Note to readers: Former NBC5 and WFAA8 reporter Scott Pelley is widely perceived as the heir apparent to Katie Couric if and when she leaves the CBS Evening News anchor chair after a five-year stint. The job is "Scott's to lose," an anonymous CBS executive tells The New York Times in a profile of Pelley, who declined to be interviewed.
We earlier made the case for why veteran CBS anchor/reporter Harry Smith might be a better choice. But Pelley, 53, has certainly paid his dues and is the personal pick of former Evening News anchor Dan Rather, who told The Times that Pelley is a "true believer in the CBS legend, history and myth."
So was Rather, until he unsuccessfully sued the network. This could be Pelley's time, though, even if some think that anchoring the network's flagship nightly newscast would be a "demotion" from his current position as a 60 Minutes correspondent.
A previous "Back Channels" reprise recounted the numerous D-FW television reporters who have ascended to the network news level. The following two pieces focus on Pelley, highlighting his promotion to White House correspondent in 1997 and his coverage of the Iraq war in 2003. In chronological order, here they are, with the first interview originally published on August 28, 1997 and the second on March 30, 2003.
By ED BARK
Sometime shortly after Labor Day, former WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reporter Scott Pelley will be pinching himself on the White House lawn. Having just turned 40, he's come fully of age at CBS News. Meet the network's new chief White House correspondent, a job that still looks pretty good on the resume.
"This is the dream of most any television news reporter anywhere," he says by phone from New York. "Especially for a guy who started his career at the ABC station in Lubbock in the 138th TV market. I look back at the road I've traveled and all the people that helped me, and I'm lost for the right words. I'm just thrilled to be going to the White House."
Mr. Pelley goes to Washington in September, replacing Rita Braver. A native of San Antonio, he first tasted journalism as a 15-year-old copy boy for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Three years at KSEL-TV in Lubbock prepped him for an entry-level job at KXAS-TV (Channel 5) in Fort Worth. In 1982, Channel 8 hired him away from the NBC affiliate and helped put him on a fast track to the network level. CBS pirated him in 1989, making Pelley only the latest Channel 8 alumnus to go national.
The imposing list includes Lisa McRee (replacing Joan Lunden as co-host of ABC's Good Morning America in September); Russ Mitchell (joining former Congresswoman Susan Molinari next month as co-anchor of the new CBS News Saturday Morning) and Peter Van Sant (who will be a featured correspondent on CBS' new Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel).
Furthermore: Andrea Joyce has become one of CBS' most visible sportscasters. Verne Lundquist still broadcasts major sports events for a variet y of networks. Longtime CBS This Morning co-host Paula Zahn now anchors the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News and contributes to 48 Hours. Channel 8 emigrees Valeri Williams, Peggy Wehmeyer and Bob Brown are at ABC News. Leeza Gibbons has gone from Channel 8 to Entertainment Tonight to her own NBC talk show.
Current Channel 8 reporter Gary Reaves, who rejoined the station, and Cinny Kennard, who recently left the news business, also have worked for CBS.
Veteran Channel 8 executive news director John Miller has seen all of these reporters come and go. "The downside," he said recently, "is that we're always a target for the headhunters. Our people are very visible nationally, and you always hold your breath when the phone rings. But all things considered, it's better to have it that way than be a station that's not looked at for network-level people."
Pelley, married for 15 years to former Channel 5 news reporter Jane Boone, has traveled far, wide and gladly during his eight years at CBS News. You might say he's driven.
"I'm genetically wired to do this kind of work," he says. "I love it. I get tense when I'm not on a big story. I get tense when I haven't been on the air in a reasonable period of time."
The Pelleys have two children, Reece, 5, and Blair, 2. He credits his wife, who founded Boone Communications seven years ago, with "not only running her own business but taking care of business at home. I'm married to a magnificent woman. And if it wasn't for that, I would not be able to do this job. I'm on the road a great deal. And frequently, as a family, we have plans that are interrupted by a breaking news event."
