Ted Simons: Bob Schieffer has been a television journalist for CBS news since 1969. He is one of the few to have covered the White House, state house, Congress and the Pentagon. He's moderated presidential debates, including the 2004 debate in Tempe, and he's this year's recipient of the ASU Walter Cronkite award for excellence in journalism. Bob Schieffer joins us about his career, journalism and maybe even the art of song writing. Thanks for being here.
Bob Schieffer: Thank you very much, I’m honored to be here. Winning this award, there have been a lot of really good journalists who have won this over the years, but I have to tell you, I'm not sure any of them appreciated it more or felt it more deeply than I do. Walter Cronkite was my hero. He was who I wanted to be when I was young. He's still who I want to be. To win an award with his name on it is about as good as it gets for me.
Ted Simons: Working with and around Cronkite what did you learn, see, experience?
Bob Schieffer: The thing about Walter is he was exactly on television the way he was in person. He just was. He even talked that way. That Texas -- Walter Cronkite. He was just the same. He loved the job. I have never known anyone who loved the news more than Walter. He would talk about it with anybody. I have been with him many times, people will walk up to him on the street and say, what do you think of this latest development in Syria or something, and he wouldn't just be polite. He would stop and discuss it with them and he would generally ask them, what is your take on this? He just loved the news. He loved to talk about the news. He was a great storyteller. A wonderful friend.
Ted Simons: Do you find that comes across, you obviously love the news and current events, you wouldn't have done it this long without having a passion for it. Sometimes you look at folks, you wonder, they don't look like they're having that good of a time.
Bob Schieffer: I'm telling you I think part of Walter's success was people would look at him and say, that's a great job old Walter’s got, and Walter realized that and understood that. I think that's one of the reasons people trusted him so much.
Ted Simons: what got you into journalism?
Bob Schieffer: I always wanted to be a reporter. When I was in th grad I wrote a story for the junior high school newspaper and I saw my name in boldface type for the first time on top of that story and I said, I really like that. That's pretty neat. From that time on that is what I always wanted to do.
Ted Simons: You were in the Air Force.
Bob Schieffer: Yes.
Ted Simons: That service, how did that impact your career later on? Do you see a little bit of military happening every now and then?
Bob Schieffer: I would tell you, I think being in the military was the greatest transition that one could have to prepare for real life coming out of college. I learned a lot. I got to travel. I got to go places I wouldn't have gone before. I hoped to go to pilot school but I played baseball at TCU, and I got hit in the eye. Dizzy Dean's nephew, Paul Dean, Junior, played for SMU and hit me in the left eye. He played for SMU. I couldn't passed physical to go to pilot training. I always tell people I flew the LSD, the Large Steel Desk. It was a great transition into real life.
Ted Simons: What did you play in baseball?
Bob Schieffer: Catcher. Because they always put the slowest guy behind the plate and I was the slowest guy.
Ted Simons: Quickest way to get into the big leagues playing catcher. No one wants to do it. I'm fascinated by how many big name journalists, mostly in broadcasting, all around, were in Dallas, around Dallas, in Texas, when the JFK assassination occurred. You were there.
Bob Schieffer: I was. By the strangest circumstances I was a reporter at the Fort Worth "Star Telegram" in those days. The day President Kennedy was shot I was on the city desk just trying to help answer the phones. A woman called and said is there anybody there to give me a ride to Dallas? I said, lady, we don't run a taxi here, besides the President has been shot. I almost hung up the phone. She said, yes, I know. She said I heard on the radio. I think my son is the one they have arrested. It was Lee Harvey Oswald's mother. I wrote down the address, another reporter and I went out to this address, picked her up, took her to Dallas and I stayed with her most of the day.
Ted Simons: His wife was there as well?
Bob Schieffer: His wife later came along. We never told people who we were unless they asked. If they wanted to think we were a cop we let them think we were a cop. The Dallas cops thought I was a Fort Worth detective. So as the evening wore on in fact I had asked one of the uniformed police at the Dallas police station if there was someplace we could put her so the reporters wouldn't be bothering her. He assumed I was a detective so they found a place. As the evening wore on, she said, do you think they will let me see my son? I said, I don't know. I asked the Chief of detectives. He said, we probably ought to do that. We were herded into this holding room off the jail by this time his wife had joined us and I'm thinking, my God, they are going to bring him down here I'll hear what he says to his mother. Maybe I'll get to interview him. Finally a guy in the corner said, who are you? He said, are you a reporter? I said, yes. He said, get outta here. It was an FBI agent asking the question somebody should have asked, but in those days if you looked like you belonged someplace you could get in.
Ted Simons: That's an interesting bridge the next question, which is those days compared to these days. How has journalism changed? Has it changed for the better? Do you even recognize it sometimes?
Bob Schieffer: In many ways it has changed for the better. Certainly we're going through a technological revolution which has many good aspects to it but also some downsides to it. As I often say with the internet you can -- the news travels faster than ever. That's the good news. Bad news is the nuts can all find one another. That's raised real questions about how we do business. Our national security. All of those things. But in those days, news is pretty orderly. You got up in the morning, read the paper, watched the TV news, that was about it. Now we're bombarded with news from everywhere.
