Network News

On December 31, 2017, New York Times media reporters John Koblin and Michael M. Grynbaum chatted in print about the year in television. Part of their conversation went like this:

KOBLIN: For decades, networks were frightened to lose big names. Now we have CBS replacing Scott Pelley on the evening news with a guy named Jeff Glor.

GRYNBAUM: A man also known as “Who?”

We shall explore the “who” of the matter in a moment. Right now, it’s a cold, bright day in March, and we have blown down West 57th Street and into the CBS Broadcast Center, a mammoth brick complex that once housed the world’s largest milk distributor. We’re waiting for our escort up to Jeff Glor’s office.

As we wait, we recall that in a former age, network news anchors bestrode the culture like giants. You may well have identified your household’s style and tone by the anchor you watched: Dan Rather (CBS) and his restrained pugnacity; Peter Jennings (ABC) and his courtly erudition; Tom Brokaw (NBC) and his heartland naturalness.

Then times changed. After a collective sixty-eight years in the anchor chair, Rather, Jennings and Brokaw left within four months of one another in 2004 and 2005. Meanwhile, round-the-clock cable news (and opinion, and debate and hot air) cut deeply into evening news audiences, diminishing the Big Three’s once-ritual importance.

Today, the network evening newscasts—ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, and the CBS Evening News with Jeff Glor—still draw a combined 25 million viewers on a good night, far outpacing the top three cable news shows (Hannity, The Rachel Maddow Show and Tucker Carlson Tonight), which draw 9 million. Thus the evening news remains America’s predominant source of fact in a disputatious age. That is why so many people pay close attention when a new anchor comes on the scene.

We wend our way through the innards of the CBS Broadcast Center—a building hallowed by the ghosts of Edward R. Murrow, Howard K. Smith, Eric Sevareid, Charles Kuralt, Andy Rooney, Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley and, of course, Walter Cronkite, who anchored the news from 1962 to 1981—until we arrive at the book-filled office that is Jeff Glor’s. The Greenwich resident rises from his desk—lean, taller than expected, thick auburn hair slightly tousled from the cogitations of his 9:30 a.m. editorial meeting.

“I think I celebrated by changing a diaper,” Glor says of the day he learned the job was his. He smiles. “No, there wasn’t a big party.”

Though CBS’s legacy is second to none, its evening newscast has long been mired in third place. In hiring Katie Couric in 2006, CBS secured an authentic star—albeit a morning one—but she never ignited the 6:30 p.m. audience despite some excellent work. CBS made a more traditional choice

in Darien resident Scott Pelley. CBS viewers already admired him for his investigative reporting on 60 Minutes; As Dan Rather said of Pelley, he “burns with the hot, blue flame to report news.” But again the ratings needle remained mysteriously stuck. Last May, amid rumors of a contract dispute, CBS ended Pelley’s six-year turn, and returned him to 60 Minutes full-time.

With lots of in-house talent to draw upon, CBS might have then selected interim anchor Anthony Mason, known for his work on CBS This Morning. Or John Dickerson, host of Face the Nation. Or Anderson Cooper, host of Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN and a part-time correspondent for 60 Minutes. Or Charlie Rose, whose scandal days were still in the offing. Or Jane Pauley. Or Norah O’Donnell. Or Gayle King. Or even Stephen Colbert.

After five months of deliberation, though, they settled on the man called “Who?”

So Jeff Glor isn’t a big name. But everything else is there.

His voice is sonorous and relaxed. His smile, when he unsheathes it, is like a stealth weapon: Who would not tell him all he wants to know? And his experience is varied and deep: from breaking the sound barrier in an F-18 to tagging great white sharks in the waters off Montauk; from wildfires out West to hurricanes back East; from the thawing permafrost in Alaska to the crumbling ice shelves in Antarctica; from bombings in Boston to warfare in Iraq; from mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, to mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

“Sandy Hook was the worst for me, and may always be the worst,” says Glor, who was by then the father of a young boy. “I was there by that afternoon. The next day, at a news conference with one of the family members, I held it together—but then I got back to my rental car and just lost it.”

