What Forced Scott Pelley Out at ‘CBS Evening News’
Network insiders tell The Daily Beast the anchor, who is being shifted full time to ‘60 Minutes,’ had at least three strikes against him—from sagging ratings to management issues.
Tuesday night’s edition of the CBS Evening News led, ironically, with what substitute anchor Jeff Glor called “a shakeup at the White House”—a reference to the resignation of President Donald Trump’s communications director.
Left unmentioned on the newscast was an even sexier shakeup story—the forced removal of the program’s permanent anchor, Scott Pelley.
The 59-year-old Pelley, whose name remained in the newscast’s title and whose image appeared in the opening graphics, is leaving the broadcast after years of friction with news division President David Rhodes to work full time for 60 Minutes, according to CBS News insiders who confirmed a report Tuesday night in the New York Post’s Page Six column.
The Daily Beast also confirmed a report by CNN that the contents of Pelley’s Evening News office at the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street were being packed up in boxes and moved across the street to the 60 Minutes headquarters, at his request, while he’s out of the country on assignment for the top-rated Sunday magazine show.
Although Pelley’s departure has been in the works at least since late last year, the Page Six leak apparently came as a surprise, and, in a highly unusual and awkward circumstance, no successor for Pelley was announced. Before the leak defined him as a lame-duck anchor, Pelley was expected to resume helming the newscast when he returned to New York next week. CBS News veteran Anthony Mason was said to be a possible temporary replacement pending a decision on the newscast’s next permanent anchor.
A CBS spokesperson declined to comment late Tuesday night.
Pelley, who has been helming the network’s signature newscast since 2011, had at least three strikes against him, according to network insiders who asked for anonymity in order to speak freely.
First, his newscast’s Nielsens have consistently lagged behind those of his rivals at ABC and NBC, including in the latest May sweeps. It’s a situation that Rhodes—who came to CBS from Bloomberg Television, where he worked for current NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, and before that, the Fox News Channel, where he worked for the late Roger Ailes—has regarded with increasing impatience, especially when broadcasts such as CBS This Morning and Face the Nation have been enjoying robust ratings.
Second, Pelley was the choice of Rhodes’ predecessor, former CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, to replace Katie Couric in June 2011, and Fager was essentially Pelley’s corporate rabbi. Rhodes—who sources said has an occasionally acrimonious relationship with his former boss, Fager—had no particular psychic investment in keeping Pelley in the anchor position once Fager left as the news division’s top dog in January 2015 to executive-produce 60 Minutes full time, a job he had continued to do part-time after being named CBS News chairman in early 2011.
Third, and perhaps most troublesome, Rhodes is said to have been irked when Pelley hired sharp-elbowed Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel three years ago to aggressively negotiate a massive raise from the $5 million a year he was reported to be earning in 2014. In Pelley’s defense, he was among the more productive journalists at 60 Minutes while holding down his evening gig—and his compensation was a fraction of that of his peers at the other networks.
A fellow Texan and disciple of 24-year CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, who left the network in a blaze of controversy after a retracted 2004 report questioning President George W. Bush’s National Guard service, Pelley is known around the news division as dogged and hard-working, a straight shooter who conspicuously cherishes the so-called Tiffany Network’s history and traditions.
He also favors British tailoring, and his manner with colleagues can be a tad humorless and elaborately formal. Ironically, his award-winning broadcast had been winning critical acclaim of late for his no-nonsense coverage of the Trump administration.
“Soft-spoken yet direct, anchor Scott Pelley is emerging as a blunt evaluator of President Donald Trump on his ‘CBS Evening News’ broadcast,” Associated Press television reporter David Bauder wrote in March. “After Trump’s claim of underreported terrorist attacks last month, Pelley said on his newscast that ‘it has been a busy day for presidential statements divorced from reality.’”
Tuesday, meanwhile, was a busy day, for different reasons, at CBS News.