually served as the executive producer of “48 Hours” from 1996 to 2019.
Since taking the helm at CBS, Zirinsky launched “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell” and moved the show to Washington, D.C., making it the only broadcast network to air a nightly newscast based out of the nation’s capital.
Zirinsky was also famously known to have served as the inspiration for Holly Hunter’s character in the 1987 Oscar-nominated film, “Broadcast News.”
O’Donnell highlighted this fact during remarks at Wednesday’s virtual event, adding that Zirinsky “once jumped from a moving train to send footage of President Reagan’s visit to Augusta, Ga., all in time for the CBS Evening News where she was the first female senior producer.”
“Her life is a list of firsts, including the first female president of CBS News,” O’Donnell added. “But Z’s life story is really about more than her many Emmys and Peabody Awards. It’s about how she takes care of all of us. She’s a great journalist because she cares, and she listens, and then she charges ahead with what is right.”
During her acceptance remarks, Zirinsky called on journalists to serve as empathetic defenders of the truth in the wake of the 2020 election.
President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE continues to refuse to concede over claims of voter fraud. Major news organizations projected President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes MORE the winner of the election earlier this month.
“The nation is divided,” she said. “More than 73 million people voted for the candidate not elected.”
“In order to heal that divide, we as journalists have to report on fairly in order to understand what separates us as people, we have to understand what they’re going through,” Zirinsky continued. “Their beliefs, their guiding principles. We have to understand. We have to have empathy. To serve the American people, you have to ask the questions that get answers for all Americans.”
“The most important thing we can do right now is get it right,” the awardee added.