Sunday, May 31, 2015

Journalist Bob Schieffer Retires

Bob Schieffer never wanted to be the story; he just wanted to cover the news.  In signing off for the last time as anchor of Face the Nation, he made that clear.   "The news is not about the newscaster," he said, "it's about the people who make it and those who are affected by it."

Schieffer remembered that he was hooked when he saw his byline in the school newspaper when he was a ninth grader.  He grew up in Ft. Worth, Texas, and went to college locally at Texas Christian University.  He landed his first job at a local radio station, KXOL, working for $1 an hour.   In Sunday's Face the Nation he would recall, "I love the news, and, at the time, every job I have ever had was the best job in the world."

That enthusiasm soon landed him a job at the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.  It was there he got his first big scoop.  He was working in the newsroom following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.  In his 2003 book, This Just In, he described answering one of the ringing phones.

"A Woman's voice asked if we could spare anyone to give her a ride to Dallas."  

"'Lady,' I said, 'this is not a taxi, and besides, the president has been shot.'"

"'I know,' she said, 'They think my son is the one who shot him.'"  It was Lee Harvey Oswald's mother who had heard her son had been arrested.  

"'Where do you live?' I blurted out, 'I'll be right over to get you!'"  

Schieffer picked her up and drove her to the Dallas police station where police guided him and Mrs. Oswald into an interrogation room.  Several hours later the FBI realized they had a reporter in their midst and ordered him to leave.  But Schieffer had a great story.  

Following the Kennedy assassination, Schieffer got his first promotion from the police beat to covering the county courthouse.  Then The Star-Telegram would send him to Vietnam to cover America's growing involvement there.  The paper had promised that he would interview every Ft. Worth boy he could find.  "I have yet to match the thrill I got when I would...tell a nineteen-year-old kid, 'I'm from the Star-Telegram and your mom wrote me a letter and asked me to look in on you,'" he remembered in his book.  When his assignment in Vietnam ended, he recalled, "I had gone to Vietnam convinced the government was on the right course, and was coming home convinced the course was hopeless." 

Schieffer would be hired by a local television station, but was eager to move a network news organization.   In 1969, he took a job in Washington as a reporter with Metromedia.  His first assignment would be to cover the Nixon Inaugural.  But he still wanted a network news job, preferably with CBS News because Walter Cronkite was his favorite broadcaster.  Loaded down with tapes of his stories, he arrived one day at the CBS News Washington bureau and announced he was there to see the bureau chief.  After making his case to Bill Small, the tough CBS News bureau chief, he left thinking he had failed.  But a week later Small hired him.

In 1970, CBS News assigned Schieffer to the Pentagon beat.  He would later note that he was one of the few Washington reporters who covered all of the four major beats, the Pentagon, State Department, White House and Congress.   Washington was ground zero for news with the Vietnam War, the re-election of President Nixon in 1972, and the Watergate scandal, and Schieffer was deeply involved in CBS News coverage.  Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974.  Schieffer covered Nixon's final departure from Andrews Air Force Base on Air Force One.  One week after Nixon's resignation, Schieffer was promoted to White House correspondent replacing Dan Rather, who took over as anchor for CBS Reports.

Schieffer covered Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.  Schieffer also continued his role as anchor of the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News.  In 1979, Schieffer was asked to anchor the struggling CBS Morning News, a role he carried out for twenty-one months.  He would describe his stint as a "graduate course in learning how to handle on-the-air emergencies."  He requested a transfer back to Washington, and would soon become the State Department correspondent.  

In 1981, Dan Rather would replace the retiring Walter Cronkite as anchor of the CBS Evening News.  Schieffer found himself covering politics.  Meanwhile, CBS went through a change of ownership, which led to a round of deep budget cuts.  In the late 80's, Schieffer became CBS News' Congressional correspondent.  He later said that, "Congress had always been my favorite part of Washington."  He mastered the beat.

In 1991, Face the Nation anchor Lesley Stahl became a correspondent for 60 Minutes.  Schieffer was offered the job and responded, "When do I start."  He wrote, "It didn't take me long to realize that of all the jobs I have ever had over the years, this was the best.  I got to interview everyone who was anyone, and I didn't even have to go to them."

Schieffer anchored Face the Nation for twenty-four years.  He led the expansion of the program from thirty-minutes to an hour.  He hosted presidents and world leaders.  He asked tough questions, but was never confrontational.  He tried to make each program informative and interesting.  At the end of his tenure, Face the Nation was consistently the number one ranked Sunday pubic affairs program.  

