Veteran reporter Bob Schieffer has a message for those seeking honest, objective news reporting in an era of exploding options, viewpoints, and levels of credibility: “Buyer beware.”
The longtime host of “Face the Nation,” who delivered pointed analysis of the presidential election last year on CBS News, explains: “It’s not only that you have to worry about bias. You now have to worry about information being absolutely false.”
The modern plague of fake news, which can spread virally to receptive audiences on the internet, underscores the value of—and need for—professional journalists trained to verify the credibility of information and veracity of sources before disseminating reports publicly, Schieffer says.
Case in point: The story circulating throughout the campaign featuring comments President Donald Trump allegedly made in People magazine in 1998: “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country...I could lie and they’d still eat it up.”
“It was a really juicy story,” he says, “until you check into it and find out he never said that.”
But neither candidate gets a pass for their role in what Schieffer, 79, describes as the worst presidential campaign he’s ever experienced.
That’s saying something: In his nearly six decades in news media, Schieffer has covered 14 presidential campaigns, interviewed every president since Richard Nixon, and moderated presidential debates in 2004, 2008, and 2012.
“It just got nasty, and the tone went from the inane to the profane,” Schieffer says. “It was an election not about facts, but about attitude.”
Schieffer defends the political press against claims it failed to properly vet Trump. He points to evidence such as an in-depth interview The New York Times held with Trump at the Republican National Convention in July that clearly laid out many of his positions.
But Schieffer questions whether people outside of the major media centers were afforded the same caliber of exposure to the candidates. In the past decade, 126 newspapers have closed their doors, Schieffer says.
And whereas in 2004, one in 10 journalists was based in New York City or Washington, D.C., that ratio now stands at one in five.
Schieffer says the media—and pollsters—did miss the boat by misjudging the motivations of Trump supporters, who “didn’t take him literally.”
Schieffer first made that observation while engaging with people at a Trump campaign rally in South Carolina.
“I spoke with one woman who said, ‘Well, I never thought he’d actually build the wall. But I took that to mean he’d be serious about immigration.’ ”
Part of Trump’s appeal arises from his role as an outsider who potentially could break the impasse in Congress, says Schieffer.
He will discuss the inner workings of Washington in his keynote address “Political Outlook From a Political Insider” at the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC), held Feb. 26 through March 2 in Washington D.C.
Schieffer says that stalemate has fueled partisanship to such a level that esteemed politicians such as moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snow opted to leave office because she believes she can make a bigger impact elsewhere.
“I’m going to propose something incredibly revolutionary: Compromise,” he says. “We have never been able to get anything done in this country without walking across the aisle and finding common ground.”