CBS Newsman Bob Schieffer At The Atlanta Press Club

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Bob Schieffer was giddy as a school boy. His kind, interesting and weathered face lit up like a Christmas tree when he spoke at the September 29th Atlanta Press Club’s Newsmaker Luncheon.

In between hosting Face The Nation and moderating Presidential debates, Schieffer swung by the APC to promote his new book, Bob Schieffer’s America. If the book is half as engaging as Schieffer was for his guests at the APC luncheon, then get out there and buy it.

Schieffer first mentioned how he was talked into forgoing retirement by the suits at CBS News, ensuring that he and his fifty-plus-year career as a news reporter would be around long enough to cover the historically-rich 2008 Presidential election.

Schieffer’s raw enthusiasm for the the work he’s been doing for over fifty years straight was cold water in a desert to journos in Atlanta (or gas to a station right now I could say) – a town as beaten and bruised by changes to the journalism industry as any on the planet.

He induced rounds of laughter over the Commerce Club’s amazing bread pudding dessert course, starting with a story of how his first presidential “interview,” with President Nixon, came to pass… with a lot of goading by Helen Thomas apparently. (Schieffer’s admiration and respect for women in the industry, historically and otherwise, was almost as amazing as the bread pudding.)

Back to the story though… dispatched on a ho-hum weekend to keep an eye on the inglorious, un-newsworthy Sunday church service at the Nixon White House, Ms. Thomas, also in attendance as press that Sunday, urged Schieffer to get in line to talk to Nixon with the invited worshipers after the service was over.

Schieffer protested, saying reporters weren’t supposed to que-up with the general public. Thomas told him to just go do it anyway. And while there to, of course, ask some questions when he got to Nixon in the receiving line. To which Schieffer replied to the chronically-formidable Thomas, “But I don’t have any questions!”

Schieffer managed to make-up a question on the fly, some loopy vaguery along the lines of “Mr. President, where are you going to put your in-house advisers?” To which President Nixon replied, and Schieffer recounted to the delight of the Press Club with a dead-on Nixonian accent, “I’m going to put my in-house advisers in the outhouse.”

I could have listened to Schieffer recount funny war stories of back-in-the-day all afternoon, but as is typical at APC functions nowadays, the Q&A part with any veteran journalist soon turns to a rather dreary, state-of-the-industry conversation, with everyone posing questions about the survival chances of, say, network news in the age of the Internets.

Although admitting that the advent of the Internet did “change everything,” Schieffer didn’t seem the least bit worried about the condition or prognosis of network broadcast news, given that millions of people are tuning-in to watch this year’s historical, political process play out, at last count 30-million combined viewers for the three network nightly news shows.

He even managed to laugh-off the now-predictable, dreaded “credibility” issue (of journalism in the digital era) by likening some Joe Blogger-type to the dude on the street corner with one of those “The End Is Near” signs, noting that, “Well yes, that very well may be (that the end is indeed near), but where’s your evidence?”

And just that very thing, the ability and the resources to provide the factual in a wickedly rapid newsmaking cycle, would be the conditions under which broadcast network news will continue to survive… in the humorous, easy-going, perennially-delighted world of veteran newsman Bob Schieffer at least.

NOTE: This post cross-posted at the Atlanta Press Club’s blog, This Just In.

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