'CBS Evening News’ EP: Havana Broadcasts Helped Pull Back Curtain on Cuba

Capus says being on the scene was important because Cuba is a “mystery to the American audience”
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In the midst of the cyberattack on Sony that has rocked both the studio and Hollywood, there was another newsworthy development this week, as President Obama signaled that he would attempt to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in 50 years.

While many newscasts led with the Sony hack attack, CBS News – long championing itself as more of a hard-news outlet compared to its entertainment and pop culture-infused rivals – began Wednesday’s Evening News – the same day the news broke — broadcast with anchor Scott Pelley reporting live on the scene in Havana. Pelley was the only network anchor to be down there in Cuba.

B&C associate editor Tim Baysinger spoke with Steve Capus, executive producer of CBS Evening News, about the quick turnaround to get Pelley down in Havana and the reaction from the locals down in Cuba. An edited transcript follows:

When did you guys first hear about this news?

We heard about it mid-morning [on Wednesday]. The first word was that Alan Gross was being released from detention in Cuba and almost immediately there began to be reports that it was just one piece of a much bigger story.

How soon after fining out did you plan on going down there?

I was on a train coming back to New York from Washington. Scott was still in Washington shooting a 60 Minutes story and we kicking around ideas like Miami. [CBS News president] David Rhodes said, "well if you’re gonna go to Miami why don’t you go all the way to Havana. Lets see if we can do it." We immediately jumped into action.

Scott was still shooting his 60 Minutes piece at 11:45 in the morning and five hours later he was standing in the Havana airport. It was a remarkably quick turnaround.

What is the reaction you guys saw down there from the locals?

We were the only network that moved our anchor down there, and I think that got noticed. Scott heard, any number of different times, that people were happy that he wanted to get the view from that island nation of these historic events.

Cuba is in so many ways is a mystery to the American audience. We don’t get to see much from out of there; everything has been controlled. I thought it was a great opportunity to take our cameras inside Havana and get the instant reaction to the events.

None of us had any idea that we would be doing that. When I saw Scott on Tuesday night, I never thought I would say "Well, I’ll talk to you when you arrive in Havana."

You guys were the first and only ones that sent their anchor down there. Why was it so important?

In addition to being the anchor and managing editor of the Evening News, Scott is also a 60 Minutes correspondent. This is a place that thrives on original reporting and enterprise reporting.

When appropriate, we’re going to travel Scott and get him out in the field. I think it always helps to get perspective on a situation from a reporter’s eyes.

This was a total team approach. Scott did the Evening News, he did reports for CBS This Morning, he’s shooting a 60 Minutes story that will air Sunday night. He broadcast on our streaming channel CBSN. He did live shots for many of our affiliates and O&O stations. He did reports for CBS News Radio. That’s the kind of team approach that we very much want to showcase these days.

How long are you planning on staying down there?

Scott is going leave Saturday. They are going to stay through Friday night. That’s a pretty healthy commitment; it feels like the right time to wrap things up.

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