By Jonathan Singer - 07/19/05 12:00 AM EDT
When Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) last month announced on CBS’s “Face the Nation” his intention to seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, host Bob Schieffer was taken aback.
“That’s the kind of thing you dream about happening,” says Schieffer, 68. “You love for big news to be broken on your broadcast. And I think that was a pretty good news story.”
That was far from the first such moment in Schieffer’s long career in journalism, which began after he graduated from Texas Christian University in 1959. Schieffer has found himself in the right place at the right time — or placed himself there — many times over the years.
When President Kennedy was shot in Dallas in 1963, Schieffer was working as a night police reporter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He received a call from a woman asking for a ride to Dallas. After Schieffer demurred, the woman explained she was the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald. Schieffer quickly picked her up and had an unexpected scoop.
Schieffer explains another turn of events that led to one of the most memorable moments of the 2004 presidential debates, when President Bush remarked that the most important thing he learned from his wife was “to stand up straight and not scowl.”
During a meeting with “Face the Nation” Executive Producer Carin Pratt to finalize the questions for the third debate, which Schieffer was moderating, Schieffer’s assistant, Kelly Rockwell, noticed that both candidates had strong-willed wives and suggested he ask about them.
As Schieffer recalls, “I asked them what did they learn from the strong women in their lives, which seems to be, as time has passed, the question that most people remember.”
Small twists of fate have also played into Schieffer’s career path. After returning from Vietnam, where he was the first reporter from a Texas newspaper to cover the conflict, Schieffer talked about his experiences around Fort Worth. After discussing his recollections on WBAP, the city’s NBC affiliate, he was offered an anchor job on the spot.
“I got into television totally by accident,” Schieffer recalls. “It was $20 a week more than I made at the newspaper, and I needed the money.”
In January 1969, Schieffer made the jump to Washington, working for Metromedia, a company that aspired to become the fourth broadcast network. Despite having a well of talented reporters, from Schieffer to Connie Chung to Maury Povich, Metromedia couldn’t find the funding to get off the ground. So Schieffer made a stab at getting a job with CBS News.
Resigned to leaving Washington if he failed to find a new job, Schieffer went to the CBS studios at 2020 M St. and asked to see Bureau Chief Bill Small. Small’s secretary, confusing Schieffer with Robert Hager — an NBC reporter who had a job interview with Small — ushered him into Small’s office. More than 35 years later, Schieffer is still with CBS News — and Hager retired from NBC in November.
Schieffer recounted the incident in his 2003 memoir, This Just In: What I Couldn’t Tell You on TV, writing that Hager “is a person of considerable grace” and that they later “had a good laugh about it.”
During his career with the network, Schieffer has done everything from reporting on Nixon-era protests to hosting a weekday morning news program to covering the British invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 from Buenos Aires.
Schieffer has covered all four of the capital’s major beats — White House, Congress, Pentagon and the State Department — but Capitol Hill has always been his favorite, in part, he says, because of the ease of getting stories.
“The Capitol is the last place in Washington where you can be in daily, direct contact with the newsmaker rather than an aide, and it is the reason that Congress remains the most interesting beat and the one that is still the most fun to cover,” he writes in his memoir.
Since 1991, Schieffer has hosted “Face the Nation,” CBS’s Sunday-morning public-affairs program. He says he truly enjoys the show, even though it has only half the time of his competitors on the other networks.
“I have never felt that we could really compete with Tim when we have a half an hour and he has an hour,” Schieffer laments of his competitor, Tim Russert, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Nevertheless, between his sharp, informative interviews and signature closing commentaries, Schieffer can still hold his own.
In March, he became interim anchor for the “CBS Evening News,” replacing Dan Rather. Each week he commutes to New York City from Washington, where he lives with his wife, Pat.
“This was not something I aspired to at all,” Schieffer explains. “I mean, I have enjoyed it. It’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of satisfaction in it. But to me, this is just something I’m doing until they can figure out what they want to do.”
When Schieffer, the father of two and grandfather of three, passes on the torch of the evening news — by the end of the year at the latest, he predicts — one anchor he’d like to see join the staff is Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”
“I think it would be fun to do it,” Schieffer remarks. “But you have to do it exactly the right way, as if he were a columnist in a newspaper. And once a week would be enough.”