Reality is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it

I’m a bit of a broken record when it comes to Bob Schieffer, longtime CBS correspondent, Face the Nation host and namesake of my alma mater’s journalism school.

Man crush? Maybe with all that. You add in that he plays a mean guitar and I’ll cop to it. You rock Bob.

But just because I see a halo above his head doesn’t mean I don’t understand he means serious business. Such was the case during the latest Schieffer Symposium, the ninth if you’re counting, titled “Challenges at Home & Abroad.”

This year’s cast:

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• Fred Barnes, co-founder and executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

• Charlie Rose, co-host of CBS This Morning, his PBS talk show and a former local news guy.

• Clarissa Ward, CBS News foreign correspondent who has won plaudits for her coverage of the Syrian civil war.

• Nancy Youssef, Middle East bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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Last year’s discussion focused the bitter election year battles, but it ended on a bit of optimism. This year? Not so much.

Maybe it’s because I focus so much on local news items, like where a new Taco Bell is located (you readers apparently love that stuff) than what is going on in the Middle East.

So while Rose and Barnes were interesting, informative, entertaining and fine speakers, Ward and Youssef frankly stole the show.

Ward, a tall, youthful blonde, has been sneaking into Syria to cover the civil war there at great personal peril. To me she would look out of place there no matter what she does. But she does it successfully.

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She explained how she avoided putting herself and others around her at risk by walking a mile or so into the wilderness, putting a battery in her satellite phone, calling London to make a report, then returning. Even with all these preparations, she has seen plenty of personal tragedies. A house next to the one where she was staying was blown apart by shelling and the woman inside was killed.

Barnes talked about how many feel the Obama administration has missed its chance in Syria and should have already established a no-fly zone to help protect lives.

Almost sounds like an easy answer doesn’t it?

Yeah, well Ward, who would be one of those students who would ruin it for everyone when the teacher grades on the curve, noted that the Syrian government has reportedly hidden their anti-aircraft batteries in highly-populated neighborhoods, so any attempt to take them out would likely cause massive civilian casualties.

Suddenly it’s a game of check and checkmate.

Youssef, who is from Egypt, also gave a harrowing account of life in that country just a few months after the Arab Spring. Things are not going well. Youssef lives in a well-to-do part of Cairo, but power goes off at least an hour a day and during the summer it’s more likely out for five to six hours.

The next revolution won’t be coming from the middle class in Egypt, she said, but from poorer people who have very little and could well form alliances with more radical organizations.

It can all be a bit disheartened. No wonder I don’t keep CNN, Fox and those other news channels that basically say, “Come, watch the world go to hell in a hand basket with us!” on heavy rotation.

But leave it to St. Bob Schieffer to at least make me feel a little better.

“Never has the need for accurately, independently gathered information been more important than it is today because [he was interrupted here by great applause] without that you cannot have a democracy. Access to independently gathered information is as important to a democracy as a right to vote.”

Thanks Bob. And you play a mean guitar too.


In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at