CBS anchor shares stories at book event

Annapolis festival features session with Bob Schieffer

April 17, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Bob Schieffer, the CBS Evening News anchor and Face the Nation moderator, spent his day off yesterday telling Texas tales of his career to an audience at the Annapolis Book Festival.

Schieffer, 68, drew on sketches and scenes from his recently published autobiography, This Just In: What I Couldn't Tell You on TV. The former Washington correspondent recalled his first memory of a politician on the hustings: the day Senate candidate Lyndon B. Johnson landed in a helicopter in Schieffer's hometown, Fort Worth, in 1948.

"We knew how Moses must have felt, that the burning bush was talking to him," Schieffer said. When Johnson was finished speaking, he threw his Stetson hat into the crowd with a flourish and got back in the helicopter.

Decades later, when Schieffer covered Capitol Hill, he was chatting with a Texas congressman, J.J. Pickle, and recounted the hat throw.

Pickle replied, "I was the hat catcher." As the Texas Democrat explained, it was his campaign job to retrieve the tall hat and meet Johnson's helicopter at the next stop because, Pickle said, "LBJ was the tightest man on Earth."

Schieffer, who succeeded Dan Rather as the Evening News anchor last month, told the 350 gathered at the Key School that his more conversational style, chatting with and peppering correspondents with questions on the air, was inspired by Walter Cronkite.

Even as he bantered in Cronkite's famously clipped voice - remembering the time Cronkite asked him, "Do you think there's any chance I could interview the president?" - Schieffer praised the avuncular anchor's constant curiosity, noting that as a signature trait of a good reporter.

Schieffer, who has covered the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House for CBS News, said he loves telling the Texas hat tale because "it illustrates the difference between politics then and now. ... Then, politics was a good show."

In taking questions from the audience, he acknowledged that network news has also changed, with younger people not automatically tuning in - or not even at home to tune in. To stay current and relevant, Schieffer said, "We have to put news into perspective or show how it will affect, for example, a guy in Brooklyn."

Schieffer is married and has two grown daughters. In his autobiography, he stated the job he always wished for - anchor of the Evening News - was one he would never get, a prediction that didn't prove true.

His advice to journalists was simple. One piece was: "Never fail to ask the obvious question." Another was: "Always answer the telephone."

To emphasize that point, Schieffer remembered picking up the phone in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newsroom "bedlam" the day that John F. Kennedy died in Dallas. The woman asked if someone could give her son a ride to Dallas. Schieffer said he responded, "Lady, the president's been shot."

The woman said she was afraid her son, Lee Harvey Oswald, was the assassin. Moments later, Schieffer was on his way to take her to the Dallas police station, where he asked, "Is there anywhere we can put her where all the reporters won't bother her?"

Marcella Yedid, head of the private Key School, said the third annual Book Festival, which drew an array of authors from the Annapolis area, Baltimore and Washington, was meant to be "an emporium of ideas."

Renee Poussaint, a journalist who wrote a book on the wisdom of African-American elders, was a featured speaker. Children gathered for "Space Race," a presentation by NASA. Another attraction was an amphitheater performance of Shakespearean scenes by Bill's Buddies, a group of actors associated with the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington.

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