In Depth

A Retirement Rain Check for Schieffer

Bob Schieffer

Bob Schieffer

High atop the list of good news last week was word that Bob Schieffer has decided once again to postpone his retirement and will remain for some time to come at the “Face the Nation” post he has held since 1991.

Mr. Schieffer, 71, who has a talent for boiling down major events (both professional and personal) with a straightforwardness The Insider has long admired (but seldom been able to imitate), said the deal was easily and simply done.

CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus asked him not to step down as planned with the inauguration of a new president in January. “We really have become friends,” Mr. Schieffer said of his boss.

Mr. Schieffer then ran the idea past wife Pat, with whom he had been sketching out travel and other retirement plans. “Pat’s happy, and that’s important to me,” said the CBS newsman of four decades. “We just decided to do it.”

Mr. Schieffer allowed that politics can be an “acquired taste.” But he said he has “just never lost my fascination with it.” Especially after this unprecedented presidential campaign that has whipped public interest to unusually high levels, he said, it will be fun to cover whichever new administration is installed in January.

His decision to stay on underscores what he has said before: “I’m just not going to work anywhere else. This is my home and it always will be.”

His decision pleased Mr. McManus.

“Bob is not just a standout at CBS News; he is a standout in all of journalism. There just aren’t that many voices which are as instantaneously recognizable or that convey the experience, perspective and trust that Bob's does. He embodies what CBS News stands for," the news executive said in a statement to The Insider.

The inevitable question is whether Mr. Schieffer’s new long-term deal puts him in the bullpen for “Evening News” duties again. “The CBS Evening News With Katie Couric” has lost the audience (and then some) that Mr. Schieffer accrued during his year and a half of interim anchorship on the show between the turns of Dan Rather and Ms. Couric.

Mr. Schieffer said bluntly, “This deal has nothing to do with anything except ‘Face the Nation’” and his role as a contributor to the network’s major political coverage.

Mr. McManus’ vision, which Mr. Schieffer said would require only “a little tweak here, a tweak there,” was one of the things that factored into the anchor’s decision to stay.

It gives Mr. Schieffer a chance to help Mr. McManus restore the CBS News bureau to the glory days when it set the news agenda with correspondents who were “real experts” on their beat, he said. It was an era recalled by former CBS newsman Roger Mudd in “The Place to Be: Washington, CBS and the Glory Days of Television News,” which Mr. Schieffer sums up as “a charming book.”

Mr. Schieffer had taken great pleasure in playing the same sort of role, as a mentor/cheerleader elder, while keeping the “Evening News” anchor seat warm for Ms. Couric.

It’s a mentoring function he continues to play with contributions of his time, energy and experience to the journalism school that bears his name at alma mater Texas Christian University.

”I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Mr. Schieffer, who beat bladder cancer that was diagnosed in 2003. “I feel good. I’m enjoying myself.”

Since Mr. Schieffer has lately found himself an avocation as a songwriter and singer with the D.C.-based Honky Tonk Confidential, The Insider made a rookie journalist’s mistake of assuming he might have had a rooting interest in “American Idol.”

But when she asked which David he had voted for, Mr. Schieffer declared himself “a ‘Dancing With the Stars’ person.” He and wife Pat recorded the Monday competition and Tuesday elimination shows in order to watch both back-to-back.

A quick dissection of the entire season and the outcome—he had been impressed by Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor’s drive into the finals but was tickled that former Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi won—easily convinced The Insider he wasn’t kidding when he said it’s his favorite prime-time show.

“It was a great season. It was,” he said.