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The Best of Interviews With Bob Schieffer

Aired May 26, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: The Sunday morning showdown. We'll look at the career of Bob Schieffer, host of "Face the Nation," next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.

Thanks for joining us. Last Sunday, Bob Schieffer marked his 10th year as the host of CBS's "Face the Nation." In addition to being an ace interviewer, Bob is an all around nice guy; one of my favorite guests.

To mark Bob's 10 year milestone, we've gone through our archives and picked the best moments from his many appearances on our show.

In 1999, Schieffer joined us to talk about his remarkable career, and I asked him when it all began.


BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": I started in Ft. Worth, which is where I grew up. And when I was a kid in college I went to work at a little radio station called KXOL. "KXOL, the station that pioneered and developed on-the-scene news coverage in the great southwest." I don't know if that's true or not, but that's what we said.

And we said the news was "edited and reported to merit your confidence." What we didn't tell people was that the entire news staff went to TCU. We were all college students.

KING: Most people didn't break in in their own hometown.

SCHIEFFER: Isn't that funny? But, I mean, I guess in my day maybe they did. I mean, the people that I grew up with.

So, I worked there while I was in college. And then when I came back from the Air Force, I went to work for "Ft. Worth Star Telegram."

KING: And always wanted to be a journalist?

SCHIEFFER: I always wanted to be a journalist. I didn't always -- one of my daughters asked me once, "Dad, did you want to be a TV reporter when you were a little boy"?

And I said, no, because there wasn't any TV when I was a little boy. We didn't have a TV in Ft. Worth until I was in the eighth grade.

KING: OK. So, when you come out of the Air Force, you go to print journalism. Did you intend to stay there?

SCHIEFFER: Yes. I had no idea of doing anything else. And I started out as the night police reporter at "The Star Telegram" and then worked up to be the court house reporter. And then in 1965, Vietnam was heating up and I convinced the editor of "The Star Telegram," a man named Jack Butler, to send me over to Vietnam.

KING: So, you went as a print man.


SCHIEFFER: I'm very honored and thrilled that I was chosen to go. I think the newspaper feels an obligation to send someone there, since there are so many people from this area who are in Vietnam and so many of our readers have relatives and loved ones there that they want to know about and they deserve to know about, and "The Star Telegram" should tell them about.


KING: You were a newspaper reporter when Kennedy was killed?


KING: Were you there?

SCHIEFFER: I was. It was one of the strangest things that -- the people ask me, they always ask a reporter, what's the most unusual story. This far and away was, and it is quite a tale.

I was not assigned to cover Kennedy. What people, a lot of people who weren't there, don't remember, he spent the night in Ft. Worth before going over to Dallas.

Being a police reporter, I got off at 3:00 in the morning, and so I was asleep the next day when he was shot and my brother, who was in high school then, came in and woke me up and said, "You've got to get down to the office. The president has been shot."

I got up, dressed, just as I turned into the parking lot by "The Star Telegram" it came over the radio that he was dead and I was just completely overcome.

I began to cry. I've never seen -- experienced anything like that.

I went up to the city desk to try to help out as best I could. And, Larry, in those days people wanted to see it written down before they believed it. Now they want to see it on television before they believe it.

People were lined up around "The Star Telegram." We were just turning out these extras as fast as we could get them out. Well, I was fielding phones there and a woman said, "Is there anybody there who could give me a ride to Dallas"?

And I said, "Well, lady, you know, the president's been shot and this is not a taxi service."

And she said, "Well, I know that. But I think my son is the one who shot him."

It was Lee Harvey Oswald's mother. She had heard on the radio that he had been arrested. So, I got the guy, he was the auto editor at the paper -- I had a little sports car and I knew I couldn't take her over there in that.

And, in those days, to show you how the ethics in journalism have changed, one of the car dealers would always give the auto editor a car. He would drive it all week, pay gas, and then he'd write a little report about it in the Sunday paper.

KING: An objective report?

SCHIEFFER: Yeah. His name was Bill Foster. And so I said, "Bill, what kind of car do you have"?

And he said, "Well, I've got a Cadillac."

I said, "Come on, I'll explain later."

We went out in the Cadillac. He drove, I got in the backseat. We picked up Mrs. Oswald and drove her over to Dallas.

Well, I was the only one that turned out that talked to her for two or three weeks until "Life" magazine came along. But, again, to show you how the ethics in journalism have changed, in those days I always wore a snap brim hat because I wanted to look like a detective. At "The Star Telegram" we didn't ever lie, but if people didn't ask us, we didn't tell them. We'd let them assume what they wanted to assume.

So, I had on a snap brim. I got out the car. We got to the Dallas police station. Walked up to the first police man that I saw and I said, "I'm the one that brought Oswald's mother over here. Is there a room where we can put her so these reporters can't talk to her"?

He said, "Well, absolutely." They went down, they cleaned out a little room in the burglary squad and went in there. And he said, "Will this be alright"? And I said, "It'll be just fine."

