When I was in journalism school at the University of North Carolina, I learned early on that calling a spade a spade isn’t showing bias. It’s doing what a good reporter is supposed to do–tell the truth. Lately, one mainstream media journalist has taken it to a new level–Scott Pelley, anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”
Unlike his counterparts on the Big Three evening newscasts, Pelley hasn’t shied away from calling out the myriad of contortions, distortions, and outright lies–er, alternative facts–that have spewed from the White House since Trump took office. His soft-spoken demeanor doesn’t take the sting out of some of the most devastating fact-checks in recent memory from the mainstream media.
Case in point–Trump’s train wreck of a press conference on February 16. This is how Pelley opened his newscast that night.
As Pelley saw it, Trump opened his first solo press conference with “familiar tools that built his career: bluster, bravado, exaggeration and a few loose facts.” One of those “loose facts” came when Trump, in Pelley’s words, “bent history out of shape” when he claimed to have won the Electoral College by a historic margin.
But that was pat-a-cake stuff compared to last Thursday’s edition. Watch here.
In front of a screen reading “Credibility Questioned,” Pelley said that Trump’s frequent “boasting and tendency to believe conspiracy theories” have severely eroded his credibility.
On Valentine’s Day, Pelley gave Kellyanne Conway the equivalent of an empty envelope. Watch here.
He described Kellyanne as “a fearless fabulist” for, among other things, making “alternative facts” part of the political lexicon.
The best yet, however, came on February 7.
When Trump told a military audience that the media isn’t reporting on a number of terrorist attacks, Pelley slammed it as part of “a busy day of presidential statements divorced from reality.” On the same day, as you may recall, Trump claimed that any polls showing that Americans disapproved of his travel ban were fake news.
Pelley made no apologies for his blunt assessment of Trump’s words that day. He told Variety last month that he was merely stating what was “empirically true.” As he sees it, journalists have a duty “to help our audience separate fact from fiction.”
Tom Bettag, the former executive producer of “Nightline” and a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, believes that Pelley sees himself as upholding the tradition of two of the men who made CBS News what it was–Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. I would add another one to the list. Having grown up watching Dan Rather, I see a lot of Rather in Pelley–and not just because they’re both Texans. Rather, like Pelley, is soft-spoken–but was not afraid to call a spade a spade.
Last month, Andrew Sullivan openly wondered whether reporters would have the guts to call out Trump’s blatant lies. Sounds like Pelley is listening. Hopefully more will follow–for our nation’s sake.
(featured image courtesy Peabody Awards Flickr feed, available under a Creative Commons-BY license)