2008 Emmy Lifetime Achievement Honorees Speak


Published: October 2, 2008

“The role of mainstream journalism is to be a place for people who don’t agree on a point of view to agree on the facts,” said Bob Schieffer, a 2008 Emmy Lifetime Achievement honoree who spoke at Fordham Law School’s McNally Amphitheater on Sept. 22 at 11 a.m. Fellow 2008 Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ken Burns joined Schieffer.

Schieffer, anchor of Face the Nation on CBS and interim anchor for the CBS Evening News, is a network news veteran with almost 40 years of experience in the field, according to information provided at the event.

“Democracies cannot exist without free press,” Schieffer said. “Journalism is about reporters who have the courage and professionalism to go wherever the news is, find out the story for themselves and report it in words people can understand.”

An audience member asked Schieffer to comment on the digital age in relation to the news. “It is not whether it is going to be downloaded on an iPod, it’s the content that matters,” Schieffer said. He added that, at CBS, “We put journalism wherever we can find a place for it,” including on cbsnews.com, so that it is accessible to a greater number of people via a variety of media.

“You can now get the news served up to your taste,” said Schieffer, citing the large variety of news sources that appeal to either conservatives or liberals. He also stated that he believes that people watch news that reinforces their beliefs.

“We’ve lost the ability to talk to each other,” said Ken Burns, a historical documentarian who has been creating documentaries for PBS for over 25 years.  “I have chosen history because we can at least forget partisanship down that line,” he continued. He said that learning about the conflicts of the past is easier than learning about the conflicts of the present since history is fact, not opinion. Schieffer concurred, “No matter what I say on TV, someone always thinks that I said the opposite thing.  I think this is the downside [of reporting about current events instead of past events].”

An audience member asked Burns if he would consider working with cable companies, as opposed to publicly-funded national broadcast companies like PBS, which has featured several of his films. Burns is known for creating lengthy films.  He said that he refuses to change the length of his work to make it more palatable to the cable audience. “We have, over the past few years, begun to understand the reality. What we’re really struggling not to do is change the way we make the films and the length,” he replied.

Another audience member asked the honorees to comment on the media coverage of Sarah Palin, John McCain’s vice presidential choice. “Sarah Palin is a 72-year-old heartbeat away from the U.S. presidency.  The American people should know who she is, and I have no apologies for what the mainstream media has done,” said Schieffer.  Burns said, “She is supremely unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.  This choice has turned the election into a popularity contest.”

Schieffer, who is expected to host the Oct. 15 presidential debate, described hosting as “a daunting task.  There will be no shortage of questions to ask; I just hope I choose the right ones,” he said.

The CBS anchor took a moment to speak about the late Tim Russert, who was the host of Meet the Press on NBC, which aired opposite Schieffer’s Face the Nation on Sunday mornings. “Tim and I were very close friends. We watched a lot of baseball together,” said Schieffer. “We loved the competition.  I think about Tim every Sunday.”