Well, the advantage was, by that time we had 17 reporters on the scene, but there was a phone in this room. So, I would go out into that crowded hallway, and you've seen that film of how it looked, gather up the information from our guys, go back in and phone it in to the paper.

As night fell, by this time they brought his wife in and they came in and said can we put her in here with his mother. I said, "Oh, absolutely."

Now, she spoke no English, she was Russian, so I didn't get to interview her. But they said, "Can we see Oswald"?

Captain Will Fritz, chief of detectives, set it up. They took us all into a holding room under the jail. It was Mrs. Oswald, the mother, Mrs. Oswald, the wife, me, an FBI agent by the name of Charlie Brown and Captain Fritz.

KING: Hold it right there. It's called a grabber. We'll be right back with more of this incredible tale from Bob Schieffer after this.



WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS ANCHOR: Bob, you know, if I were organizing a news staff, the first person I'd hire would be you. And then I'd turn the whole thing over to you and go back to the boat.

You've got it all, Bob. A devotion to all of those fundamental principles of good journalism and the talent and the energy and the enthusiasm that it takes. You're simply an all-star player. You're the perfect host for "Face the Nation." No showboating on your part. Just high intelligence and deep knowledge and a gentle tenacity that hides those deep fangs that you sink into your interview subject and don't let go until you feel you've got as near the truth as humanly possible, with a politician, of course.

Happy anniversary, Bob.




SCHIEFFER: Don't worry about all this rush to get on with the transition. Transitions were no big deal until the government started paying for them. Jack Kennedy put together his entire administration in his Georgetown home. The prospective cabinet members were ushered in the back door, interviewed in the living room, and those who made the cut were then brought to the front porch and introduced to reporters who waited out in the front yard.

Not only efficient, but cheap. Kennedy's daddy paid for the whole thing.



KING: We're back with our profile of one of the best newsmen in the business, Bob Schieffer.

OK. We're down in the holding area.

SCHIEFFER: We're in the holding area. The two Oswald women are there, his mother and his wife. Captain Fritz. The FBI agent. I'm standing there thinking I'm about to get the interview of my life. I'm going to interview the man that nobody has talked to, the man that has just been charge with assassinating the president.

Finally, the FBI agent turned to me and said, "Now, who are you with"?

And I said, "Well, who are you with"?

And he said, "Are you a newspaper man"?

And I said, "Well, aren't you"?

Well, Larry, that's the first time I got a real death threat. He said to me, "If you don't leave, I'm going to kill you." And I -- you know, being a reporter, it's easier to apologize and explain. I said...

KING: The expectancy.


So, anyway, that's the end of the story. I always look on it as the biggest story I almost got and didn't. But, you know...

KING: You were around when Oswald was shot?

SCHIEFFER: Oh, yes. I was there the next -- but, you know, it just goes to show how much things have changed. And, when people talk about, you know, how did Jack Ruby get into the Dallas County Jail, there, he got in just the same way that I did. He looked like he belonged. And, in those days, it's hard for us to believe for us now, no metal detectors, no ID cards...

KING: Harry Truman walked to the train station after leaving, by himself, with his wife.

SCHIEFFER: Yeah. Yeah.

KING: Nobody with them.

SCHIEFFER: Now, what happened when Oswald was shot, I was assigned to go to the City Hall where they were going to take him, from the county jail to the City Hall. And, so I was at the other place when Oswald was shot.

But, we had another day, I mean, it was a day I'll never forget, for a reporter. "The Star Telegram" decided that afternoon that they would put out an extra on Sunday afternoon. And we got it together. "The Dallas News" had got this sensational photo of the gun being stuck in Oswald's side. They put it on the wire, copyright 1963, "The Dallas Morning News." We took that picture off the wire, put it across six columns on the front page of "The Star Telegram" with that little bitty agate (ph) typed down at the bottom, "Copyright Dallas Morning News," trucked it over to Dallas and had it on the streets before "The Dallas News" came out.

We were so happy as reporters that I took, I took a bundle of those papers off the truck and sold them myself down at Dealy Plaza.

KING: No kidding.

SCHIEFFER: Absolutely.

KING: Those were the days, folks, when newspapers took each other on.

SCHIEFFER: Absolutely. Absolutely.

KING: So, you talked them now into sending you to Vietnam. They had no foreign correspondent?

SCHIEFFER: No. No, we didn't, and no Texas paper had had anybody over there. And I went over and it was, I must say, of all the things I've done, it was the most satisfying. Because I just, people would write me letters. Before I left, I said, "I'm going to Vietnam. Send me a letter."..

KING: What year is this?

SCHIEFFER: This is 1965. "Send me a letter where your son is, and I'll try to go see him." And that's what I would do. People would send me these letters. I got well over 1,000 letters, you know, in the first two to three weeks.

KING: Did you find many of them?

SCHIEFFER: Oh, I found a lot of them. And I did more work. I couldn't do this much work now, but I wrote two columns a day; one for the morning paper and one for the evening paper, and did a Sunday takeout with pictures.

KING: How...

SCHIEFFER: All about kids from Fort Worth.