In Glor’s decade-plus at CBS News—appearing on CBS This Morning, Sunday Morning, 60 Minutes Sports and CBS Evening News—he has shown himself to be less a Mike Wallace than an Ed Bradley—never acerbic and confrontational, as Wallace was, and always curious, polite, and humane, though with a firm edge when needed, as Bradley was. In 2011, Glor won an Emmy for a CBS Sunday Morning piece about the once-prosperous steel town Braddock, Pennsylvania, on the Monongahela River. Braddock had disintegrated badly until a scary-looking man—six-foot-eight, 350 pounds, shaved head, tattoos—named John Fetterman got himself elected mayor and turned things around. The piece showcases the quiet authority of Glor’s delivery and the lucidity of his writing:

Braddock has fallen so far, the 2009 movie The Road—set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland—was filmed on its empty streets. Today, 90 percent of the population of Braddock has left; less than 3,000 people remain. The poverty rate here is three times the national average. There is no restaurant or ATM, gas station or supermarket. But for the people who stayed in this small town, there is hope . . . and it comes in the form of a very large man.

“Yes, this is television,” Glor remarks. “But the first, second and third most important thing about this business is writing. When I talk to kids coming up, I say, ‘Figure out how to write, whether your story is fifty words or 5,000. If you know how to craft a story, you should succeed in this business.’”

Glor possesses an uncanny ability to bring out the beauty or the beast in interview subjects. For an example of the latter, consider his interview with rock musician Ted Nugent in 2012, shortly after a Nugent tirade meant to support Mitt Romney but far more interested in savaging President Obama, drew a visit from the Secret Service.

GLOR: If Mitt Romney is to win, he needs at least some of the moderate vote. You are many things, but not moderate.

NUGENT: But not very moderate. … You done many interviews?

GLOR: Decent number.

NUGENT: Call me when you sit down across from someone who has more families call me with more dying little boys and girls to take on their last fishing trip in life! Call me when you meet someone who does that more than I do! Because that’s really moderate! In fact, you know what that is?! That’s EXTREME! I’M AN EXTREMELY LOVING AND PASSIONATE MAN!! And people who investigate me honestly, without the BAGGAGE of political correctness, ascertain the conclusion that I’m a DAMN NICE GUY! And if you can find a screening process more powerful than that, I’ll [BLEEP, BLEEP, BLEEP]!

Glor sat by, unflinching and unfazed. Nugent then aimed a volley of expletives at the nearest person who wasn’t Glor, an off-camera producer named Molly. Glor’s mouth opened a little, but that was all. Another journalist might have packed it in and gone home. But Glor steered Nugent back to a region of sanity: “At the end of every day, and at the end of my life, I will be in the asset column,” Nugent declared. “I will better mankind, I will better the environment, I will better America.”

“Thank you for bettering this interview,” Glor said slyly.

Glor is acknowledged to be so good in the field that CBS lets him out of Studio 57—the bright, airy room from which he broadcasts—as often as it can. Soon after taking over, he tic-tac-toed from France’s presidential palace to the mudslides in California to the latest school massacre, in Parkland, Florida. He turns his computer monitor to show us a rundown of tonight’s newscast. “At this point, we’re leading with Adriana Diaz talking about the school walkouts that took place today”—a nationwide protest by students demanding substantive changes to gun laws. “We’re one minute over,” he adds, noting the show’s total running time. “We have twenty-two minutes to work with when you take out the commercials. There are times when we’re eight minutes over, and we have to keep whittling the show down” as airtime speeds toward them.

“We’re considering what’s going in the show up until 6:29 every night,” says Glor’s executive producer, Mosheh Oinounou. He notes that Glor, far from being a mere news reader, is critical to the process. “Every word, every photo, every story we’re doing, he scrutinizes.”


