Jeff Fager, left, seen on July 29, 2012, will step...

Jeff Fager, left, seen on July 29, 2012, will step down as CBS News chairman of the news division early next year, and return full time to "60 Minutes." He'll be succeeded by David Rhodes, right, who will also keep his title as CBS News president. Credit: AP

CBS News chairman Jeff Fager — who was and is only the second top producer of "60 Minutes" over the show's long history — will step down as head of the news division early next year, and return full time to the news magazine.

The surprise announcement comes days after the launch of CBSN — CBS' new streaming news service, and a Fager priority — and also during a particularly strong run for "60," which landed as a top 10-viewed program for the fourth week in a row this past Sunday.

In a statement, Fager said, in part, that during discussions with CBS chief Leslie Moonves upon first assuming the CBS News chairmanship — a new position — in February of 2011, "we agreed that when the time was right I would be able to return to '60 Minutes' full-time. I can’t imagine a better time for that than right now."

He'll be succeeded by CBS News president David Rhodes, who joined CBS News when Fager was elevated in 2011; he joined from Bloomberg where he was head of U.S. TV operations and before that had spent a decade at Fox News.

The single biggest blip — and a serious one — during Fager's run was the discredited Lara Logan "60 Minutes" story on Benghazi that aired last November. 

"We take the vetting of sources and stories very seriously at '60 Minutes' and we took it seriously in this case. But we were misled and we were wrong, and that's the important thing," Logan said on "CBS This Morning," in issuing a retraction and apology. "We have to set the record straight and take responsibility."

The 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service officer Officer Sean Smith were killed, was the basis for a book by ex-security officer Dylan Davies, who laid claim to the first eyewitness account of the attack. The "60" story, and Davies' account — following reporting by The Washington Post — were quickly discredited. Logan was later suspended, and has since returned to "60 Minutes."  

Otherwise, Fager's tenure has been a stable one: "Face the Nation" has remained a Sunday morning stalwart and leader, and "Sunday Morning" as well. He directed yet another overhaul of "CBS This Morning" — a successful one — and "60 Minutes," which he continued to produce over the last four years, remains a marvel of television with probably the single most loyal, and stable, audience of any program on primetime.

His don't-fix-what-isn't-broken style had one major challenge — to replace Katie Couric as anchor of "Evening News." Their relationship was arctic. He made no attempt to keep her, and Disney made a lucrative offer anyway. He appointed Scott Pelley as "Evening News" anchor who — like Fager himself — has continued to do double duty, on both "60" and "EN."

Of the latter, "EN" remains an also-ran in the nightly news race — in third place behind "Nightly News" and "World News Tonight." But pushing "EN" into hyperdrive to match its competitors may not have been a priority: After years of enormous turmoil — Dan Rather's tempestuous departure and Katie Couric's disappointing tenure — "EN" needed to regroup. Under Pelley, and Fager, it has.

Fager will return full time to "60" starting Jan. 1.

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