The Resilient, Unrelenting Rise of Bob Schieffer

By Mark Joyella 

For a guy who’s ridden a five-decade career in a medium as profoundly riddled with change–and the pressure to change–as television, there’s something refreshingly stable–and oddly wonderful–about Bob Schieffer‘s success.

Five years ago, Schieffer was clear: he’s old media, and he’s got absolutely no problem with that. “I’m old media with a capital “O,” proud of it actually,” he said. “And yes, we do operate differently than some in the new media…We still call people involved in a story to get their side, editors fact check, and we never publish or broadcast anything unless we think it’s true.”

And that insistence on doing what he’s always done–and doing it well–has kept him unchallenged, and on top.

As CBS News chief David Rhodes wrote in his note to staff about Schieffer’s retirement, Schieffer is still, after all these years, as hard-wired into the core of CBS News as anyone–and he’s delivering:

Bob’s been with CBS since 1969… Chief Washington Correspondent since 1982… and host of Face the Nation since 1991.  That broadcast is in its 60th year and has never been better or more powerful, ranking consistently number one this season.

Schieffer has stayed relevant not by listening to those who might suggest a hipper suit or working references to social media into “Face the Nation”, but rather, as Los Angeles Times Washington columnist Doyle McManus has said, by “being straightforward. It’s better to be good than fancy. He’s the Nolan Ryan of Sunday TV. Hard, high fastballs and no junk balls.”

How much of today’s TV news could be easily described as “junk balls?” Just having the confidence–call it stubbornness, if you prefer–to be the way he’s always been (Schieffer to this day says he wants to be like Walter Cronkite) makes him distinct in a sea of same.

Rem Rieder, writing in USA Today, puts it this way:

What makes Schieffer so cool is that he is completely, and unabashedly, uncool. Unlike embattled NBC anchor Brian Williams, you can bet heavily that Schieffer has never lusted after hosting The Tonight Show.

He has a gift that is invaluable in television, not to mention life: He seems preternaturally secure in his own skin.

Last night, in Fort Worth, Schieffer conceded he’s slowed down over the years, but he also insisted he’s going out on his own terms–on top. “I wanted to quit while I can still do my job. I covered the Senate long enough to see people carried out on a gurney, and I didn’t want to be one of those people in my profession,” Schieffer, 78, told the Star-Telegram, where he worked in the 1960s. “Maybe I have taken a little off my fastball, but I’ve still got a pretty good fastball.”

This is not to say that Schieffer hasn’t been able to have a good time. He’s appeared in a red sequined shirt and black cowboy hat at a CBS News holiday party, singing with his band, “Honky Tonk Confidential.”