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NBC's Williams Praises CBS's Pelley For Being In 'Dan Rather School of Journalism'

Appearing on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman on Tuesday, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams heaped his idea of high praise onto CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley: "Scott grew up firmly in the Dan Rather school of journalism, which is a great tradition." [Listen to the audio]

Despite that laughable reference to the disgraced former CBS News anchor, who was fired for using forged National Guard memos to smear President George W. Bush in 2004, Williams was quite sincere in his supposed compliment to Pelley. Letterman wondered: "Is he [Pelley] the tradition of the great Dan Rather?" Williams replied: "Oh, a student and acolyte. And I say that as a big, big fan of Dan and a friend of Dan's for many years."

Pelley has certainly followed in Rather's liberal footsteps throughout his journalistic career at CBS.

Later in the segment, Letterman fretted over people turning away from the "objective" news media:

I see where our friends at CNN are having some ratings difficulties and I postulated, does this mean that people no longer want objective news? The kind that you and Scott Pelley and Diane Sawyer deliver. They want news that makes sense the way they think, so you have MSNBC or you have Fox News, objectivity has been lost. Is that a theory?

Letterman displayed his idea of "objectivity" earlier in the discussion, as he ranted: "...we invaded Iraq because Cheney wanted to help out his buddies at Brown and Root and Halliburton....now Osama bin Laden finally is gunned down by Barack Obama, displaying great courage and great intelligence. What more do you want to lead your country than that kind of courage and that kind of intelligence?"

Respodning to Letterman's media critique, Williams shared the concern: "I will say that it's new in the last two decades, you wake up in the morning, there's a cable network that already agrees with you. And that takes away a part of citizenship."

Williams then assured viewers he would always give it to them straight: "I like to say you can watch me for as long as you wish and I'm never going to yell at you, I'm never going to give any opinion, I'm never going to show, because to me it's completely immaterial."

Here are portions of the May 15 exchange:

11:56PM ET

(...)

DAVID LETTERMAN: First of all, Scott Pelley, a cohort of yours, a peer of yours.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Oh yes, I'm so anxious to take that on first – who's better, me or Scott Pelley? And Dave, I've had a few minutes to think about this backstage. We're just different people. And he is every inch a Texan and I am every inch a New Jerseyian, and all that entails.

[APPLAUSE & LAUGHTER]

WILLIAMS: When you ask Scott – and this is true, and you can try this – should he ever come on the show, when you ask him "Scott, how are you?" He answers, "Never better, thanks."

LETTERMAN: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Instantly suspicious of that.

[LAUGHTER]

LETTERMAN: Okay, alright.

WILLIAMS: You can't be that sunny.

LETTERMAN: Alright, "Never better, thanks."

WILLIAMS: Life's too short. If you feel like something a dog left on the sidewalk, say it.

LETTERMAN: Yeah, that's right.

WILLIAMS: We're not all going to have good days.

LETTERMAN: He's stoic. He's stoic. And you say Texas, is he the tradition of the great Dan Rather?

WILLIAMS: Oh, a student and acolyte. And I say that as a big, big fan of Dan and a friend of Dan's for many years. Scott grew up firmly in the Dan Rather school of journalism, which is a great tradition.

(...)

12:21AM

LETTERMAN: So now looking ahead, are we looking at a two-term Democratic president?

WILLIAMS: There is absolutely no way to tell, and if anyone comes and sits in this chair between now and November and tries to tell you they know, send them over to Kelly Lee. Send them for the exits. Because they don't know.

LETTERMAN: They don't know. Well, then others say-

WILLIAMS: A week is a year in politics.

LETTERMAN: Right. But they're now saying that the poll numbers, give and take, it's a push, it's fairly even. I can't believe that.

WILLIAMS: Right now it is, because remember, it's not really a national election, it's a battleground state election. So much of the country is kind of cooked, baked, given for these two parties that that's why they call them battleground states. It's going to be contentious. You're not going to want to look away from NBC News wall-to-wall coverage.

[LAUGHTER]

LETTERMAN: Right. Is it – it's not worse than ever, but it's bad.

WILLIAMS: It's bad.

LETTERMAN: I think that political contention –  contentiousness has been worse. I think if you go back to the 1900s it was probably ugly or uglier than it is now.

WILLIAMS: Why does it feel so bad right now?

LETTERMAN: Well, that's a good point. And I – you know, the other thing that I was – I see where our friends at CNN are having some ratings difficulties and I postulated, does this mean that people no longer want objective news? The kind that you and Scott Pelley and Diane Sawyer deliver. They want news that makes sense the way they think, so you have MSNBC or you have Fox News, objectivity has been lost. Is that a theory?

WILLIAMS: I sure think the more news we have, the better we are as a democracy, and for the three of our evening news broadcasts, the oldest broadcasts in all these buildings, we're doing very well in constant terms. I will say that it's new in the last two decades, you wake up in the morning, there's a cable network that already agrees with you. And that takes away a part of citizenship.

LETTERMAN: That's right.

WILLIAMS: Looking at the news, hearing it, reading it and discerning for yourself...

LETTERMAN: Right, that's gone.

WILLIAMS: Is that a righty? Is that a lefty? Is this good or bad?

LETTERMAN: No, it's much easier now if you don't want to expend the mental effort. Which is me, I don't.

WILLIAMS: I like to say you can watch me for as long as you wish and I'm never going to yell at you, I'm never going to give any opinion, I'm never going to show, because to me it's completely immaterial.

LETTERMAN: Right, it is immaterial. But for some people I think they find it reassuring, "Oh, here's the way you think. Guess what? I think the same way."

WILLIAMS: Yeah, preaching to the choir.

(...)

-- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.