FishbowlDC Interview: Bob Schieffer

Bob Schieffer is a living legend and icon of American journalism.  The moderator of “Face the Nation” and Chief Washington Correspondent for CBS News has worked as a journalist for more than 50 years.  Since joining the network in 1969, Schieffer has won six Emmy Awards, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards, was inducted to the Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and became the namesake of Texas Christian University’s School of Journalism.

And though he’s moderated two presidential debates, earned nearly every award under the sun, and is arguably one of the most recognized figures in American media, Bob’s ability to maintain humility and a wicked sense of humor may be his greatest accomplishments of all – and the secret sauce behind his ‘staying power.’

When I asked Bob what it’s like to be considered an icon, he replied, “I’m not sure I am, but as Jack Benny once said, ‘I find being famous quite enjoyable.’”

Next Wednesday, CBS brass will host an event to toast Schieffer’s 20 years as moderator of “Face the Nation.”  In anticipation of his platinum anniversary, we caught up with Bob for a very special FishbowlDC interview…

What was the proudest moment of your career? I’m not sure it was deserved, but I think the thing that means the most to me was when my alma mater TCU named the journalism school in my honor.

Most embarrassing moment? I once dropped a hot cup of coffee on Maria Shriver, but that was on the morning news. And then there was the time President Ford called on me at a prime time news conference and I couldn’t think of a question to ask. So I just said, “What about the Russians?” and lo and behold he gave me an answer that made page 1 news.

Most shocking answer you’ve received in an interview? The most startling answer I ever got on Face the Nation came from Bob Bennett, then President Clinton’s attorney. A woman named Paula Jones alleged she had intimate relations with President Clinton. She was said to have described characteristics about Clinton that only someone who had been intimate with him would have known. When I asked Bennett about this he said, “The President is normal in size, shape and direction.” I nearly fell out of my chair.

Who was your most memorable guest? I guess the most antagonistic interview I ever had was with Ollie North when he was running for the Senate. I have fond memories of interviews with Henry Kissinger, various presidents, Billy Graham and also, Morgan Fairchild.

What inspires you? Walter Cronkite was my hero when I was growing up. I always wanted to be like Walter and I still do.

Any career regrets? Yes, I wish it was just starting.

What’s one unfulfilled item from your bucket list? It involves Gwyneth Paltrow but I don’t want to go into detail.

*Bob’s favorite journalists,  rising stars, advice for aspiring reporters and why he wears purple socks every day after the jump.

Is there any aspect of journalism that’s changed for the worst since you took the FTN moderator seat? Yes, the coming of the internet on balance is a very positive thing. But too many times things show up online are simply rumors or in some cases just fantasy. It has made the job of the mainstream journalist much harder because one of our main responsibilities now is to knock down false rumors which could create pandemonium and falsely smear good reputations.

Who are your favorite journalists? I have to say Bob Woodward and Tom Friedman. And Tim Russert will always hold a special place in my heart. We were good friends and I learned a lot competing against him week after week.

Do you ever get nervous before an interview? I have been on television so long that I just don’t get nervous anymore. But I have to admit when I moderated my first presidential debate in 2004 I did get butterflies for the first time in 25 years.

Who would you cast to play “Bob Schieffer” in a film about your life? Since Cary Grant and Clark Gable are dead, I guess I’d have to go with Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon. When you see those guys don’t you think of me?

What tune would you pick as your theme song? TV Anchorman, which I wrote!

What’s one tip would you offer aspiring Bob Schieffers? I would say to them what my mother said to me, “Never lie and always make sure you start the day with a smile on your face and a shine on your shoes.”

Any rising stars of broadcast journalism to watch? Luke Russert who is becoming one of the best reporters in Washington though he’s not yet 30 years old and my long suffering assistant Kaylee Hartung who is on the verge of a breakout year as a sideline reporter for CBS Sports.

What’s the most common mistake you see in young journalists? Not listening. The key to a good interview is not how you sound asking the questions, but listening to what the person you are interviewing says and then asking a follow-up.

What’s a fact most people don’t know about you? That I wear purple socks every day to fulfill a promise I made when I said I’d wear purple socks for a year if TCU won the Rose Bowl. Go Frogs!

If you could have any super power, what would it be? I would choose flying. Many people would choose to be invisible but that’s too scary for me. You would find out what people really think of you and what they say when you’re not there.