The 'Oklahoma Side' To CBS Evening News Anchor Scott Pelley
NEW YORK CITY - Every profession has its pinnacle. For broadcast journalists, it's the anchor desk of the CBS Evening News.
Since its sign-on in 1948, only five people have held that coveted position. And the latest comes with Oklahoma roots that stretch back for generations.
October 29, 2012: Superstorm Sandy is bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard, and Scott Pelley is right in the thick of the action.
Some two dozen people from the CBS Evening News have set up shop inside a restaurant on the Jersey Shore. Immediately after the broadcast, the police chief orders their evacuation.
"And not 15 minutes later, the restaurant fell into the sea," Pelley said.
Today, his schedule is not quite so dramatic, but every bit as hectic.
As Managing Editor of the CBS Evening News, Pelley regularly works 11 and 12 hour days, playing an integral role in deciding what will and will not make the final cut for the broadcast, while across the street, he has a second full time job as a correspondent for 60 Minutes.
This week's piece is a profile on Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, and Pelley and his producers are fine-tuning each and every frame.
All of this is a far cry from the wilds of Pottawatomie County, where Pelley's family goes back for generations.
"Around Maud, Oklahoma, my grandparents grew up there. My grandfather had a sawmill down there and my other grandfather had a cafe," Pelley said.
And Maud could well be home still for the Pelleys, were it not for the U.S. Army Air Corps.
After World War II, Pelley's father was stationed in San Antonio and the family settled in West Texas, but Oklahoma is still home to a huge cast of relatives: from a six-shootin' octogenarian uncle in Oklahoma City--
"Yeah, he's quite a marksman and really enjoys going out and dressing up in his western gear, strapping on his six shooter and firing away," Pelley said.
--to his in-laws and five brothers-in-law, all of whom make their home in Tulsa County.
We caught up with Pelley on Thanksgiving Day - his 32nd year to spend the holiday in the Sooner State - at a simple family meal for 60.
He said it feels like coming home.
"Absolutely; you bet it does. These are my family's roots," he said.
And in young Scott Pelley, those roots nourished a fierce ambition.
He landed his first news job at the tender age of 15, as a copy boy for the Lubbock Avalanche Journal.
"All the news of the world came into my wire room," Pelley said. "So, I knew everything first. And then I could come out of the wire room and tell everyone what had happened, and I loved that."
Soon, he moved on to television, with a dream of someday becoming a CBS News correspondent. The anchor desk wasn't even in his sights.
"Taking over as the Managing Editor of the Evening News or being a correspondent on 60 Minutes—it was too wild a dream for me to even imagine," Pelley said.
But while his achievements have outstripped his ambition, Pelley is determined never to lose sight of his roots.
On his desk, hidden from public view, are photographs of the 15 CBS News correspondents who have been killed in the line of duty.
"I keep them on the set, because I don't ever want to forget them, and I don't want to forget what people are doing around the world for CBS News every single day."
And in the newsroom, his is the voice of middle-America, of the lumber yard owners and cafe keepers that echo in his own past.
"I represent that part of the country that we call The Heartland, and when we're debating stories - what we're going to cover, how we're going to write them - my voice is an Oklahoma voice," Pelley said.
It's an Oklahoma voice, carrying on one of the proudest legacies of broadcast journalism.
"The most important thing I do is the 11 hours before I sit down in this chair," he said.
And he's only getting started.
It seems Pelley's approach to the news is working. In the 19 months since he's been on the anchor desk, CBS News has gained more than a million new viewers.