THE ART OF STORYTELLING

Jeff Glor came late to his calling.

Born in Buffalo in 1975, he was raised with his two brothers in a one-story house on Snug Haven Court, a tidy, tree-lined street in the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda. As a boy, he delivered the Buffalo News to neighborhood houses, played sports and Dungeons & Dragons, traced the fortunes of the Buffalo Bills, and read, and read, and read. At dinnertime, “against my better judgment,” Jeff’s mother Karen Glor says, the family would switch on the old black-and-white set in the kitchen and watch Walter Cronkite, never dreaming that Jeff, sitting there in his Bills T-shirt, would one day occupy Cronkite’s chair.

“The first time I knew Jeffrey had some presence in front of an audience was in about the fifth grade,” Karen continues. “He recited a poem about Abraham Lincoln, [Walt Whitman’s] ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ He recited it with such feeling that, not only was I proud of him, but I was moved to tears. To this day it’s embedded in my brain cells.”

At Syracuse University Glor “checked the box for pre-dentistry,” he says, because an uncle and a grandfather had been dentists. One chemistry class later, though, he thought better of it and embarked on a broadcast journalism–economics double major. Still he hesitated. Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications is superb but hardcore, and those who go there tend to be full-blooded news creatures, having already edited high school newspapers and interned at local TV stations. “I was intimidated by a lot of the kids at Newhouse,” Glor admits. “And I was more interested in trying to write books, novels, at that time.”

Barbara Fought (rhymes with “boat”) taught Glor broadcast writing in his sophomore year. “He stood out because he always cared about writing,” she says, noting the pains he took to learn how to write for TV, “to write not for the eye, but for the ear—to write conversationally.” She adds, “I remember him coming to my office and wanting to talk about good writing and good storytelling. He’s the only person in my twenty-five years of teaching who has ever done that.”

Glor’s wife, Nicole, also attended Newhouse but didn’t know Jeff there, being two years younger and a cheerleader who was often away at games and tournaments. “It’s funny,” she says. “I always said when I was in college that I would never date a Newhouse boy. They all wanted to be Tom Brokaw from the time they were two.”

After college, Glor landed at WSTM in Syracuse, and soon Nicole landed there, too, as an assignment editor and a news producer. Right away she knew Jeff was different. He gave the impression of gliding along on the pleasures of work, above the competitive fray, above the sharp-elbowed skirmishing known to plague the field. “He always says, ‘As long as you do good work, people won’t be able to complain about you,’” Nicole says. “He’s not into drama and gossip whatsoever. Just sports and authors and books and news.”

Glor’s conspicuous talent also set him apart. “The first minute I met him, I knew he was going to be a network evening news anchor,” Nicole recalls. “He just had this energy about him, this aura. You could tell he wasn’t going to be in local news very long.” She thinks a moment. “And he’s cute, by the way.”

In December 2016 the Glors moved to Greenwich from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, seeking the sort of leafy green free-dom for their children—Jack, eight, and Victoria, three—that they enjoyed growing up. “We wanted something like the Hamptons, but not that far away and not with all that traffic,” Nicole says. “So we jokingly call Greenwich ‘the Gramptons.’”

Nicole has settled in nicely; she’s a fitness instructor at Equinox who also makes fitness videos and appears on national TV, notably Fox and Friends, as a health expert. Jeff runs with Nicole at Tod’s Point and goes on “reading dates” with her at local coffee shops—but otherwise he inclines toward reclusion.

“Work takes so much out of him that he would really rather be more of a hermit at home on the weekends,” Nicole says. A perfect summer day would see him working out, reading (a lot), frolicking with Jack and Victoria in the pool or on the lawn, and grilling fish bought the same day at Fjord’s.

But Glor is not granted total serenity. “I’m kind of like the social director of our marriage,” Nicole says. “I’m like, ‘Hey, we’re having friends over with kids! We’re going to hang out with them! We’re going to be social!’ And he can’t really say no. But he always warms up to it in the end.”


