After six years at CBS Evening News during a time of trailing ratings, individuals familiar with the matter confirmed Wednesday that veteran journalist Scott Pelley is leaving the anchor desk.
Since President Trump took office in January, Pelley has distinguished himself as the nightly news anchor willing to take on the administration with sharp language, according to Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan. He has been a dogged fact-checker, seeming to emulate legendary CBS journalists Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.
The move is risky for CBS since news viewers typically grow loyal to a particular anchor and a change in a familiar face can lead them to go elsewhere.
CBS was able to contain the damage when it replaced longtime anchor Dan Rather with veteran newsman Bob Schieffer on an interim basis in 2005. But viewers were less enamored with former “Today” show host Katie Couric, who was Schieffer’s permanent replacement in 2006. She lasted five years, followed by Pelley.
It’s still unclear whether CBS has someone already in line to take over as anchor.
Pelley, who has been gone on assignment for “60 Minutes,” will return to the anchor desk temporarily until the network finds his successor, individuals told The Washington Post.
His departure was first reported by the New York Post, which said the ouster was in part the result of tension between Pelley and CBS News President David Rhodes. But individuals familiar with the matter told The Post that the network decided not to renew Pelley’s contract after unsatisfactory ratings during his tenure.
During the May “sweeps” — a quarterly ratings period that helps establish the cost of ads on local stations — “The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” lagged far behind the competition at ABC and NBC, finishing in its customary third place. More significant to Pelley’s continued tenure, his newscast had the largest audience decline among the three network newscasts. The program lost 9 percent of its viewers overall compared with May of last year and 14 percent of viewers aged 25-54, the key target audience for news advertisers.
All three evening newscasts lost viewers during the month but CBS’s decline was the worst of the three.
During his nearly 30-year career with CBS News, Pelley has won a record 33 Emmys, mostly for his work at “60 Minutes,” according to his CBS biography. He did oversee audience growth over five consecutive seasons and, according to the bio, “scored the broadcast’s highest ratings in 10 years.”
But the bump could be attributed to the impact that reporting on the Trump administration has had on viewership and readership at many news organizations.
More from Morning Mix