"I don't want to think about it [the final debate] too much, but I think it could very well determine who our next president will be." -- Bob Schieffer
It seems timely to dig up this MediaBloodhound post (from May 6) on Bob Schieffer, tonight's debate host. Schieffer, an undeniably likable guy, has ties to the Bush White House that raise serious conflicts of interest. Will Schieffer's brother, for example, lose his ambassadorship to Japan if Obama wins?
Here are some things to keep in mind when you're watching tonight:
Bob Schieffer's coverage during the George W. Bush years, weighed against his hushed compromising relationship with the president, belies the CBS newsman's projected image as an unimpeachably principled journalist and typifies the way our media class operates.
In a Sunday post on Crooks and Liars, under the headline "Schieffer Wakes Up to Life in the Bush Administration," Nicole Belle wrote: "I don’t know where Bob Schieffer’s been these last seven years, but he thinks that the White House might have an credibility problem." She was reacting to Schieffer's Face the Nation commentary on the Lurita Doan scandal:
SCHIEFFER: I saw a story in the Washington Post the other day, where a reporter granted a government official anonymity in order as the newspaper put it, ‘for the government official to speak more candidly.’ Well, that made me wonder. Do we no longer expect government officials to tell the whole story if they must take responsibility for what they say? Even worse, do we believe that is acceptable?
For sure, the White House won no prize for candor last week; it gave the outgoing head of the General Services Administration, Lurita Doan, a big send off by thanking her for making government buildings more energy-efficient or some such, when in truth, she was forced out. She was the object of multiple investigations, suspicious dealings on government contracts, and asking government employees what they could do to help political candidates, which is, of course, against the law. Even the government’s watchdog agency recommended she be disciplined to the fullest extent. Yet the White House spokesman declined to say if her resignation had anything to do with any of that. From the White House came only thanks and confirmation she was gone. The government saw no obligation to say why, which leads me to this: have decades of secrecy, spin and stonewalling conditioned us to accept less than the whole story from the government? Is telling the whole truth no longer a given? Frankly, I’m not sure. What I do know is more and more people seem skeptical of everything the government says and does. What we saw last week may be one reason why.
Belle then pointed out the underlying absurdity:
The Lurita Doan scandal is such a minor one relative to all the other lies, spin, incompetence and outright negligence of the Bush administration that it’s tragically laughable that this is the one that Schieffer thinks exemplifies why the American people are skeptical to what comes out of the White House.
This also epitomizes Schieffer's reporting on the administration, which has treaded between muted criticism and outright fawning. It's no wonder after Dan Rather's departure from CBS Evening News, President Bush gladly granted Schieffer an exclusive interview. Something he never afforded Rather.
In a March 2003 interview, Schieffer was asked "if the Pentagon's decision to allow reporters to embed with troops" will "make it difficult for journalists to remain objective?" His answer was telling:
BOB SCHIEFFER: No, I don't think so at all. I think it was a very good decision. I must tell you on this one, I'm sort of like Ronald Reagan who used to say of the Soviet Union, "Trust but verify." I take them at their word at the Pentagon, if they're going to let these reporters go along and give us a view of this war if it does come. But I'm going to wait until the shooting starts until I give a final opinion. So far, they are saying all the right things. I give them the benefit of the doubt. I think they're going to try to do the right thing. But we'll see once the shooting starts if they follow up. If they do what they say they're going to do, it would be a very good thing. I also think it's not just good for the American people to have independent observers along, I think it's also good for the military. Had there been a reporter along with Lieutenant Calley when he massacred those people in Vietnam, I think that probably wouldn't have happened.
The truth is, however, in covering the Bush administration, Schieffer has been overly willing to trust and, whenever discrepancies between administration claims and the facts are verified, ever reluctant to hold anyone accountable. The ideal company man. Affable and avuncular yet trusted and above the fray. Walter Cronkite without that pesky willingness to speak truth to power. In the end, Schieffer might as well replace "trust but verify" with "ask but don't follow up."
Throughout his January 2006 interview with Bush, Schieffer responded "Um-hmm" and "Okay" and jarringly changed topics when the president's absurd answers demanded further inquiry. His misplaced deference lent credence to Bush's specious, unconstitutional explanations on everything from wiretaps, speaking with our enemies, the state of Iraq, Katrina, healthcare and energy independence. Moreover, Schieffer's final three questions were embarrassing softballs: "Has the presidency changed you, Mr. President?"; "What has been the worst part?"; and "What has been the impact on your family?"