As he began his final broadcast Sunday, the 78 year-old Schieffer, speaking with his characteristic Texas drawl, said, "Today we'll keep with that tradition set twenty-four years ago, and stay focused on the news."  While the news business has changed dramatically over the past six decades, there is much for all journalists to learn from Bob Schieffer's remarkable career. 

Thank you Bob.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Politics of War

This Memorial Day the nation remembers all those people who died while serving in the American armed forces.  More than 1,316,000 military personnel have died during military conflicts in this nation's history.  

The mission of the U.S. military is to fight and win our nation's wars.  The U.S. has the most powerful military in the history of the world, but it should not be utilized as a political tool, or for retribution.  The government and its leaders must do their best to make the right decisions, to be truthful with the American public, and to provide all the necessary support needed to fulfill the military's mission.  Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. 

Following the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush began to plan a response.  Vice President Dick Cheney and neo-con members of the administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, immediately set their sites on Saddam Hussein, Iraq's tyrannical ruler.  They were disappointed that Hussein had not been toppled during the first Gulf War in 1991.  Soon the administration made the claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that Hussein was linked to the terrorist group al-Qaeda. 

But the Bush administration was cherry picking raw intelligence, much of which was unverified.  The "evidence" against Hussein was presented to Congress, which on October 11, 2002, passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Forces Against Iraq.  In early 2003, the British and Spanish governments proposed a U.N. resolution that gave Iraq a deadline for compliance with previous resolutions on WMDs or face military actions.  The resolution was withdrawn because France, Germany, Canada and Russia were opposed to military action; instead they called for further diplomacy.  In early March, Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said that progress had been made with the inspections and no WMD's had been found in Iraq.

The administration, which had rejected Blix's assessment, began making the case for war to the American people.  In February, President Bush conducted a series of interviews with news organizations, including the Spanish language channel Telemundo.  I was the head of news for Telemundo at that time, and I was present for our session.  The president told Telemundo's Pedro Sevcec that he had not made a decision to go to war.  Following the interview, I asked the president, "What about Jacques Chirac," referring to the French president.  President Bush swatted me on the shoulder with the back of his hand and said dismissively, "Oh, he'll come around."   "We're going to war," I thought.  
White House Photo

The American invasion of Iraq began on March 20.  Vice President Cheney had predicted we would be greeted as liberators.  He was wrong.  The Iraqi forces were quickly defeated but the administration mismanaged the occupation.  The Ba'athist government had collapsed, Hussein's military was disarmed, and a power vacuum ensued.  Sectarian violence broke out between the Shias and the Sunnis.  U.S. backed Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, became Prime Minister in 2006, but his government alienated the country's Sunni minority.   
In 2007, President Bush implemented a troop surge in Iraq.  By adding 20,000 additional U.S. troops, primarily in capital city Baghdad, the president hoped to buy time for reconciliation among the factions.  The situation on the ground stabilized, but Sunnis still distrusted the Maliki government. 

In 2008, the Bush administration negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq granting U.S. troops in the country legal immunities with the understanding they would be withdrawn by 2012.  When negotiations began to extend U.S. military presence, only a smaller number, Maliki and various Iraqi party leaders agreed to the extended troop deployment, but did not want to continue the legal immunities.  These immunities are a condition everywhere U.S. troops are based.   

Some critics said President Barack Obama could have done more to secure the legal immunities, but that is debatable.  In an interview on CBS News' Face the Nation Sunday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) once again claimed an agreement could have been reached with Maliki through negotiations.  Nonetheless, President Obama withdrew American combat troops and fulfilled a campaign promise.

The Maliki government collapsed in 2014.  In the summer of 2014, ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group that had been incubating for more than a decade in Syria, launched a military offensive in Northern Iraq and declared an Islamic caliphate.  ISIS, which is Sunni, has slaughtered thousands of people in its expansion in the region.  Many Iraqi Sunnis find it preferable to the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Iraq under Hussein had served as a counter balance against Iran, its bitter enemy.  With Hussein gone Iran, a Shiite country, was working closely with the Shiites in Iraq.  Iran's influence in the region had grown, especially with the spread of ISIS.   Iraq is in turmoil and it is unlikely all of the factions, including the Kurds in the north, will come together again.

The Iraq War has been costly.  More than 4,500 members of the U.S military have been killed since the invasion.  Hundreds of thousands of casualties have been suffered by Iraqis.  Two years ago the "Costs of Wars" project, part of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, estimated that the Iraq War had already cost America more than $2 trillion.  And many veterans of Iraq, who have returned home, are unemployed, suffering from postraumatic stress disorder, or have committed suicide.  

