Russ Mitchell: An Anchor’s Anchor in a Sea of Personality-Centered News

–Richard E. Vatz

For so long I have found the CBS, NBC and ABC evening anchors to be bright and competent, but utterly opinionated and at odds with the old standard of disinterested presenters of the news. Not every night is off-putting, but enough are that watching the current (and former) network news anchors is often a chore.

At the same time I have found the outrageous salaries of these anchors to be inconsistent with the necessity of keeping large numbers of field reporters active, with Brian Williams and Katie Couric, for example, earning a news-quality-destructive $8 million and $15 million or so dollars a year respectively.

But most Sunday nights I can watch the CBS Sunday edition of CBS Evening News with the feeling that I am being genuinely edified, since the anchor is Russ Mitchell. CBS has a long history of compromising its evening news with anchors whose personalities affect each story’s interpretation implicitly or explicitly. This has been the case with all major networks for a long time, especially CBS (with the exception of Bob Schieffer for a short while), which has provided personality-centered news since after Douglas Edwards in 1962. I know Walter Cronkite is everyone’s favorite ex-news anchor, but he considered it appropriate to fight for his own agenda in his role as news anchor, particularly in foreign policy.

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For almost four years Mr. Mitchell has been the anchor of the CBS Sunday News report. He has won local and national Emmy Awards, as well as awards from United Press International and the National Association of Black Journalists.

But most impressive is his straightforward presentation of the news, unadorned by predilections for self-referential news presentations. The worst in network anchor history on this account was surely Barbara Walters decades ago, but more subtly such personality-centered news anchors include currently Ms. Couric, Mr. Williams and Diane Sawyer.

The 49-year-old Mr. Mitchell shows that straight news anchoring can be quite fascinating, as evidenced by his Sunday news broadcasts as well as segments for which he does the reporting on that show, such as his piece (February 21, 2010) on Homeless Female Veterans. Good anchors are not dull anchors, and Mitchell’s presentations are clear, serious and riveting.

I know that despite periodic ideological fairness, Ms. Couric and Mr. Williams and Ms. Sawyer are all liberal (I know; I know; Ms. Sawyer worked for Richard Nixon –that one dubious conservative link shouldn’t fly any more). I honestly don’t know Russ Mitchell’s politics – maybe he’ll be politically corrupted if he becomes CBS’ main anchor, but I doubt it.

And an additional bonus is his unadorned, unaffected sign off: “Good Night.”

Russ Mitchell: a competent, non-politicized major network news anchor whom one can watch without the self-aggrandizing distraction of the personality of the news anchor.

What a relaxed, informative joy on Sunday nights.

Professor Vatz teaches an advanced course in Media Criticism at Towson University

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