Peter Bart Praises CBS News For ‘Hard News’ Edge

By Alex Weprin 

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Former Variety editor (and now editorial director) Peter Bart wrote a column in the Hollywood trade newspaper focusing on how informed the electorate is, and how TV news plays into what is popular versus what is important. It is an age-old argument, but one that has recently seen new life given the divergent focuses of the network morning programs, as well as the ideologically divided world of cable news.

On the network side, Bart has a clear favorite:

While both NBC and ABC stress lifestyle angles, CBS is focusing more intently on hard news, with its “Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley fulfilling the profile of the more traditional anchor, formal in approach and elocution. Pelley led with news from Syria the same day others led with Whitney Houston.

The chairman of CBS News, Jeff Fager, has shrewdly implanted the “60 Minutes” brand over all of the network’s news coverage (Fager still oversees “60 Minutes,” and Pelley remains one of its anchors). So when “60 Minutes” breaks a hot interview, such as its recent session with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, its insights were sprinkled across the CBS spectrum of news shows. (“60 Minutes” is up 8% this year in the 25 – 54 demo).

Fager, himself a news junkie, has made several surprise moves this year to underscore that commitment. He’s challenging the feel-good “Today Show” with a morning news team headed by Charlie Rose. He has instructed his news directors to pursue stories they deem important, even if those stories defy audience research. He also has urged correspondents in the field to pursue personal reporting rather than supplying standard summaries of events in the region. Ratings of CBS News reflect this invigoration.