Ted Simons: Opinion and sometimes news and opinion, which is hard for folks to delineate.
Bob Schieffer: Well, what's different is that in those days you had three networks and your hometown newspaper and the major newspapers. Now you can get news from any conceivable point of view. Liberal, conservative, vegetarian if you wanted that. What's happened is we now have a lot of people who tend to watch only the channels -- I call it validation television, that validate their previous point of view. So what happens is if you're not careful, you wind up getting only one side of the story. We're not all getting the same stuff anymore. That's one of the reasons I think we have the great partisan divide.
Ted Simons: What do you do about that? If folks are voting with their eyes and ears and going to for these, for lack of better word, partisan websites, newscasts, radio casts, whatever, journalism is supposed to be delivering a service. What if you're delivering a service that no one wants anymore?
Bob Schieffer: You have to find a way to be relevant. My feeling is that as long as you present information that people need to improve their lives, they will watch. They will read your publication. But that's what we in journalism have to do is figure out how to stay relevant. And the most important thing that those of us in mainstream journalism can do is put extra emphasis on accuracy because so much out there now is just flat wrong. It's not just wrong, it's hatefully wrong in some cases. It's deliberately wrong in some cases. There has to be if we are going to have a democracy and people are to get independently gathered, accurate information there has to be a place to get that. That's why it's so crucial -- this is a commercial for the First Amendment. That's why it is so crucial. You can't have our kind of government unless citizens have access to independently gathered information.
Ted Simons: And there may be -- even on this program, you get complaints from the left, complaints from the right, but the fact that you're still offering it is important whether people realize it's good for them or not.
Bob Schieffer: Well, you have to find ways to get their attention. There's this great maw of information out there, and sometimes the hardest part of the journalist’s job is to somehow crash through that and tell people what you feel they ought to know.
Ted Simons: You have been anchor, were an anchor for 24-some years?
Bob Schieffer: 23 years I think.
Ted Simons: Didn't you when Dan rather, that whole thing happened, you were the first on there afterwards, correct?
Bob Schieffer: I did the evening news for a couple of years.
Ted Simons: Did you like it?
Bob Schieffer: I did. That happened to me earlier in my life I might have really campaigned hard for that job, but -- it was a wonderful job to have, and it was fun, but I would have had to totally uproot my whole life, move to New York. My grandkids are in Washington. It was not the point of the stage of my life where that was a good thing for me. It was a great thing to do and I'm glad I did it but I wouldn't want to do it all the time.
Ted Simons: You mentioned Walter Cronkite. Talk about Dan rather. What relationship did you have with him?
Bob Schieffer: Dan and I were always good friends. We don't see each other anymore, obviously, as much as we used to, but I always liked Dan. When I first came to CBS because I was from Texas and he was from Texas, we got along very well.
Ted Simons: Face the Nation. What makes a good Face the Nation show? When you leave the studio what makes you go, that one felt good?
Bob Schieffer: It's when you can get the key player in the most important news of the week. You can move that story forward. You know, Sunday mornings I think is still the smartest hour or so on television right now. The talking heads on Sunday morning, I don't mean just Face the Nation, all of the Sunday morning shows, they are much different than some of the talking heads you'll see at different times of the day in some of the other places on television. That's because we're still information driven. We're still trying to move the story forward. They are not about anchor antics or about gotchas and all that stuff. That happens at other places. That doesn't happen on the Sunday morning shows. I'm very proud of that and I tell you something, there is still an audience out there for that. Face the Nation is the second oldest television program, it will be 60 years old next year. Meet the Press is the oldest. They are the two programs on television that really have changed the least. The technology is a lot better but basically we just bring people in, sit then down at a table like this and turn on the lights and ask them questions. That's how they started and people still find that helpful. So I'm really proud to be a part of that.
Ted Simons: All right. Before we let you go, you have a busy day. You are going to talk about journalism and ethics and the whole nine yards all day long. What about songwriting? You're a songwriter!
Bob Schieffer: It's my secret life. It's kind of a parallel universe. I get a lot of fun out of it. I sing and write songs for a little band in Washington called Honkytonk Confidential. Maybe one of the great high points of my life is we were once asked to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. I came on after Trisha Yearwood and before Brad Paisley. Brad came out on the stage, we got a standing ovation. He said, thanks for coming, folks, I'm not following that. I was scared to death.
Ted Simons: All those years, anchoring all those stories, moderating presidential debates, a whole 'nother beast entirely, and the Grand Ole Opry got you?
Bob Schieffer: I'm telling you, it was really something, and it was also really fun. But I just love words and putting words together. I have always written kind of doggerel kind of poetry. This was just a whole new thing for me. And one of these days hopefully somebody is going to cut one of these and it will be a hit record.
Ted Simons: I hope it will too. Until then, though, continued success. Congratulations on a wonderful career and the award. Thank you for being with us.