The Washington Post published a seriously misleading headline Tuesday. At top of the Style section, it read: “Anthony Weiner is everywhere – except CBS: Anchor Scott Pelley takes the high road in his debut, focusing on other news.”
It would be natural for readers to think Pelley skipped Weiner’s confession entirely on Monday night. But TV critic Hank Stuever was merely thrilled and impressed that Pelley showed a “ray of serious sunshine” by delaying Weinergate until midway through his first newscast:
Meanwhile, I saw a ray of serious sunshine on the future of TV journalism. Barely an hour later, CBS calmly and with little fanfare debuted The CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley. That would be the network's not-ballyhooed, post-Katie Couric nightly newscast.
Little has changed, but as promised, it came with a 60 Minutes flavoring befitting the fact that Pelley, 53, was and is the venerable newsmagazine's finest correspondent.
Showing a restraint that, say, NBC Nightly News could not ("The age of oversharing has claimed another man," Brian Williams intoned, leading off his newscast with Weinergate), Pelley and company went to a long, on-the-ground report from Afghanistan, where reporter Mandy Clark had embedded with Army soldiers fighting on the Pakistan border. That led to six or so minutes connecting the future of the American involvement in Afghanistan to the troop killings in Iraq.
No. Pelley then segued to a long story about recent breakthroughs in treating melanoma and lung cancer.
Nine minutes in -- now Weiner? No, not until after the first commercial break, when Pelley granted the congressman's apology a full minute clip, followed by some analysis from Capitol Hill correspondent Nancy Cordes, who essentially boiled the drama down to a rather grown-up summary of why some politicians recover from this kind of scandal and some don't. That was followed, fittingly, by the latest news about former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn's rape charges.
The Post TV critic needed a stop watch, since CBS's Weiner clip was about 36 seconds, not a minute. But it was a Cronkite-era soundbite length. Pelley suggested that Weiner's newsworthiness needed to be explained: "Nancy, help us understand why Congressman Weiner matters."
Cordes underlined Weiner's appeal to liberals: "He holds kind of a unique position in the Democratic caucus...Weiner is one of his [Obama’s] most outspoken critics on the left. Whenever liberals feel that the president is straying too far from their principles in the pursuit of compromise. It’s unclear how well he’s really going to be able to handle that role now, a role even the president has said is important."
Then came a quick item on Rick Santorum's official bid for the 2012 Republican nomination; more glum news about the housing industry; Steve Jobs's iCloud; the Arizona wildfire; and finally, a long and uplifting feature about a World War II veteran's trip to Normandy after 67 years.
None of that was any better than when Couric was anchoring mere weeks ago. I don't know why (or even whether) it brings viewers any more comfort to have the news anchored by a stern-jawed man with graying hair, but Pelley's initial broadcast reminded me of how reliable and elegant the nightly news can be - and how nice it would be to sit in a recliner at 6:30 every night and just let the news be news. Of course it feels old, yesteryear, outmoded. (Plavix is not for everyone. Ask your doctor.)
But it felt dependable, too. Weiner was everywhere (deeply regret; deeply deeply; full responsibility - I get the feeling he's still in a dark room somewhere, repeating it over and over still), but Pelley took the high road. The sound you hear is the sound of Edward R. Murrow remaining, for once, completely still in his grave.
The Hollywood Reporter summarized the initial reception of TV critics, which was mostly positive, happy that CBS was going back to sober, stolid tradition. Ahem: how can that NOT be read as "Hurrah, The Era of Morning Gummy Grin Is Over"?