Bob Schieffer on Couric's 'CBS Evening News' Nod
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News, I'm Madeleine Brand.
Katie Couric will make her debut as the next host of the CBS Evening News later this year, but until then Bob Schieffer will be in the anchor chair. The veteran Washington correspondent and host of Face the Nation has been filling in while the network mounted its search to replace Dan Rather.
Schieffer's been more than a seat warmer, however. He has won back viewers and restored confidence in the broadcast. And Bob Schieffer spoke with my colleague, Alex Chadwick.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
A year ago, CBS was not looking so good. The numbers were down. There had been this problem with a story getting on the air. Dan Rather ended his career in a way that I think he would not have wanted to.
Since you took over in that interim sort of role, the numbers look very good. The other broadcast television networks continue to lose viewers. You're gaining them.
Mr. BOB SCHIEFFER (CBS Evening News): I think it's because, really, because we're putting on a better newscast. When I came here, I told everybody, We've got to restore the credibility of this news organization. We've got to start focusing on the news and stop worrying about our problems.
And you do that one day and one story at a time.
CHADWICK: The change has been underway for a while there. There was a piece in the New York Times last May about the search not just for a new anchorperson but a new newscast, and the piece concluded with this paragraph referencing Les Moonves, the Chairman of CBS.
Here it is, referring to Mr. Moonves. He said that he was unable to predict when Mr. Schieffer's interim tenure might end, largely because those he had asked to devise the next iteration of the evening news were finding it quote "a tough nut to crack."
Mr. SCHIEFFER: Well, I think he was right. And I think, you know, Les had said at one point that he did not want another voice of God anchor. And I think people took that to mean that he wanted a different kind of format, and they began coming up with all these various kinds of pilots, some of which, I must say, were fairly silly.
I never thought that that's what Les was talking about. And later on, as we got to be better friends and time passed, I said to him, I said, Is that what you meant, that you wanted a different kind of format?
And he said, No, no. That's not what I meant at all. He said, I don't know how they got off on that.
I think what he wanted was a newscast where the person who was doing the news was talking to people in the language that they speak in America, and that is in very simple, declarative sentences.
I think what he didn't want was a newscast where somehow people got the idea that the pronouncements from the news were coming as if they were, you know, something handed down from the mountaintop.
CHADWICK: You know, a lot of people who have written about you in this period here when you've been the anchor would say that it's not that you have reinvented things or become something new. What seems fresh and interesting about the CBS Evening News is that you've gone back to the classic anchorperson. You have the gravitas to carry it off, and you have the wit as a writer to be there and be completely comfortable.
SCHEIFFER: I appreciate what you're saying, and I take those words to heart. You know, we're not here to scare people. And we're certainly not here to tell them what to think. We're here to tell them what we have found out during the day that we think that they ought to know about.
My friend Bob Woodward, somebody asked him, I was at a seminar with him one time, and somebody asked him, Did you have any idea how the story was going to come out when you were sent out on those first stories that led to Watergate?
And he said, We had absolutely no idea how the story was going to come out. He said, What we were trying to do was simply find out what happened.
Well, you know, I think that should be posted above the door of every newsroom. I think it should be the last thing a reporter sees when he leaves the newsroom and goes out to cover a story. Find out what happened, and then come back and tell us.
You know, this is not rocket science.
CHADWICK: A couple of months ago, there was a story that the cable network, UPN, which is a CBS subsidiary, and the cable network, WB, Warner Brothers, were merging and they were going to be a new single network under the aegis of CBS, and after that report was off the air, you came on and said, Well, note that that network is going to be a youthful demographic and then you paused for a moment and said, For the rest of you, we'll still be here.
Mr. SCHIEFFER: I did say that, and it did come right off the top of my head, and I don't know why I said it. But we do have a lot of stories about old people who've made a success of one kind or another. I must admit, I do have kind of soft spot for those kinds of stories.
CHADWICK: Bob Schieffer, anchor of the CBS Evening News. Bob, thank you.
Mr. SCHIEFFER: Thank you.
BRAND: That interview by DAY TO DAY's Alex Chadwick.
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