Journalist Bob Schieffer Retires

Bob Schieffer never wanted to be the story; he just wanted to cover the news. In signing off for the last time as anchor of Face the Nation, he made that clear: “The news is not about the newscaster,” he said. “It’s about the people who make it and those who are affected by it.”

Schieffer remembered that he was hooked when he saw his byline in the school newspaper when he was a ninth grader. He grew up in Ft. Worth, Texas, and went to college locally at Texas Christian University. He landed his first job at a local radio station, KXOL, working for $1 an hour. On Sunday’s Face the Nation he would recall, “I love the news, and, at the time, every job I have ever had was the best job in the world.”

That enthusiasm soon landed him a job at the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. It was there he got his first big scoop. He was working in the newsroom following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. In his 2003 book, This Just In, he described answering one of the ringing phones:

A woman’s voice asked if we could spare anyone to give her a ride to Dallas.

“Lady,” I said, “this is not a taxi, and besides, the president has been shot.'”

“I know,” she said. “They think my son is the one who shot him.” It was Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother who had heard on the radio her son had been arrested.

“Where do you live?” I blurted out. “I’ll be right over to get you!”

Schieffer picked her up and drove her to the Dallas police station where police guided him and Mrs. Oswald into an interrogation room. Several hours later the FBI realized they had a reporter in their midst and ordered him to leave. But Schieffer had a great story.

Following the Kennedy assassination, Schieffer got his first promotion from the police beat to covering the county courthouse. Then The Star-Telegram would send him to Vietnam to cover America’s growing involvement there. The paper had promised that he would interview every Ft. Worth boy he could find. “I have yet to match the thrill I got when I would… tell a 19-year-old kid, ‘I’m from the Star-Telegram and your mom wrote me a letter and asked me to look in on you,'” he remembered in his book. When his assignment in Vietnam ended, he recalled, “I had gone to Vietnam convinced the government was on the right course, and was coming home convinced the course was hopeless.”

Schieffer would be hired by a local television station, but he was eager to move a network news organization. In 1969, he took a job in Washington as a reporter with Metromedia. His first assignment would be to cover the Nixon Inaugural. But he still wanted a network news job, preferably with CBS News because Walter Cronkite was his favorite broadcaster. Loaded down with tapes of his stories, he arrived one day at the CBS News Washington bureau and announced he was there to see the bureau chief. After making his case to Bill Small, the tough CBS News bureau chief, he left thinking he had failed. But a week later Small hired him.

In 1970, CBS News assigned Schieffer to the Pentagon beat. He would later note that he was one of the few Washington reporters who covered all of the four major beats, the Pentagon, State Department, White House and Congress. Washington was ground zero for news with the Vietnam War, the re-election of President Nixon in 1972, and the Watergate scandal, and Schieffer was deeply involved in CBS News coverage. Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974. Schieffer covered Nixon’s final departure from Andrews Air Force Base on Air Force One. One week after Nixon’s resignation, Schieffer was promoted to White House correspondent replacing Dan Rather, who took over as anchor for CBS Reports.

Schieffer covered Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Schieffer also continued his role as anchor of the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News. In 1979, Schieffer was asked to anchor the struggling CBS Morning News, a role he carried out for 21 months. He would describe his stint as a “graduate course in learning how to handle on-the-air emergencies.” He requested a transfer back to Washington, and would soon become the State Department correspondent.

In 1981, Dan Rather would replace the retiring Walter Cronkite as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Schieffer found himself covering politics. Meanwhile, CBS went through a change of ownership, which led to a round of deep budget cuts. In the late ’80s, Schieffer became CBS News’ Congressional correspondent. He later said that, “Congress had always been my favorite part of Washington.” He mastered the beat.

In 1991, Face the Nation anchor Lesley Stahl became a correspondent for 60 Minutes. Schieffer was offered the job and responded, “When do I start.” He wrote, “It didn’t take me long to realize that of all the jobs I have ever had over the years, this was the best. I got to interview everyone who was anyone, and I didn’t even have to go to them.”

Schieffer anchored Face the Nation for 24 years. He led the expansion of the program from 30 minutes to an hour. He hosted presidents and world leaders. He asked tough questions, but was never confrontational. He tried to make each program informative and interesting. At the end of his tenure, Face the Nation was consistently the number one ranked Sunday pubic affairs program.

As he began his final broadcast Sunday, the 78 year-old Schieffer, speaking with his characteristic Texas drawl, said, “Today we’ll keep with that tradition set 24 years ago, and stay focused on the news.” While the news business has changed dramatically over the past six decades, there is much for all journalists to learn from Bob Schieffer’s remarkable career.

Thank you, Bob.

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