TIME WILL TELL

Glor debuted as anchor of the CBS Evening News on December 4, 2017. CBS executives did not make us privy to the internal discourse that led to Glor’s selection, but surely they reflected that they’d been in third place since the 1990s; that neither Bob Schieffer (who served as interim anchor after Rather), Katie Couric nor Scott Pelley, despite their fame and experience, did much to boost ratings; and that over at top-rated ABC, youth rather than stardom was winning the day in the form of forty-four-year-old Muir, whose career Glor’s powerfully resembles.

So, seven months in, how’s he doing? Though the numbers fluctuate, he draws roughly 6.2 million viewers a night—about the same as Pelley did, but well shy of Holt’s 7.8 million and Muir’s 8.2 million.

“Changes in audience levels in this time slot are glacial at best, so it is only fair to judge whether a new face has made a difference eighteen months or so after his arrival,” Andrew Tyndall, who heads The Tyndall Report, an oft-cited journalism analysis newsletter, explains by email.

“Incremental changes are best,” Glor observes. “You can’t change everything overnight. It has to be day by day, and over the long haul it all adds up.

”For now, the differences between the Pelley and Glor newscasts are subtle. There’s the same briskly moving digest of stories—many more than you see on cable, where the same two or three stories are hashed out for hours; and the same fluid quarterbacking—the anchor introducing the play, as it were, then tossing his passes to correspondents in the field. (Glor more zealously promotes CBSN, the network’s twenty-four-hour online streaming video feed, the better to entice younger viewers.)

So far, the most marked change is one of tone. “Pelley put extra emphasis on how to lead off his newscast, sometimes welcoming ideological controversy with bluntly worded, declarative introductions to the day’s headlines,” Tyndall says. “Glor’s emphasis, so far, has been on how the newscast ends instead, searching for the non-ideological emotional or even whimsical note with which to bid the viewers good evening.”

True. Glor ends with an upbeat, often lovely story, and does not court controversy as Pelley did. Is this a good thing? In February 2017, when President Trump accused “the very, very dishonest press” of covering up terrorist attacks, Pelley observed, “It’s been a busy day for presidential statements divorced from reality.” That observation, though well supported by fact, made Pelley a lightning rod: “Right on,” thought some; “I don’t have to watch this,” thought others, Trump supporters who believed Pelley had fatally exposed his bias.

Not long after Glor took over, a woman commented on Glor’s Facebook page, “Thank you, Jeff, for the wonderful job you do on the CBS News… whatever your views, I always feel like you bring it to us down the middle. … You just give us the news and we’ll figure it out ourselves.” Another wrote, “Jeff, it is no longer Mr. Trump. It is now PRESIDENT Trump! You are showing your bias, just like those before you that no longer have jobs.” (Actually, it’s “Mr.” in the second reference.)

“There’s a segment of the population that’s never going to be happy with any story you do, whether they’re coming out from the extreme right or the extreme left,” Glor says. “Some of the vitriol that you see online, I know it doesn’t represent all of America. The vast majority of people are smarter and more nuanced and more thoughtful than that.”

Still, we wonder how Glor will navigate these touchy times. Cronkite ventured into commentary only once (at least by his own count), when he called the Vietnam War a hopeless “stalemate.” Howard K. Smith believed newspeople were obliged “to take sides on public issues,” as he himself did on segregation. When the current president calls the free press, and CBS specifically, “an enemy of the people”—summoning a grave historical echo—is it incumbent upon the Jeff Glors of the media world to say something? Or does saying something merely add to the ferment of opinion?

Glor replies like a workman bent to his craft. “We’re not trying to make anyone happy or unhappy, we’re just trying to tell stories in the most truthful and fairest manner that we can,” he says. “And if we’re telling stories well, people will find us. But it takes a long time, and you have to prove yourself every night.”

 

 

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