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Gravitas and Grace at CBS

Correspondents old enough to collect Social Security do not usually top the list of candidates when network executives look for new anchors for their flagship evening news broadcasts.

So it's noteworthy that CBS News announced last week that its Washington correspondent and "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer will move into the anchor chair at "The CBS Evening News." He'll take over temporarily when Dan Rather signs off for the final time March 9.

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Anchors matter because network evening news broadcasts remain an important source of information for millions of Americans despite slumping ratings in recent years. The CBS Evening News is seen by some 7.5 million viewers a night.

The qualities an anchor brings are important both in helping shape the content of the broadcast and in relaying the day's information to viewers in an appealing way. Mr. Schieffer brings 36 years of network reporting experience, in-depth knowledge of the world and Washington, an ego that is remarkably well controlled, and a gentle, whimsical sense of humor. Non-CBS viewers caught a hint of all this when Schieffer moderated one of last year's presidential debates.

CBS has been going through rough seas in the wake of a deeply flawed "60 Minutes Wednesday" report on President Bush's National Guard service.

As part of rebuilding its news division's credibility, CBS management should carefully consider what the network would gain - and lose - in replacing Schieffer with someone who brings less substantial experience. In an era when public trust in the media in general is lacking, Schieffer's depth and demeanor set a high standard.


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