His assignment for CBS have included the Oklahoma City bombing and the trial of Timothy McVeigh; the bombing of the World Trade Center; the Persian Gulf War; the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco; the Los Angeles earthquake and Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign.
Pelley also briefly covered Bill Clinton in that year, but hasn't seen him since. He plans to meet informally with the president during Clinton's vacation in Martha's Vineyard.
"It might be a good time, when the sleeves are rolled up and the president isn't as preoccupied with his duties of office, to maybe have a chat and a beer with him," Pelley says. "I think what you do on this job is develop as many sources as you can, get as close as you can. But at the end of the day, you've got to call 'em as you see 'em. Then if they don't like something you report, you take your lumps."
Pelley says he doesn't like the idea of dwelling on either Whitewater or Paula Jones, who has accused Clinton of sexual harassment.
"I hope those are resolved very quickly," he says. "Because they don't strike me as being at the heart of the nation's business. I hope we don't spend the next three years agonizing over those issues."
He envisions "bringing more of America to the White House. I've spent the last 20 years covering every place in this nation, and I'd like to bring some of that experience to Washington. Maybe a story on education starts in a Chicago school district, so we can show how particular people and events are influenced by what the White House is doing. When the president goes to a foreign country, perhaps we can get there early and learn a little more instead of being lashed to Air Force One and photo opportunities."
That said, he's not entirely without anxiety.
"I go alternately from being extremely excited to very concerned," Pelley says. "I have a lot of spade work to do. I can look ahead and see what the responsibility and the workload is going to be like.
"And it is enough to give one pause."
By ED BARK
Former Dallas TV reporter Scott Pelley joined CBS just in time to cover the Persian Gulf War.
Now he's back for a second tour that strikes him as markedly different. That's mainly because the military has treated him like a comrade-in-arms after drawing weapons on him in 1991.
"The contrast is almost night and day," Pelley says in a telephone interview from the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr. "We have been welcomed all over the battlefield so far."
Pelley and his CBS crew are on their own rather than "embedded" with a military unit. Before the war started, they rented a house on the southern border of Iraq and stocked it with provisions and a satellite uplink. On March 20, they found themselves in position to witness U.S. attack helicopters firing at enemy positions.
"It was really at that moment that we realized the war had officially begun," Pelley says. "He quickly hooked up with CBS News in New York, reporting live in a greenish "nightcam" glow that since has become a staple visual of network TV coverage.
"Then we broke the uplink down, loaded it into our pickup truck and charged in behind the invasion force," he says. "And we've been in Iraq ever since."
They subsequently hooked up with the Marines' Fox company, which took control of Umm Qasr after a lengthy firefight.
"Now it's turned into almost a small American town," Pelley said. "Now they have floodlights everywhere and even port-a-johns, which is a tremendous luxury."
Pelley, 45, worked at KXAS-TV (Channel 5) and WFAA-TV (Channel 8) before joining CBS in 1989. He was a network rookie when the Gulf War began. His most chilling experience had nothing to do with enemy fire.
Traveling with the 18th Airborne Corps, the correspondent and his crew briefly lost their official military "escort" while shooting footage in a small Iraqi town commandeered by U.S. forces.
"There were a lot of refugees leaving," Pelley recalls. "We were coming around a corner and encountered an American patrol. The commander's eyes just flashed with anger, and he got a squad of men and put us on the ground and asked what the hell we were doing there. There was kind of a feeling at that time that reporters were almost tantamount to the enemy."
Pelley says soldiers are welcoming reporters in this war. On Friday, the CBS vehicle was running on empty "until we hooked up with an Army unit that gave us all the gas we needed," he says. "So we're good to go all through the weekend."
Pelley's wife, Jane Boone Pelley, is a former KXAS reporter whom he married while working at WFAA. They have a son, Reese, 10, and a daughter, Blair, 7.
"They've been in Montana this week on our annual spring trip," he said. "This will always be known as the 'spring break war' in our house."
He also calls it the "cellphone war."
In 1991, "I was unable to speak to Jane for nearly two months," Pelley says. "And now I call her twice a day from the battlefield."