| Home | Interview with Bob Schieffer, CBS News -- March 2003
September 20, 2014

Bob Schieffer, 66, has been anchor and moderator of "Face The Nation," CBS News' Sunday public affairs broadcast, since May 1991. Schieffer has covered Washington for CBS News for more than 30 years. He has been Chief Washington Correspondent since 1982, and a Congressional correspondent since 1989. He has covered every presidential campaign and has been a floor reporter at all of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions since 1972. Before joining CBS News, Schieffer was a reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and, in 1965, became the first reporter from a Texas newspaper to report from Vietnam. He has won many broadcast news awards, including five Emmys and two Sigma Delta Chi Awards. In 2002, the National Press Foundation chose Schieffer as its Broadcaster of the Year. He spoke with about coverage of a potential war with Iraq. With a war looming in Iraq, have reporters been holding back on asking the administration tough questions because of the lingering effects of 9/11?

Bob Schieffer: No, I don't think so. I think we've asked most of the pertinent questions. I certainly feel like I have. We try to present a variety of views, especially on "Face the Nation," in the sense that we've had administration spokesmen on. I think we've done a pretty good job of keeping people informed on this. This is a very unusual situation in that most wars are upon us before we know it. I should point out that the Gulf War was not. We did have a lead-up to that. But we were certainly blindsided with Pearl Harbor. With Vietman, we found ourselves involved there before we really understood what was going on. But because there's been this kind of lead-up to this, I think it really has given us time to explore all sides of the issue. Was the Pentagon's decision to allow reporters to embed with troops a good one? Will the bond between journalists and military units make it difficult for journalists to remain objective?

Bob Schieffer: No, I don't think so at all. I think it was a very good decision. I must tell you on this one, I'm sort of like Ronald Reagan who used to say of the Soviet Union, "Trust but verify." I take them at their word at the Pentagon, if they're going to let these reporters go along and give us a view of this war if it does come. But I'm going to wait until the shooting starts until I give a final opinion. So far, they are saying all the right things. I give them the benefit of the doubt. I think they're going to try to do the right thing. But we'll see once the shooting starts if they follow up. If they do what they say they're going to do, it would be a very good thing. I also think it's not just good for the American people to have independent observers along, I think it's also good for the military. Had there been a reporter along with Lieutenant Calley when he massacred those people in Vietnam, I think that probably wouldn't have happened. With unit commanders deciding what reporters can report on, can journalists really do their job if they cannot report on all "sensitive" information?

Bob Schieffer: I think if you agree to go out with the unit, you have to put yourself under the control of the commander on the scene because if you had people out there who suddenly decide that they want to go off on their own or stop for the night in this place and the unit is going on to someplace else, you not only put yourself in danger, you put the troops in danger. The commander's responsibility is to win the military battle and he has to do whatever will help him accomplish his mission. I think a reporter has to be willing to do that. I don't think it really hurts either side. Obviously, if the commander makes certain decisions that the reporter thinks is inhibiting his right to report a legitimate story, he has to appeal to the commander's boss to get that changed. But if you're going to go out on a military unit, you've got to allow yourself to be under the control of the commander because you really could put the troops in danger. What's the most challenging aspect of anchoring "Face the Nation"?

Bob Schieffer: Number one, it's a lot of fun. I can't think of any other job in journalism where the newsmakers come to you. The most challenging aspect of it is not interviewing the people, but getting the right people at the right time to be interviewed. There's fierce competition between all the networks to get the guest who can bring the most pertinent information about whatever the story of the moment happens to be. It's getting the right person that's the challenge. Once we get them in the studio, you interview a person the same way you would interview another. You ask them a question. You let them answer. You try to listen closely and then ask a follow-up. With more and more people getting their news before they come home from work, what does the future hold for network evening news? What must networks do to retain viewers?

Bob Schieffer: Prior to 9/11, everybody was talking about at least one of the evening news programs going away, that their future was very limited. But with 9/11, we found that people tended to come back to the networks and the people who had been our core viewers in the past came back and they have stayed with us. We recognize that we have a different mission now. We now assume that when people turn on the evening news, they basically already know what the news is. They've heard it on the radio. They've seen it on the Internet. They've seen it on one of the cable companies. So that makes our job a bit different. It's no longer just reporting the headlines of the day, but trying to put the headlines into some context and to add some perspective into what they mean. You're one of the few broadcast reporters to have covered the White House, Pentagon, State Department and Capitol Hill. Which was your favorite beat?

Bob Schieffer: Hands down, Congress, covering Capitol Hill, because it's the last place in Washington where you can still have daily contact with the elected officials. In so many of the other beats these days, there are these layers of public relations people that you have to go through to get to the newsmakers themselves. At the White House, everybody works for the same person. They're all part of the same company. But on Capitol Hill, they're all independent contractors. They all work for themselves. That's a formula for getting news. Is journalism at its best right now?

Bob Schieffer: Journalism is very good right now. We're far from perfect. It's a human enterprise. But I can't think of any country in the world that has a citizenry that is more informed than the American people. For sure, the American people have access to more information now than any other people who have ever lived on earth. And I think we do a pretty good job of sorting out what's important. If you could do it over, would you still have gone into journalism?

Bob Schieffer: Absolutely. I can't think of a better way to spend your life. One thing young people have to always keep in mind when deciding what they want to do with their lives is, is it fun? Is it something that I'm interested in? Is it something I enjoy? There's a great deal of pressure now on young people to be, quote, successful, unquote, which is another way of saying, getting rich quickly. But if you don't enjoy doing something, you'll be miserable no matter how much money you make. I think journalism is a great way to do public service, to have an impact on your community. It's also just a lot of fun... I used to be a print reporter. I've basically thought of myself as a writer, whether I was or not. I sometimes tell people, when I was hired at CBS, it was because I was a good writer, not whether I was or not was beside the point. But that was part of the criteria in those days. You don't hear that much anymore. Nowadays I'm not even sure if newspapers take into account whether a person is a good writer. I always thought writing was the foundation and the basis for journalism in the same way being able to draw is the foundation for art. You recently finished a book about your career in journalism titled, "This Just In: What I Couldn't Tell You on TV." Did you have fun writing the book?

Bob Schieffer: I did. It was a load of fun. It was a lot of work. It causes you to make visions about things and sort out your thinking. Going back and kind of re-investigating these big events that I have covered, it gave me more perspective. It gave me more enjoyment for the experience of having done it because it was fun to go back and talk to the people, and to say how do you feel about it 10, or 20 or 30 years after it happened. It was just rewarding in every way.

Copyright © 2003 All rights reserved.

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