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and many Republican presidential candidates blame President Obama for today's chaos in Iraq and the region.  Yet these candidates do not offer a plan or a solution.  In fact, former Senator Rick Santorum recently said, "If these folks (ISIS) want to return to a 7th-century version of Islam, then let's load up our bombers and bomb them back to the 7th century."   ISIS and Iraq have turned into political fodder for the Republican base.  

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, and subsequent mismanagement by the Bush administration, is the biggest mistake the U.S. has made since Vietnam.  It has led to a series of unintended and disastrous consequences.  And there is no light at the end of this tunnel for America.  

Perhaps the architects of the Iraq War should have heeded the counsel of their spiritual leader, President Ronald Reagan.  In a 1985 Veterans Day speech he said, "We endanger the peace and confuse all issues when we obscure the truth." 

Friday, May 15, 2015


The King of the Blues, BB King has died.

He got the nickname BB as a young musician playing in Memphis -- it stood for "Blues Boy".  Over the years I have seen him in concert several times.  Because of his diabetes, in his later years he had to be helped on stage, and seated in a chair.  But when he played, the riffs and strums were just a fresh, passionate and vibrant as always. 

I met him once at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.  It was intermission during the taping of the program.  We both approached the men's room at the same time, and immediately struck up a conversation about music. 

It was funny that we were next to each other in a long line waiting to use the facilities.  Ahead of us were Henry Kissinger, numerous politicians, and Laurence Tisch, my ultimate boss at CBS back then.  But my total attention was focused on The King. 

We continued to talk as we slowly worked our way into the restroom.  As Congressmen and dignitaries walked past us, they took little notice of this legendary musician.  It occurred to me that these folks were more interested in being seen than in acknowledging others. 

When we completed our visit to the men's room we stood at the back of the magnificent Kennedy Center theater and continued our conversation.  A few minutes later the lights were dimmed, and an announcer asked that everyone take their seats. 

BB King and I shook hands.  He said, "Wait a minute."  He then reached for his wallet, dug deep inside one of the pockets, and pulled out a guitar pick with BB King inscribed on the front.  "Here," he said, "it's been nice talking with you."  I examined the pick and enthusiastically expressed my gratitude.  We shook hands and parted ways.

I framed the pick and placed it on a table in my living room at home.  A couple years later I added a Gibson to the guitars that I own.  BB played a Gibson he call "Lucille."

BB King had a remarkable influence on music over the past six decades.  He was an inspiration to many great musicians, including Eric Clapton.   

BB King a dear friend and inspiration to me....
Posted by Eric Clapton on Friday, May 15, 2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tom Terrific and Yogi

Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, has a lot to learn from one of the sporting world's wisest men, New York Yankee great Yogi Berra.   Brady has been suspended for four games, his team has been fined $1 million, and they have lost two future draft picks because they played with footballs that were underinflated.

The penalties were assessed as the result of a lengthy investigation by the NFL following the Patriot's victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game this past January.   After the game it was determined that the footballs used by the Patriots were not inflated to the minimum standard required by the league. 

A few days later Brady addressed the allegations at a press conference.  "I didn't alter the ball in any way," he said.   "I feel like I have always played within the rules," and he continued, "I would never break the rules."  Later, in an interview with sports radio WEEI, Brady said, "I was very shocked to hear it, so I almost laughed it off thinking that was more sour grapes than anything," he said. "And it ends up being a very serious thing when you start learning the things that were ... just the integrity of the game."

Subsequently, the NFL hired attorney Ted Wells to investigate the incident.  His report, which was released last week, slammed Brady.   "It is more probable than not" that Brady was "at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities" of locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski, the report said.  Jastremski, who has been with the Patriots for 14 years, was in charge of preparing the balls.  Underinflated balls can make it possible for the quarterback to get a better grip.  Brady threw for three touchdowns in the Patriots 45-7 rout over the Colts, and they went on to win the Super Bowl over the Seattle Seahawks.

The Wells report said that Brady answered questions from investigators over the course of one day, however, he did not turn over personal information such as texts and emails, and that he was not totally forthcoming about the incident.  NFL Executive President Troy Vincent, in a letter to Brady, said the quarterback's actions were detrimental to the integrity of the sport.  "Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public's confidence in the game is called into question," Vincent wrote.

Brady has won four Super Bowls, and he is considered by many to be the NFL's best quarterback.  The man with the nickname "Tom Terrific" has won scads of awards in his NFL career.   He is certain to be a Hall of Famer, although Deflategate, as it is now known, is likely to be a black mark on his career.

