"Journalism is not about scratching the surface” in news stories and issues, and that’s why newspapers are so important, Bob Schieffer of CBS News said in a talk to members of the National Newspaper Association in Washington, D.C., last week.
A former newspaper reporter in Fort Worth Texas, Schieffer said newspapers provide indepth versions of the news, and “we cannot get along without what newspapers do.” He added, “A democracy needs newspapers because of what they do.”
Schieffer, 77, is moderator of “Face the Nation” on the CBS network and is the chief Washington news correspondent for the network. A native of Austin, Texas, he was educated at Texas Christian University. He has been with CBS News since 1969. He anchored the CBS Evening News in 2005 and 2006.
The National Newspaper Association (NNA) has more than 2,000 members from weeklies and small dailies to some major newspapers. He told the owners, publishers and editors at the NNA Leadership Conference that Big Media “could learn from you. You cover local news beats.”
While saying newspapers face a crisis today because of the Internet and the electronic media, Schieffer is optimistic that a business model will be developed that will end the crisis. “When society needs something, somebody finds the answer.”
Also attending the conference were journalism students from a number of states. They were guests of their state press foundations. Schieffer urged the students “to find out what is fun to do” in their lives. The veteran newsman said journalism is the most fun he has had in his life, and he still looks forward to going to work six days a week because it’s fun. He added that there is “great satisfaction” in following a journalism career.
Schieffer said corruption today is “like we have never experienced before.” One of his classic lines was: “Congress has an early start on doing nothing” and there will be no reforms coming this election year. “They (members of Congress) have hung out a sign, ‘Gone for the Campaign.’ ”
He reminisced about the “old days” of politics that he covered. It was more person-to-person and candidates were more sincere about wanting to help people, he said. Today candidates work with consultants, get information from pollsters, and spend much of their time raising money. “There are too many interest groups today,” he asserted. Evidence of that is that five days a week, members of Congress’ offices are filled with lobbyists coming and going. Much of their time is spent meeting with representatives of special interests. If the elected members of Congress aren’t there, staff members meet with the visitors.
Congress is in constant gridlock and too many members of Congress are there for themselves rather than being there to help people, Schieffer said. “Members of Congress don’t know each other like they once did. They have to leave town to raise money, and we won’t see an end of this for some time.”
Schieffer said Congress is not in the middle and “centralists” are needed “to get back on the road where we should be.”
We asked him whether he thought Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee in 2016 and whether she could be elected president. Schieffer said there is no one at this point to challenge her for the nomination and she could be our first woman president. He explained that there is no leading Republican on the scene. He said he had no idea who the Republican candidate will be. He did mention Jeb Bush as the possible nominee.
An interesting event in his long career had to do with Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother, who lived in Fort Worth when Schieffer was the police reporter for the Star-Telegraph. She called the newspaper after her son was arrested for shooting President Kennedy, and said she needed a ride to Dallas. Schieffer drove her to Dallas, and wrote a story about her. She never asked about the president. He said the woman was “strange” and even an “evil” person — the most “evil” person he ever interviewed. She never changed and later wanted to be paid for an interview, which the newspaper declined.
Schieffer was asked about the most respected person he ever interviewed. He said the list would be long. “Most are good people. As to the most enjoyable, he mentioned Henry Kissinger, who he said at age 90, “still is sharp, totally engaged.” Schieffer said he was very much impressed with Billy Graham when he interviewed him.
Schieffer said he has great respect for all the presidents he interviewed. He moderated three presidential debates and admitted he was nervous when he did the first one. He said Bob Woodward of Watergate fame “is the best reporter of this time.” He added: “He (Woodward) knocked on doors.”
On Edward Snowden, Schieffer said he is no hero, or a patriot, and is not a whistle blower. “He had a total disregard for the security of the United States.”
Another point Schieffer made was that the media can’t get close to the president any more because of the tight security. “They shut down part of the city for him” when driven somewhere. On overseas trips it is especially hard for reporters to get near the president. That didn’t happen years ago.
On his “Face the Nation” television program on Sundays, “They (high officials) come to you.”
The dinner was at the National Press Club.