In Market: Schieffer gets ready to leave the stage
Something was up.
The ‘First Journalist’ of Fort Worth, Bob Schieffer, was hosting his 11th annual Schieffer Symposium on the News at Texas Christian University on April 8.
I’ve gone as often as possible. It’s like a Trekkie convention for long-in-the-tooth journalists like me. Schieffer is somebody who grew up in my hometown, whose family crossed paths with mine, who chose journalism as a career and did great things. Damn great things at times. He also has more character and backbone than 99.9 of the politicians he’s covered. Oh, and he has a Western Swing band on the side. How could I not be mesmerized and captured up in Bob Schieffer’s Texas twang-infused spell?
But he seemed a bit distracted that night at his alma mater. Maybe it was the guests, I thought. There was no Bob Woodard this year, no Tim Russert, God rest his soul.
When someone called out from the crowd to ask a question, Schieffer said as politely as he could that there wasn’t time.
Time? That was a funny word to choose, but indeed it was the right one, because ‘time’ was what the night was about.
“I wanted this to be the place, and I wanted you all to be the first to know: This summer I am going to retire,” he told the audience.
“It’s been a great adventure,” Schieffer continued with more than a little shakiness in that familiar voice. “You know, I’m one of the luckiest people in the world because as a little boy, as a young reporter, I always wanted to be a journalist, and I got to do that. And not many people get to do that, and I couldn’t have asked for a better life or something that was more fun and more fulfilling.”
Schieffer’s career began in 1957 when he accepted a job with a local Fort Worth radio station called KXOL, for $1 an hour.
Schieffer noted that if you worked overtime, you got paid 90 cents an hour for the first hour, 80 cents for the next hour and so on.
“The joke was, if you worked 11 hours overtime, you’d have to pay them a dime,” he said.
He later went to work as a police reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram where, in November 1963, he got his big break. He answered a phone call from a woman wanting a ride to Dallas. She thought her son, Lee Harvey Oswald, might have assassinated John F. Kennedy and she heard over the radio that he had been arrested. Schieffer drove her to Dallas and the moment put him inside a worldwide news storm.
Schieffer joined CBS News in 1969 and has been the network’s chief Washington correspondent since 1992. He began hosting the weekly political affairs show “Face the Nation” in 1991, asking direct questions to politicians in that signature polite Texas twang.
He had an unexpected late-career highlight starting in 2005, taking over as interim anchor of the “CBS Evening News” following Dan Rather’s exit. His folksy style got good reviews, boosted ratings and healed morale at the news division.
Schieffer survived bladder cancer about a decade ago, a brush with mortality that was one factor in his 2008 announcement that he would retire with the inauguration of a new president in January 2009.
That inauguration came and went and Schieffer stayed. He was enjoying the job too much.
During his career, Schieffer, 78, has covered every major political beat in Washington, D.C., including Congress, the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House. He has interviewed every U.S. president since Richard Nixon, as well as most who ran for the position. He has moderated presidential debates during the past three election campaigns — in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Schieffer had some advice for students studying at TCU’s Bob Schieffer College of Communication: “Pick something you love to do,” he said, noting that if you work at it long enough, things will probably turn out all right.
Schieffer noted at the event that he had once said, “If my life ended tomorrow, I’d have gotten my money’s worth.” He still believes that, he said. – This report contains information from the Associated Press and The Washington Post