National Press Club

Public should be skeptical of press, Pelley tells NPC Luncheon

May 22, 2019 | By Heather Forsgren Weaver | HeatherForsgrenWeaver@gmail.com

CBS News and 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, left, accepts a commemorative thank you National Press Club coffee mug from Club president Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak.

CBS News and 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, left, accepts a commemorative thank you National Press Club coffee mug from Club president Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak.

Photo/Image: Alan Kotok

Media consumers have “to take responsibility for what they” watch and read, CBS News “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley told a National Press Club Headliners luncheon Wednesday.

“We need to earn the trust of the public. I encourage the public to be skeptical of what we do and do their own research,” Pelley told Club President Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak.

While the ways that consumers receive their news has expanded exponentially, the rules of journalism have not changed, Pelley said. Journalists need to continue to ask themselves, “Is it right? Is it fair and is it honest?”

Several times during the conversation with Kodjak, Pelley stressed that “it is the freedom of the press that guarantees our liberty” and “there is no democracy without journalism.”

Just as freedom of the press is part of the First Amendment, so is freedom of speech, and social media is a form of speech, Pelley said. It cannot be controlled by the government, he added.

Social media has made everyone “a publisher and they have no editor and that is a really bad idea,” Pelley said noting that often on social media, it is believed “our first thought is our best thought.” He said he counsels young journalists to take the time to reflect before publishing because often the first thought is not the best thought.

The role of journalism is to decipher truth from lies, Pelley said. Using artificial intelligence, “which is too often artificial stupidity” is a bad idea, he said criticizing the algorithms being deployed by social-media companies to rid their platforms of mistruths. “You have to have a human being who is trained” to determine what is truth, he added.

Pelley was at the Club to promote his memoir: "Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter's Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Lives." “The book is organized as an anthology of short stories about people” separated into chapters with themes based on virtues, he told Fitzgerald Kodjak.

“I wanted to write a memoir but I didn't want to write a memoir about me because no one wanted to read a book about me,” he joked.

Pelley’s career in journalism began as a 15-year-old when he lied about his age to be hired as a copyboy at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in Texas, which only hired 16-year-olds for the job. “My career in search of the truth began with a lie,” he remarked.

CBS News recently announced some major changes including moving the CBS Evening News operation to Washington to be anchored by Nora O’Donnell and installing John Dickerson at “60 Minutes”.

“I am really excited John Dickerson is coming to 60 Minutes. He has the interviewing capabilities of Mike Wallace and the writing capabilities of Bob Simon,” Pelley said referring to two, now-deceased “60 Minutes” correspondents.