By Judy Kurtz
Scott Pelley says he likely earned the nickname “Scooter” as a teen working at a local newspaper because he was “irrepressibly eager” about the news. But he might just as easily have been bestowed with the childhood moniker because he’s always on the move.
We talked to the “CBS Evening News” anchor last week, as he was racing to the studio, after he said the network had “gotten word that an airliner has crashed.” Moments later, Pelley would be on the air, delivering a special report on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which went down over Ukraine.
Pelley’s job has taken him around the time zones since he joined CBS News 25 years ago, but luckily, the former chief White House correspondent has a taste for adventure. He “loves” traveling with his wife, Jane, and their two children. One place that could prove tortuous to visit though: any of the world’s most scrumptious pancake houses. While food-wise there’s “nothing” he adores more than the syrup-coated breakfast staple, tragically, Pelley gave up pancakes as part of a diet he started five years ago. “God, I miss the pancakes,” he sighs to ITK.
There’s a lot that’s surprising about the award-winning Pelley besides his passion for pancakes, including his early dream of becoming an astronaut and his candid reply when we inquired about his biggest fear. We learned all that and more, when we chatted with the on-the-go journalist and asked him these questions.
Grew up in: Lubbock, Texas
College attended: Texas Tech University
What did you want to be when you were a kid? An astronaut, oh, without question. That was what it was all about when I was growing up in the mid-’60s. … I would write NASA letters and they would send me back 8-by-10-inch color glossies of the astronauts that were flying, and I built model rockets and replicas of the rockets that we were flying. And I’ll never forget the night Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969. I shot pictures of it off our television screen watching Walter Cronkite do the coverage. I guess that was my introduction to journalism.
What happened to the astronaut dream? I began to dream of being a journalist. I had a high school journalism teacher named Marjorie Wilson who had fire in the belly to teach, and she made journalism seem like the most exciting thing someone could ever do. … I got my first job as a copyboy at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, when I was 15 years old. I had to lie about my age because they only hired 16-year-old kids. But I had to lie about my age and go to high school during the day and work the overnight shift at night.
Favorite hobby/activity: Boy, there are several. My family and I really love traveling the world. We have traveled the world together — my wife, my son and my daughter — just everywhere. I’ve been to Antarctica with my son; I’ve been to watch the great migration in Kenya with my daughter. We’ve been almost literally on every continent. My son is missing one continent, my daughter is missing one — we’ll try to rectify that, but now that they’re older, it’s harder to get a hold of them. Under that, I really enjoy horseback riding and scuba diving, and [I’m] still very involved in still photography.
Horseback riding? There’s nothing more calming to a human being than to be on the back of a horse.
Did you have a nickname growing up/have a nickname now? In the newsroom they called me ‘Scooter.’ ITK asks, “Why was that?” I don’t know. Maybe because I was irrepressibly eager about the work we were doing and maybe because I was always running around the newsroom, telling people what the news was. But that was when I was a kid; I really haven’t had a nickname since then. I’m sure there is a lot of names people call me that I’m not aware of.
Favorite food: My favorite food, hands down, far and away, pancakes with 100 percent pure, Vermont maple syrup. There’s nothing I adore more than that. All the more so because I gave them up five years ago.
I’m on a diet in which I have no bread, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes, no tropical fruits and no melons — none of those high sugar things. And I must say, the diet has succeeded spectacularly, but God I miss the pancakes. Everything else I can pretty much walk away from — even the pasta — but God, I miss the pancakes. I’m sure it’s outlawed under the Geneva conventions, but it’s actually been very good for my health.
Most memorable moment: I think my proudest moment had to be, and I mean this most sincerely, the day that I married my wife. We’ve been married 31 years, and it was the smartest thing I ever did and the thing that’s given me the most joy in my life, absolutely.
Best part of your job: Best part of the job is having all these magnificent correspondents all around the world that I can talk to every day, which I do. I’ve got these fantastic experts in their fields and in their beats all around the world, and I get to pick up the phone and talk to them about, ‘What are you seeing in Ukraine?’ ‘What’s going on in Israel?’ ‘What’s happening in Beijing?’ all that kind of thing, and it’s just wonderful because you know the curiosity I have about what’s going on around the world is just insatiable.
So that’s the best thing is having those resources, and being able to travel. I mean I’ve been, in my 25 years at CBS, I’ve been to the Arctic, and the Antarctic, and everywhere in between. Which for a kid growing up in Lubbock, Texas, is a wonderful, wonderful dream.
I have a fear of: I’m not sure anybody’s ever asked me that question. Hmmm. I don’t have any particular phobias like heights and stuff like that.
Very honestly, every day and all day long, and this is a good thing for a journalist, I have a fear of getting something wrong in the broadcast. You know we work hard like you do, but we’re all under deadlines. And so, the deadline comes up, and you’ve got to go with what you’ve got. And I always, I have a fear, and this is a very good thing for a managing editor I think, I have a fear of getting something wrong in the broadcast.
And so we work very, very hard to try to make sure everything’s right. Every once in a while, something slips through that we have to correct, but that I have a fear of.
Something that few know about you: I’m a huge jazz fan. I’m completely devoted to jazz at Lincoln Center and what Wynton Marsalis has built there. It’s just the world’s greatest jazz venue. … So that would probably surprise a lot of people, they don’t know that about my life. I spend a lot of evenings over at jazz at Lincoln Center.