News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

David Muir's 'World News Tonight' Receives Best Ratings In A Generation


Four years ago, ABC News named David Muir as anchor of "World News Tonight." Since then, Muir has made the broadcast very much his own. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, the newscast has just gotten its best ratings in a generation.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: At just 44 years old, David Muir is actually the longest serving anchor among the big three network newscasts. And the man does like to go out in the field.


DAVID MUIR: The nuclear plant shutting down tonight right in the path of the hurricane - we're live up and down the coast.

FOLKENFLIK: He conducted a virtual town hall with the pope from the Vatican in Spanish. He interviewed President Obama in Cuba and landed President Trump's first TV news interview in office. This spring, Muir reported on Syrian refugees from Lebanon.


MUIR: So you're trying to save at least part of their childhood?


MUIR: Do you fear though that this is sort of the lost generation?

FOLKENFLIK: As a boy 30 years ago in Syracuse, N.Y., David Muir had his own dreams.

MUIR: I wanted to see the world. And I don't think as a 12 or 13 year old you really recognize what you mean by that.

FOLKENFLIK: He wrote to a local TV station. An anchor wrote back.

MUIR: He said something like, you know, competition in television news is keen. There's always room for the right person. It could be you. That meant the world to me.

FOLKENFLIK: Muir says he was lugging around camera tripods for reporters by 13 and that staffers made pencil notches on a wall in the newsroom to mark his growth. Stints in local TV led to a job at ABC as an anchor and traveling reporter. In 2014, Muir ascended to the lofty perch once held by Peter Jennings. By then, the anchor position had started to lose some of its stature. The monopoly the big TV networks had eroded. Muir says he's trying to ensure that his newscast maintains its relevance.

MUIR: People are inundated all day long from the moment they get up in the morning when they check their iPhone or their smartphone, and they have headlines on it already. And they get tweets tweeted at them all day long. I do think people are hungry for someone to break through the noise. And I think it's made the 6:30 newscast actually more valuable.

FOLKENFLIK: Muir also enjoys guest hosting on lighter ABC programs, such as "Good Morning America" and "Live With Kelly And Ryan." Former ABC News correspondent Judy Muller says this when asked about Muir.

JUDY MULLER: Extremely attractive - the camera loves him, clearly a good presence on television.

FOLKENFLIK: Statistics from the TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall suggest Muir's successes relied not on soft news but on a local news formula - with a focus on crime, natural disasters and other video-friendly stories. Muller takes exception to Muir's approach.

MULLER: The network news shows, especially ABC, have shortened all their reports. It's a verb-free zone - people fleeing, rivers flooding, factions fighting. There are no verbs. It's all gerunds to give the sense of breathlessness. And it's all very exciting and all very rushed and all done on the cheap.

FOLKENFLIK: Muir says he pushes for some stories to run short, so he can devote more time to more complex pieces. Traditionalists like Muller say they chafe at the way Mure personalizes the news. In this piece, Muir sings a lullaby with a Syrian child refugee named Hoda.


MUIR: Is this your bed?

Hoda, climbing up under her bed with this song.

HODA: (Singing in foreign language, laughter).

FOLKENFLIK: Muir says it's a gift to be able to present stories on "World News Tonight." And he says people respond.

MUIR: I go through my email on the subway. And if I look up, I generally will have someone just waiting to catch my glance. And they'll smile. And I recognize that they know who I am from the news or whatever.

FOLKENFLIK: Muir enjoys his celebrity and also mocks it.

MUIR: But there was a gentleman sitting next to me. And I look up, and he said, are you - and I said yeah. And he said, well, what happened today? And I found myself doing the news all over again on the subway. So, you know, I'll do the news anywhere. I have been since I was, you know, 13 years old. So that's not going to change.

FOLKENFLIK: David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGE BENSON'S "BENSON'S RIDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.