Scott Pelley will step down as anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” the network confirmed Wednesday. CBS News’ Anthony Mason, who has filled in on numerous occasions for Pelley, was named interim replacement. Pelley becomes a full-time correspondent at “60 Minutes.”
The departure ends months of speculation about Pelley’s future at the broadcast. Internally, some believed Kate Snow would step into the role, becoming only the third solo female anchor of such a broadcast. But she signed a new three-year deal with NBC News in April, expanding her role there, notably as a contributor to Megyn Kelly’s new prime-time magazine.
In a statement, Pelly said, “I find my heart filled with gratitude for the opportunity to know you, humility in light of your sacrifices, and hope for the future of journalism because of the standards you live by. CBS has been great to me for nearly 30 years. I’m glad to accept this assignment with continuing gratitude.”
Even with the speculation, Pelley’s abrupt departure is surprising if not quite unprecedented: Dan Rather was forced off “Evening News” after a historic 24-year run in the wake of a “60 Minutes II” story about then-President George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard. Pelley has been in the job since 2011 — a relatively quiescent period by “Evening News” standards, with little turnover and little apparent evidence of any friction between the network and its top anchor. Pelley has also spent these years in a dual role, as a correspondent for “60 Minutes,” which required frequent absences from the program for travel related to reporting duties.
Pelley’s tenure also followed Katie Couric’s five-year run at “Evening News,” when viewership declined and a corporate mandate to bring more star power to the third-place broadcast faltered. He gave the program stability — most notably during a period when Brian Williams was forced off “Nightly News” at NBC and Diane Sawyer left ABC’s “World News.” He did not, however, much move the so-called needle on the program’s relative position to the other shows. Since he took over, it has never moved out of third place. Over a long, proud history, “EN” was almost always in first place — at least during Walter Cronkite’s 19-year run, and during the early years of Rather’s. While neither CBS nor Pelley made any promises about restoring the dynasty, that was nonetheless implicit.
Pelley’s departure was first reported late Tuesday by the New York Post’s “Page Six,” which has had an amusing ongoing feud with the occasionally starchy newsman. He once declared that its reporters couldn’t last “10 seconds” at CBS News. A vendetta was born, and there was a certain unmistakable glee reflected in “Page Six’s” scoop, which noted that Pelley’s belongings had been moved out of his office in the so-called “Fishbowl” at West 57th Street headquarters while he was away on assignment. CBS pointed out that the moving had been handling with his permission.