November 20, 2018

The real sins of network TV anchors

Brian Williams has fallen from grace for fabricating some pseudo heroics in his past Iraq war coverage, but the real problems of network news anchors are of a different kind.

The British counterparts of Williams (NBC), David Muir (ABC) and Scott Pelley (CBS) are called newsreaders or presenters, which is precisely the job description for their work. American anchors, however, have morphed into something akin to effusive masters of ceremony at testimonial dinners.

A good part of each 30-minute broadcast, after deducting 10 minutes for commercials, is devoted to repeating the correspondent’s location and assignment before and after each report, the network’s call letters, and finally in profusely thanking him or her for sticking with the story and doing such a great job.

A parallel custom in the newspaper business would be if, following each article, the editor would express his gratitude to the reporter for a wonderful piece of work.

Each of the network news anchors has a little shtick that, over time, can drive the listener up the wall. For Williams it is (was) such habitual phrases as “thank you – as always,” “reporting for US” and constant emphasis on the persistence of his people in running down the story, night or day.

At one time, we had high hopes for Scott Pelley and David Muir when they took over the anchor chair at CBS and ABC respectively.

Pelley had repeatedly shown his journalistic chops in his “60 Minutes” assignments and Muir had done credible work as weekend anchor for ABC.

Both, however, have quickly fallen into line with what I assume is a network rule that a new anchor must adopt some trademark phrase, akin to a nervous tick.

For Muir, it’s the habit of introducing the next in-studio reporter with “As you told me before the broadcast…” and then proceeding to tell her report in encapsulated form.

Pelley, in turn, has become the champion of the “thank you VERY much” cliché after each correspondent’s report, however bland or routine.

I have been asked why, if the network anchors annoy me so much, I continue to watch them. The answer is that the 6:30 p.m. newscast (5:30 p.m. on weekends) has become such an engrained pre-dinner habit for my wife and me that we can’t seem to break it.

I generally manage to get through the week by anticipating the weekend when the straightforward news presenters take over – Jim Axelrod or Jeff Glor at CBS, Cecilia Vega at ABC and, until now, Lester Holt at NBC.

Now that Holt is occupying – permanently, we hope – Williams’ weekday anchor chair, let us pray he will resist the temptation to descend into cuteness and cheerleading.

In the meanwhile, thank you very much for reading this article.