Some critics wondered whether the ratings increases the evening news broadcast has enjoyed since Pelley became anchor just a few weeks ago was owing to viewers who’ve returned to the newscast because they’re “relieved Katie [Couric] is not there any more.”
“No doubt some of the people coming to us have been coming back,” Fager acknowledged. “I think we did lose some viewers in recent years. Our hope is we can gain back some core audience, but also get new ones,” he said.
Another reporter took it even further, suggesting CBS’s newscast was doing better because silver-haired super-groomed Pelley is a “father figure” and people like getting their news from some kind of made for TV Perfect Dad talking to us.
Fager, who knows what quicksand sounds like, deftly suggested as an alternative that Pelley’s popularity is owing to him being “the opposite of what you hear from cable news networks.”
“You don’t know where he stands on something,” Fager said.
“If we get it right, you’ll never know what he really thinks” on any given subject in the news, Rhodes jumped in.
Viewers do want to be reassured – but reassured “there is that approach somewhere, and Scott is the embodiment of that.”
One reporter told them he’d “had the misfortune of being in Florida during the Casey Anthony trial” and was disturbed at revelations that networks were paying significant sums of money for pictures and home video as a means of locking up people for exclusive interviews without, technically, having paid them for their interviews.
“I am not like that, one little bit,” Fager said stoutly. “I think it’s a terrible practice…I know it’s happened in stories in the past for certain…small fees for pictures... I’m against it.”
“That’s not who we are,” Pelley added heroically.
It was one of many times during the Q&A that Pelley sounded and looked very Dan Rather-esque, except that Rather would have taken of his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Yes, they’re both from Texas, as one TV critic noted, but so was Walter Cronkite.
But you could’ve sworn you were listening to Rather when Pelley began to regale reporters with a story about having learned journalism at a “little wood-burning TV station, literally in a cotton field.”
“Adults in my town were people who survived the Dust Bowl,” Pelley said.
“People who stuck through the Dust Bowl and never left. And you learn something from those people…about family, and honor, and sticking to it. And I’m very proud of that heritage.”
These days, Pelley said, he’s accosted by “people crossing the street to shake my hand and say ‘Hey, I caught what you’re doing. Please keep doing what you’re doing’.”
Pelley noted Rather was a “great mentor of mine” and that when his appointment was announced, the very first note of congratulations he received came to him via courier in a grey envelope – apparently grey envelope is a Dan Rather signature – saying, “well done and well deserved.”
“I hate the way it ended,” Pelley said of Rather’s long run at the news operation, “ but it will always have that very important place in CBS News and our history.”