This week Yogi Berra celebrates his 90th birthday.  He was a baseball All-Star for 15 seasons, and is considered one of the best catchers in baseball history.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.  He is a sports icon who is beloved for his humility and integrity. 

Brady can learn a lot from Berra, who once said of his sport, "90% of the game is half-mental."  While Brady and his attorney, who says they will appeal the NFL's decision, may feel "It ain't over till it's over," another Berra quote, they should take Berra's counsel, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."  Then Brady can say, "Thank you for making this day necessary."

After all, Tom Brady,"You can observe a lot by watching."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Clinton and Trust

The 2016 Presidential Election is eighteen months away, yet the race already has become very intense for both political parties.   Republican candidates, of whom there are more than a dozen so far, are busy raising money and vying for attention.  On the other hand, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the favorite for her party's nomination, is being battered by conservatives on the issue of trust.

It is no wonder Clinton is her party's overwhelming choice.  A New York Times/CBS News Poll released this week shows the magnitude of Clinton’s strength.   Of the Democrats asked, 84% agreed that Clinton shared "the values that most Americans try to live by."  The poll showed 91% of Democrats surveyed believe that she "has strong qualities of leadership."   Democrats polled were also asked, "Do you think Hillary Clinton is honest and trustworthy?"  The results showed 82% of the Democrats polled said yes.  However, the poll finds that only 48% of all Americans say Clinton is honest and trustworthy, while 45% say she is not honest and trustworthy.

Clinton's trustworthiness is the issue Republicans and conservative media outlets are pounding hardest at.  And Clinton has given her opponents ammunition.  She used a personal server for all of her emails while serving as Secretary of State, which did not comply with Obama administration policies.  Subsequently, she had all of her "personal" emails from that period destroyed, more than 55,000 pages of them.  Was there a "smoking gun" related to Benghazi, or with some scandalous dealings with a foreign country.  For sure, Republicans will ask that question again, again and again.

In fact, they will also have yet another chance to question Clinton about Benghazi, as she has agreed to appear before the House Select Committee on Benghazi later this month.  She insisted that the meeting be open so she would not have to deal with selective leaks from Republicans.  Nonetheless, the Republicans have kept Benghazi alive through more than a dozen hearings and millions of taxpayer dollars in a so far fruitless effort to turn a great and painful tragedy into a scandal.  That's politics.

Now Republicans are proffering allegations that Secretary of State Clinton did favors for foreign countries while she was in office in exchange for huge speaking fees and contributions to the Clinton Foundation.  A newly released book, "Clinton Cash" by conservative author Peter Schweizer, has fueled the attacks.  The book does not offer any hard evidence of sweetheart deals, but it does strongly suggest there is a pattern.  The Clinton campaign is now aggressively attacking the book's allegations.  Earlier this week, former President Bill Clinton, while on a two-week Africa trip, said there was "no evidence" of wrongdoing.  The Clinton Foundation has been widely praised for the work it does in the area of public health around the world. 

Hillary Clinton has long been a polarizing figure on the American political scene.  Those who love her do so with great passion.  And those who hate her absolutely detest her. A Pew Research Center Poll showed that Clinton's term at State might be her strongest positive.  And more older white women, a demographic that usually is heavily Republican, are supporting her.  So it's no wonder Republicans are trying to turn her strengths, her service at State and her leadership, into negatives.

But can voters trust each of the GOP candidates?  After all, they are politicians.   For example, Senator Ted Cruz pandered to his supporters' fears that a U.S. Special Forces exercise was a cover for a plan to impose Marshall Law in Texas.  “My office has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise," he said in an interview.   Is he kidding?  This from the man who led a government shutdown, but then denied he was responsible for it.

The Bradenton Herald, a Florida newspaper, last month published a story with this headline: "Senator Marco Rubio claims rated 41 percent honest."   USA Today ran this story in November 2013:  "Rand Paul admits his plagiarism 'is my fault.'"  Paul had been caught lifting other people's work for his speeches and his book.  Of course, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie didn't know about the lane closure on the George Washington Bridge.  

Republicans are out of sync with a majority of Americans on issues like income inequality, how to increase employment, immigration, marriage equality and national security.  Attacking Clinton's trustworthiness is their default position.  The more each of these flawed Republican candidates goes after Hillary Clinton on the issue of trust, the more their hypocrisy will be exposed to all Americans.   And they will give Hillary Clinton the opportunity to talk solutions and her ideas for moving the country forward.

Who do you trust?