KING: How long before you felt that they may have been a wrong idea?

SCHIEFFER: When I went out on a ground operation. I was doing a story about an American advisor to a South Vietnamese unit and we went out across a field one day, and it was an open field we had to go across. And there was a tree line, and we thought there might be Vietcong or whatever they were in the trees. And the Vietnamese soldiers sat down and wouldn't go. And I said to myself, this is not our war. It's their war, and they're going to have to fight it. We can help them, but if they're not going to take the chances, it's not going to work.

Now, that's just very anecdotal and I don't mean in any way to disparage their bravery, because they were brave people. But it just sort of hit me -- and I was very hawkish about it when I got there, I mean, Lyndon Johnson was from Texas...

KING: Most of the reporters were, right?

SCHIEFFER: Yes sir. And, but once I got there, I realized that it just wasn't going to work, and I later came to understand that no matter what we had done, it just was not worth the national treasure...

KING: Do you know some of the people whose names are on that wall?

SCHIEFFER: Yes, I do. Yes, I do.

KING: Bob Schieffer is our guest, the host of CBS's "Face the Nation." More after this.




DAN RATHER, ANCHOR, "CBS EVENING NEWS": What do Strom Thurmond, Ted Kennedy and Bob Schieffer have in common? Well, I'm not sure except all three have somehow managed to survive more than 30 years in Washington and they've all been on "Face the Nation," though my good friend Bob tops them all on that score, because as those who follow political news know, Bob recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as anchor and moderator of "Face the Nation."

He's done a terrific job and he's done it every Sunday for a decade. I've known Bob Schieffer for a long time, since we both covered the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. About my good friend Bob I'll say this: he's a Texan; a good and loyal friend; a great family man; and for my money, he's the best political reporter in the business. A man whom people on both sides of the aisle, universally and unfailingly describe as "fair."

So, it's my pleasure to once again say, congratulations, Bob. A tip of the ole battered Stetson for a job well done and to wish you, Bob, all the best for your next 10 years at "Face the Nation."



KING: We're back with Bob Schieffer. How long did you stay in Vietnam?

SCHIEFFER: I was there for six months, and I came back, you know, very disillusioned about the war. KING: You changed?

SCHIEFFER: Yes, and changed, but also, I was a great admirer of the guys who went over there, and I still admire them very much. Believe me, I have no complaint with the brave, young men that I saw.

And when I said in the beginning, you know, that it was the most satisfying thing I'd ever done, I traveled by myself. I wasn't working with a network, you know, and having going around with a large contingent. I would just sort of bum rides on helicopters and go out to these places and, a lot of times, nobody there had ever seen a reporter before and when you'd walk up and say, I'm from "The Star Telegram," I mean, these kids would start crying, somebody from their hometown had come, you know, to say hi to them.

And when I could -- everyone of them was a story, but some were better stories than others. And when I just couldn't find anything else to write about, I would say, you know, "Joe Smith says hello to everybody at the Susu (ph) Lounge out on the Westside and says have a cool one for him."

You know, I'm telling you, these kids, their parents, it was just great. Maybe that's not journalism, but...

KING: When you got back, what did you cover?

SCHIEFFER: I got back...

KING: Regular reporter?

SCHIEFFER: What happened when I got back is the local television station invited me to come out and talk about the war. It was on a little noon talk show, and afterward they offered me the job.


SCHIEFFER: As, well, as it turned out, it was the anchorman. That wasn't such a big deal in those days, but they offered me a job. It was $20 a week more than I made at "The Star Telegram," we made $135 a week, this to me to $155, and so I took it.

I always tell people I got into television for the money, because I needed the 20 bucks.

KING: Did you try to do both? Did they, would they have let you do both, or you couldn't?

SCHIEFFER: In those days, no, I probably could as we went along, but then I worked there a couple years and then got hired at CBS.

KING: What then, at this point, was the break? What got Schieffer to the network?

SCHIEFFER: It's hard to say. I took a job -- it turned out, after I went to the local television station, a head-hunting firm called me one day and said that Metro Media was going to form the fourth network and they were recruiting people to come Washington.

And so they hired me, and maybe I misunderstood or something, but as it turned out, there was no fourth network. Some merger that was going to happen didn't happen. And, I had been here for a couple of months...

KING: No work?

SCHIEFFER: No, I was working. I was working at the local Metro Media station here in Washington. And I...

KING: It was channel five...

SCHIEFFER: Yes. And I said, I think I'm just going to make one more run at the networks. The fact is, I had applied for about five years, and had never been able to get an appointment.

I walked over to CBS because it was always my favorite, and somehow talked my way up into the office of Bill Small, who was the legendary bureau chief.

KING: I knew him well.

SCHIEFFER: Small said, "We have no interest in anybody with a regional accent."

And I said, "Well, would you maybe just look at the tape"? I had no hope, I left with no hope.

He called me a couple of weeks later and said, "Listen, come over. We'd like to talk to you."

And I said, "About what"?

And he said, "Well, about going to work here."


4:30pm ET, 4/16

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