texasmonthly.com: What was Fort Worth like in the sixties?
Bob Schieffer: It was a quiet, friendly, small town in those days. Everybody seemed to know everybody. At the Star-Telegram, where I worked, people would meander in off the street and walk right to the city desk and offer news tips.
Monroe Odom, an old vendor who sold Star-Telegrams in front of the Worth Hotel next door would sometimes come to the city desk and complain that he couldn’t sell papers if we didn’t put better headlines on them.
There were only a couple of big hotels, [and] going out to eat meant steaks—barbecue or chicken-fried steak. The Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show (it was called the Fat Stock Show in those days) was the year’s big event, and in sports we followed the Southwest Conference football. The Cowboys were still playing in the Cotton Bowl and were still such a novelty that on Fridays, Cowboy officials would come to the Star-Telegram and hand out free tickets in order to build a crowd.
texasmonthly.com: What do you remember about the days before President Kennedy came to Fort Worth?
BS: We were thrilled that he was coming to our hometown and officials made extraordinary preparations. The Star-Telegram, which had been founded by Amon Carter, was still a family owned newspaper, and Amon’s daughter Ruth was among the civic leaders who arranged for fine paintings and works of art to be hung in the Hotel Texas suite where the Kennedys would stay.
Some years before that, Fort Worth had begun outlining its skyline with lights each Christmas and for the first time, the lights were turned on early to mark Kennedy’s arrival. A huge picture of the skyline in lights was spread across the front page of the Star-Telegram that morning and across it were the words, “Welcome Mr. President.”
Also at that time, General Dynamics, the largest employer in Tarrant County, had just been awarded the contract to build the TFX, later to be called the F-111, and when Kennedy told a breakfast audience that morning that the plane would be a “boon to Fort Worth and the Nation” that was the banner story in the first edition of the afternoon paper. Later of course that story was replaced by the accounts of Kennedy’s death in Dallas.
texasmonthly.com: You visited Dallas for the 39th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. What was it like?
BS: In some ways it was like going to the Vietnam memorial in Washington. I had never been to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, and as I looked down on the route taken by Kennedy’s motorcade, it brought back the horror of that day. I am so glad that Dallas has decided to preserve that site. It was a hard thing for the city to come to grips with, but they have done it with taste and dignity and it will be invaluable to historians.
texasmonthly.com: You mentioned that the effects of your experience in Dallas did not hit you until a few days later. Did it increase your desire to be a journalist?
BS: I suppose that it did but it was such an overpowering emotional experience that I am not sure I realized it then. Like so many Americans, I am sure, the emotions I most felt that day were shock and vulnerability. We thought of our presidents as larger than life supermen, and when this happened it made all of us all feel vulnerable. Nothing like this had ever happened and we just couldn’t understand how it happened or that it happened in our home state.
texasmonthly.com: What has kept you interested in journalism for so long?
BS: Curiosity, I suppose. I just like to know what’s happening and why.
And I enjoy talking to the people who make the news.
texasmonthly.com: How soon after the assassination did you see the effects on the media’s approach to covering the news?
BS: We didn’t understand it at first, but the impact was immediate. Until that day, most Americans got their news from newspapers. But that changed as the entire nation gathered around their television sets that week. From then on, most Americans would depend on TV for news. That week was also the first time many Americans watched the news being gathered. Until then, they had seen only the reporter’s product. That weekend they saw the reporters pushing and shoving to get the news. That was jarring to many Americans and it made them suspicious and wary of reporters and in some ways raised questions in their minds about our methods, and that led to questions about our credibility.
texasmonthly.com: What has been the biggest change to journalism?
BS: There is just more of everything. When I came to Washington in 1969 there were four hundred reporters accredited to cover Congress and the White House.
Today there are seven thousand. Instead of dozens of reporters at major news events, there are large herds. The staffs of government officials have grown at the same rate and we have also seen an enormous growth in the lobby—the people who represent the various interest groups. Dealing with so many people has changed the relationships between government officials and reporters.
The second big change is the 24-hour news cycle, which has come with the growth of cable. With so many news agencies in competition for news, the first person who has something to say often gets quoted, just because he is first to offer a comment. Too often we reward the glib, rather than the wise.
texasmonthly.com: You are one of the very few correspondents to have covered all four major Washington beats: the White House, Pentagon, State Department, and Capitol Hill. What is your favorite beat?
BS: That’s the easiest question of all. Capitol Hill, because it’s the last place where reporters have direct contact with the newsmakers rather than going through layers of public relations people. Congress is like the National Zoo in that it contains at least one example of every kind of American in this vast, diverse country. I love the capitol and always will.
texasmonthly.com: Why did you write your new book This Just In: What I Couldn’t Tell You on TV?
BS: Don Imus, the radio disc jockey, had urged me to publish a collection of the commentaries that I do each Sunday on Face the Nation and told his literary agent Esther Newberg to find a publisher. Esther told me that she was wary of such a project because journalism collections usually didn’t sell. “Why don’t you just write a real book?” she asked. So I did. I wrote four chapters of This Just In, she sent it to several publishers and Neil Nyren, the editor in chief at Putnam, saw the makings of a book and bought it. It took me fifteen months to write the rest of it and that’s how it came about.
texasmonthly.com: What’s your next project?
BS: Looking for that next story and staying alive to watch my twin granddaughters grow up.
texasmonthly.com: Do you miss Texas?
BS: Sure do. But I get back enough that I don’t get homesick. You can leave Texas but Texas never leaves you. At least it never did for me.