There was an episode in the recent first season of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom where Jeff Daniels’ contrarian “Republican” made a bid to moderate one of the Republican primary debates by pitching an aggressive, adversarial approach where he would basically cross-examine the candidates. Both Sorkin and Daniels’ Will McAvoy were being dead serious, but after two real presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, that notion could not be more fantastical. First, PBS’s Jim Lehrer was figuratively stuffed into a locker by both candidates, and then CNN’s Candy Crowley was criticized by the Republicans for her real-time fact-checking.
In this tense, hyper-political atmosphere now steps CBS’s Bob Schieffer, a veteran of two previous presidential debates, in 2004 and 2008. His job will not be easy: Not only are the polls even, but the candidates have expressed a clear disdain for each other, resulting in frequent interruptions and sharp accusations of dishonesty. Schieffer is a revered Washington presence — he’s been with CBS since 1969 and hosted Face the Nation since 1991 — but he not only has to be aware of fairness tonight, he needs to keep the proceedings civil and focused. Speaking to the Palm Beach Post over the weekend, the 75-year old Schieffer said that he “won’t hesitate to say, ‘Can we get back on subject?’” if the candidates wander off course, but that generally, he expects more of the candidates than they’ve thus far displayed. “I think it would be great if I could pose a question and the two men could answer and the other guy says ‘That can’t be right,’ and they get into it,” he said. “They‘re free to ask each other questions [in those six 15 minute segments] and if they do it will be terrific.”
Neither side has complained in advance, something Crowley had to deal with, and Schieffer’s reputation precedes him: he’s moderated the third and final debate in each of the last two presidential elections. There’s hope that, in addition to adroitly leading the candidates through the foreign policy topics, Schieffer’s prestige can shame the two men into behaving more presidential — sort of like a favorite professor you wouldn’t want to disappoint.
Bob Schieffer Personnel File
Current Title: CBS’s chief Washington correspondent and host of Face the Nation. He’s been with the network since 1969, having covered all four major government beats — the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and Capitol Hill.
Twitter feed: @bobschieffer
First Journalism Job: Police reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (He was in Dallas when JFK was assassinated.)
First TV Job: News anchor for WBAP-TV in Fort Worth.
Hometown(s): Austin and Fort Worth, Texas
Education: Texas Christian University 1959 (In 2005, the college named its journalism school after him.)
Personal: Married to the former Patricia Penrose since 1969. They have two daughters. His brother, Tom, served as an ambassador under President George W. Bush and also worked for both the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In His Own Words: “I don’t believe anyone is totally objective, including me. But I think it is much easier to be fair than it is to be objective, and that’s what I strive for. Fairness generally comes down to making sure that both sides in any issue get a chance to express their point of view. It’s the job of the reporter to give both sides their chance but we also have to make sure to get as close to the truth as we possibly can. When either side says something that we know is not correct, it’s our job to correct it.” — in a Washingtonpost.com chat in 2008