CBS news anchor proud of Air Force past

  • Published
  • By Capt. Matthew Bates
  • Air Force Print News
If it wasn’t for a wild baseball pitch, he might have had a successful career as an Air Force pilot. Instead, Bob Schieffer had to settle for a distinguished career in television journalism.

Mr. Schieffer, the familiar face of the Sunday TV show, "Face the Nation," and the current anchor of the "CBS Evening News," didn’t know it then, but that one moment made all the difference.

“I was actually going to pilot training when I signed up for (Reserve Officer Training Corps), but I played baseball at (Texas Christian University). During my freshman year, Dizzy Dean’s nephew, Paul Dean Jr., hit me in the eye with a baseball,” Mr. Schieffer said. “From then on I couldn’t pass the eye test. So, I spent my three years in the Air Force flying, what we called in those days, the LSD -- ‘large steel desk.’”

As it turns out, he spent his time in the Air Force editing The Global Ranger, the newspaper at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.  And the rest, as they say, is history -- or at least, reporting history.

“Of all the courses I took in college, the one that has served me the best -- that I’ve come back to time and time again -- has been ROTC, because it’s about leadership, and it’s about management, and it’s about dealing with other people,” he said. “The lessons I learned there and the lessons I learned in the three years in the Air Force have served me well. I can’t tell you what a difference it has made for me working here at CBS.”

When Mr. Schieffer’s stint in the Air Force was up he returned to his native Texas to write for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. He covered President Kennedy’s assassination and the Vietnam War, and later made the permanent switch to television, covering all the major beats in Washington, D.C. -- the White House, Congress, State Department and Pentagon.

“I’ve known (Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld since the Ford administration,” he said. “I honestly consider him to be a very good friend. I recently spoke with him and said, ‘You know, we’ve been arguing with each other for over 30 years.’”

The relationship between the military and the media has improved over the years, Mr. Schieffer said. Today’s correspondents and reporters are getting a better perspective of how the military works, and getting more complete stories as a result.

“When I was the Pentagon correspondent for 'CBS News' we were in the middle of the Vietnam War and there was a great deal of suspicion -- the military of the press and the press of the military, “ he said. “I think one of the great things that happened in Iraq (was the) embed program. I’m a firm believer in that. I thought it was a good thing to do in the beginning, and I still think it is.”

“I always felt that if you could get out and share the war with the people who are fighting it, they would trust you and they would help you get the story, and you would understand better how to tell their story,” he said.

The Air Force, he said, has a great story to tell. He knows that from firsthand experience. The values he learned in the Air Force laid a strong foundation for his career as a journalist and a leader in the CBS News organization.

It’s all very simple, Mr. Schieffer said.

“Don’t expect other people to do something that you’re not willing to do, make sure everybody knows what the objective is, make a plan and then hold people accountable. It works in the Air Force. It works in CBS News.”

Mr. Schieffer took over as interim anchor of the "CBS Evening News" from Dan Rather in March 2005, and will soon hand over the anchor chair to "Today Show" host Katie Couric. He’ll continue hosting "Face the Nation," and later this year will be the master of ceremonies for the dedication of the Air Force Memorial in Washington, D.C.