When it comes to the gallery of Sunday morning news talk shows, Bob Schieffer is the gold standard.
Schieffer effectively teaches a master class when he hosts Face the Nation each time out. He could teach a lot of aspiring and fledgling -- not to mention established -- broadcast journalists important many lessons about how to do the job well. and properly.
All they would have to do is observe how he does his job. In baseball, the all-time greats like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron had a difficult time explaining how they hit a baseball so far all the time. It was an instinct.The best way to learn from them was to watch how they did it. It's pretty much the same for Schieffer. Just watch him do his job and pay attention to his creative process.
Take the Face the Nation show on April 21, for instance.
THE story, of course, was explaining what had happened during the previous week in Boston -- the astonishment, anger and fear we collectively felt after two terrorist brothers exploded bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 100 others at the bewildering scene of the bombings. Their senseless killing spree then continued, as a security officer on the MIT campus was senselessly killed, assassination-style. We needed an unruffled journalist to lead a discussion and try to make some sense of it.
Schieffer was at his best on this installment. He spoke with his CBS News colleagues John Miller and Bob Orr and pieced together the chronology of tragic events. He generously let Miller and Orr dominate the interview as they contributed their expertise.
While the story was still white hot, Schieffer kept his composure and let Miller and Orr, who had worked tirelessly during the week and contributed sharply to CBS' strong coverage throughout the scary uncertain period.
One aspect of Schieffer's excellence is his ability to give the viewers the impression that he is representing our interests.He is not afraid to ask questions that may seem obvious to experts but are designed to help us UNDERSTAND what has happened. Schiffer calmly asks follow-up questions if his speakers haven't answered him to his satisfaction or have left a point hanging out there, like an empty shirt-tail.
Schieffer is conversational, a gentleman. He doesn't seek to embarrass guests,even hen he fundamentally may not agree with their positions on the issues. It is the indelible mark of a professional journalist. He doesn't feel a need to show us how smart the is.
It isn't that Schieffer has the best inside sources on the tube. He doesn't make a difference any longer by going out and covering stories on the scene. What he does so well is the most basic task for a broadcaster: communicate.
He speaks in an unhurried, natural cadence. You get the feeling that Schieffer knows his stuff because he doesn't evidently feel a need to hype the story. He doesn't engage in melodrama, either. He allows his subjects to speak their minds. He doesn't cut them off. He listens to their answers. He asks follow-up questions based on what people have just told him, not according to some master list of points he had assembled hours before (or, more likely, some producer has put together for him).
Schieffer has a refreshing sense of humor and he sees the contradictions and the irony inherent in day to day life. He doesn't preen. He keeps his personal politics to himself.
At the same time, he doesn't suffer fools.If you come on his show either unprepared or armed with an agenda, he will make it clear that you have let him down. You won't be invited back.
If you want to know how to conduct an interview show, watch Schieffer -- and pay attention.
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