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Scott Pelley, the award-winning managing editor and anchor of the “CBS Evening News” and correspondent of “60 Minutes,” underscored the threats to journalism’s vital role in democracy as he accepted the 2016 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism from Arizona State University today.
ASU Provost Mark Searle presented Pelley with the 33rd award, given by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to recognize a distinguished journalist who embodies the values of the school’s namesake. Pelley received the award at a luncheon attended by approximately 1,000 media leaders, business executives, civic leaders, Cronkite School supporters and students at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix hotel.
During his acceptance speech, Pelley discussed the groundswell of inaccurate and false information masquerading as journalism on social media and news aggregator sites. He pointed to the recent presidential election, highlighting false reporting on each of the candidates.
“Is terrorism the greatest threat to our country, or a recession?” Pelley asked. “I suggest to you today that the quickest, most direct way to ruin a democracy is to poison the information. Those are the stakes that we have to address.”
The CBS News anchor also discussed what it takes to be a great journalist today. He told the story of Syrian citizen journalist Hadi Al Abdullah, who continued with his reporting even after being seriously injured in a bombing in Aleppo. Pelley touched on the news values embodied by Walter Cronkite, noting that Cronkite’s drive to get things right made him the best in the world.
Pelley also discussed the work being done at the Cronkite School to educate the next generation of journalists.
“The stakes are high,” Pelley said. “We need great journalists in this country, and I am so encouraged by the work that I have seen being done here (at the Cronkite School). I am enormously humbled by this honor, and I thank you, one and all from the bottom of my heart.”
As part of his two-day visit to ASU, Pelley is broadcasting the “CBS Evening News” from ASU’s Downtown Phoenix Campus today.
Pelley toured the Cronkite School and participated in a moderated discussion with students on Sunday. The talk, moderated by Karla Liriano, a Cronkite senior, touched on a variety of topics, including the recent election, Walter Cronkite and journalism’s impact on America.
“People take it for granted that we have the best journalism in the world,” Pelley told students. “People come from around the world to study journalism at Arizona State University and other great j-schools because this is one of America’s great ideas and one of America’s great products.”
Pelley took questions from students and offered them career advice, stressing the importance of strong writing and encouraging them to be relentless in the pursuit of their dreams. “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said. “We need you.”
Cronkite presented the first award bearing his name in 1984 to CBS executives William Paley and Frank Stanton. He was a fixture at the luncheons until his death in 2009.
Pelley joins previous Cronkite Award recipients that include television journalists Tom Brokaw, Diane Sawyer and Bob Schieffer; newspaper journalists Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward; and newspaper publishers Katharine Graham and Otis Chandler.
This year’s Cronkite Award Luncheon was one of several initiatives that celebrated the life and legacy of the late “CBS Evening News” anchor, who would have been 100 years old this month.
In September, the Cronkite School, CBS News and the Newseum hosted a special event in Washington, D.C., featuring Cronkite faculty and alumni as well as leading journalists that included Pelley, PBS NewsHour anchor Gwen Ifill, CBS News contributor Bob Schieffer and 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl.
Cronkite students also organized a gathering on Cronkite’s birthday – Nov. 4 – which featured more than 150 students and a video greeting from Cronkite’s grandson Walter L. Cronkite IV, who works as a Capitol Hill producer at CBS News.
“We believe there is no more appropriate and deserving recipient of the 2016 Cronkite Award than Scott Pelley of CBS News,” said Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan during today’s luncheon. “Scott is, in many ways, the standard bearer of the kind of journalism that Walter Cronkite defined for so many of us – deep, fact-based, objective, accurate, honest journalism.”