CBS, the Tiffany network, loses jewel in anchor Scott Pelley
© John Paul Filo/CBS

At the Democratic National Convention last summer in Philadelphia I ran into CBS evening news anchor Scott Pelley

I stopped him, introduced myself and told him that his nightly broadcast was a "compliment to the mind."

This spontaneous outburst was motivated by my grandmother's frequent admonition to "send flowers to the living." 

If you watched Wednesday night's broadcast, you would be under the impression that "Scott was away on assignment" and would be coming back soon to do what he has so ably done for the past six years.

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But that, unfortunately, is not the case. There was a leak to the New York Post and then a flurry of stories and then an official announcement by the network that Pelley would be leaving his post and would instead be reporting full time for "60 Minutes."

 

This is all very sad and, personally, to me extremely disturbing.

Some of it, I confess, has more than a tinge of nostalgia. I've always felt that CBS was the premiere national network.

At a very early age I started watching CBS. First, it was hosted by Douglas Edwards. The 15-minute broadcast grew to 30 minutes and then Walter Cronkite took over.

No one in my mind matched Cronkite. He was for me the ultimate. He was so reliable, so credible.

I'll never forget as a senior in high school that November day, we were all watching in the early afternoon. Cronkite was anchoring the special programming chronicling the horrible new from Dallas.

He was in New York and when he took off his dark rimmed glasses and paused — I knew our President John F. Kennedy was gone.

When Cronkite reported from Vietnam and showed a nation that the conflict was truly at a bloody stalemate, President Lyndon Johnson said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.” 

At that time CBS was controlled and run by William S. Paley.

Paley was a businessman but he fervently believed that the news division of this giant entertainment company had a public service mission. To inform, educate and enlighten the public.

He hired top talent, consummate professionals who possessed towering integrity and would go after the story and question those at the top.

Powerful people with titles did not daunt CBS. It was called the Tiffany network and it deserved that name. Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid — those were the giants of their day.

CBS is not controlled by Bill Paley anymore but the special and unique reputation it still carries.

David Halberstam pointed out in his masterful classic "The Powers That Be" that we all should remember the news business is still a business.

Pelley did not draw the nightly audience of yesteryear when 30 million would faithfully tune in every night to watch Cronkite. The numbers for all the networks are way down from that time.

Pelley's broadcast was in third place in last month's ratings. 6.2 million nightly viewers easily surpassed by NBC and ABC. But when it came to covering hard news, it never resorted to gimmicky or fluff.

CBS never cheapened its content for more eyeballs. The stories were told with flair and stylish substance. 

The pacing was perfect.

Pelley himself knew these were extraordinary times at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Night-after-night he always led with the big story and never played up or pandered to Trump.

In the grand tradition of Cronkite, he told it "like it is." I hope whoever takes over for Pelley will continue the bracing and bold coverage we have enjoyed and respected for so many years.

Pelley needs to be commended and celebrated for his six years as anchor. He never backed down or backed away from giving to us the news — straight and true.

CBS might change their nightly anchor but they should never abdicate their duty to tell us what is really happening.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner. Previously, he was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington's NPR affiliate, where he co-hosted the "D.C. Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin." He later became the political analyst for WTOP-FM, Washington's all-news radio station, where he hosted "The Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin." He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.


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