CBS ‘Star’ Scott Pelley’s Ratings Tank as He Goes After Trump. Is He a Goner?

  1. Home
  2. Politics
By Joe Simonson | 12:08 pm, April 13, 2017

The sad sack CBS Evening News has long trailed its network competitors in ratings, but following Donald Trump’s election things have gotten markedly worse — and anchor Scott Pelley is as bizarrely emboldened as ever.

Since last November, the Evening News managing editor and chief 60 Minutes correspondent has shrugged off any hint of objectivity in his cheap shots and barbs at the president.  Maybe Pelley has seen too many episodes of The Newsroom, but he seems to think his nightly news program is an opportunity to lecture the country on why the president is terrible and why Pelley is such an insightful genius.

Unfortunately for CBS, it doesn’t seem like the country enjoys Pelley’s nightly lectures.  A look at Evening News ratings from December to April show a massive slide in viewership.

During the week of December 5, CBS was (as usual) dead last among the three broadcast evening news programs, at 7,621,000 viewers with 1,702,000 in the key demo.  By comparison, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt had a total 9,182,000 viewers.

Fast forward to April, however, and you’ll see a precipitous decline among all networks, notably with Pelley’s show getting hit the hardest.  For the week of April 3, Pelley raked in a mere 6,249,000 viewers with a pathetic 1,366,000 in the key demo — almost 1.7 million fewer viewers than leader ABC’s World News Tonight.

Of course, anyone paying attention to Pelley’s show shouldn’t be surprised by the ratings plunge. CBS depends on heartland viewers far more than NBC and ABC … and Pelley seems to disdain the heartland’s values and voters.  Industry insiders have picked up on Pelley’s blatant partisanship.  Ad Week’s A.J. Katz noted in March how Pelley “has become a critical evaluator of Pres. Donald Trump during his newscast, a tactic not necessarily used by his fellow evening newsmen.”

For a glimpse of Pelley’s naked disdain for Trump, check out a few of these lines:

  • Following Trump’s claim of underreported terror attacks, Pelley said “it has been a busy day for presidential statements divorced from reality.”
  • When the president fought with the media on Feb. 24, Pelley remarked “the president’s real troubles today were not with the media, but with the facts.”
  • After Trump’s generally well received address to Congress, Pelley said “Some of the problems Mr. Trump promised to solve last night don’t actually exist.”
  • Pelley called Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Holocaust gaffe one of the “White House errors of historic proportions.”
  • Pelley also claimed that “the common denominator of Mr. Trump’s woes is the Constitution” and not the media.

Nearly every night, Pelley takes a snarky jab at the president, but it’s on grande dame 60 Minutes where his credulity and bias really show. In a particularly embarrassing 60 Minutes segment on “fake news,” Pelley confronted one of its alleged progenitors, the slimy Mike Cernovich. When Pelley asked about Cernovich’s story that featured an anesthesiologist diagnosing Hillary Clinton with Parkinson’s disease, Pelley immediately and unironically took the Clinton campaign line.

PELLEY: You believe it’s true today?

CERNOVICH:  Oh, absolutely.

PELLEY: That story was sourced to an anesthesiologist who never met Clinton. It got so much traction, it had to be denied by Clinton’s doctor and the national Parkinson foundation.

CERNOVICH: She had a seizure and froze up walking into her motorcade.

PELLEY: Well, she had pneumonia. I mean —

CERNOVICH: How do you know? Who told you that?

PELLEY: Well, the campaign told us that.

CERNOVICH: Why would you trust the campaign?

PELLEY: The point is you didn’t talk to anybody who’d ever examined Hillary Clinton.

CERNOVICH: I don’t take anything Hillary Clinton is going to say at all as true. I’m not going to take her on her word. The media says we’re not going to take Donald Trump on his word and that’s why we are in these different universes.

Even an amateur troll like Cernovich could easily show Pelley’s gullibility for anything coming from a Democrat’s mouth. If Pelley’s idea of journalism is simply parroting Democratic campaign talking points, it’s no surprise people are tuning out.

One has to wonder why exactly CBS is putting up with Pelley’s shtick.  Sure, the show’s producers can walk tall at trendy cocktail parties as other urban liberals thank them for shedding their journalistic integrity.  Yes, CBS executives can boast about how they’re really doing the country a service by putting an empty suit in front of the country every night to read lines from a script that could be mistaken for a bland college newspaper editorial.

But we understand that CBS, despite top dog Les Moonves’ ardently liberal vibes, would like to see Pelley gone sooner than later. Our friends at The New York Post reported in December (before Pelley’s precipitous ratings slide) that CBS was “planning to move Scott Pelley off CBS Evening News” and let him focus on 60 Minutes. CBS strenuously denied the report. But removing a deeply entrenched and canny news star takes time, and Heat Street hears that Pelley is on his heels. The dramatic firing in February of potential replacement Josh Elliot from CBS bears Pelley’s fingerprints, and his increasingly aggressive stance against Trump makes it harder for him to be fired, even as it undermines his ratings and drives away viewers in droves. An animal is most dangerous when cornered.

As for Pelley’s current left wing, 6:30pm sideshow, his little act would be a lot more effective if anyone was really watching.  It’s hard to say you’re helping resist a president’s agenda when you’re really just yelling into the wind.  It’s not like Pelley’s competition is even that stiff — does CBS really think Lester Holt is somehow an unbeatable juggernaut?  He has enough of his own problems with fleeing Donald Trump voters after his debate moderation fiasco. Please.

Then again, Pelley transforming “Evening News” into his soapbox is one of the oldest liberal games in the book. There’s something in the DNA of supposed journalists who think that as soon as they get a little bit of spotlight, the American people will be too stupid to notice when they turn their news show into just another liberal op-ed page. With these sharp declines in ratings, the only idiots are the folks at CBS.

Follow Joe Simonson on Twitter.