Schieffer: Stewart, Colbert Are 'Editorial Page Cartoonists’

The host of CBS' Face the Nation on battling ABC for second place, media bias and whether the press has turned on Obama
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In the battle for Sunday-morning viewers, CBS' Face the Nation With Bob Schieffer is giving ABC's This Week a run for its second-place money behind top-rated NBC's Meet the Press With David Gregory (see related: "Fifth Estater: Gregory Met the Challenges From the First"). Season-to-date, Face the Nation edges out This Week by 20,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic on which the networks sell the shows. But This Week leads Face the Nation among total viewers (2.79 million versus 2.73 million).


The Jan. 31 edition of This Week, guest-hosted by Barbara Walters and featuring a lengthy interview with Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown and a lively roundtable exchange between Roger Ailes and Arianna Huffington, gave the show its best ratings of the season. But Schieffer says Sunday morning is now a three-way battle. He talks to B&C Programming Editor Marisa Guthrie about the media's trust issues, President Obama's bad news, and his friends Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

Have you been gaining on your friends over at ABC?

We have. But my friend Barbara Walters, when we weren't looking, she got us. When you get scooped, you get scooped. I tip my hat to her.

So I guess it's good that she's not going to be there every week.

That will be just fine with me. I'd like to think it's all about us. But the fact is since Tim [Russert] died, it's just gotten closer and closer. It's a three-way dogfight now. Meet the Press is still on top. And I think David [Gregory] does a good job. But it's just very close now. But much of it depends on the booking. We all have to be on our toes.

Do you think Jon Stewart is taking the newsman mantle from the traditionalists like yourself?

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are to television what the editorial page cartoonist is to the editorial page of newspapers. The editorial page cartoonist is the only person at the newspaper who is allowed to lie. I see Stewart and Colbert, both of whom are friends of mine, as editorial page cartoonists. A lot of time by taking something beyond where it is, it helps you to drive home a point and really understand the truth. Do I think they pose some threat to the republic? I do not. But I think if all you watched is Stewart and Colbert, I'm not sure you could call yourself well-informed.

Bill O'Reilly chided Stewart for turning on President Obama. Do you think the media is turning on him?

No. I think the media is reporting, and things have not gone very well for the president lately. When he has some success, he'll get better news reports. Right now, he just hasn't had very many successes. When he does, I'm sure O'Reilly will have a few things to say about it.

A lot of polls say that Americans don't trust the media. How do you get that trust back?

I guess the way we get it back is report only good news. I'm serious. Charles Kuralt used to say, "You know, my job is a lot different than yours because every story I do has a happy ending." I think what we have to do is just get to the truth. If we can do that, people will still find us relevant. Nobody likes to hear that a house is on fire. But if the house that's on fire is next door to your house, you damn sure want to know about it.

The president has complained about the media. Do you think that has already backfired?

No, I don't think it's backfired. But on the other hand, I don't think it makes much of a difference. I've never heard of a president who at some point in his presidency did not complain about the media. I can remember way back when Jack Kennedy got so mad at the New York Herald Tribune that he canceled his subscription. But that didn't work, any more than it worked when Nixon drew up his enemies list. This is a truly bipartisan thing. At some point, they're all going to get mad at the media.

How do you think the surge of voices in the blogosphere and elsewhere affects public discourse?

I'm never going to say that we ought to put limits on public comments. The problem right now is that the Internet is the only vehicle we've ever had to distribute news that has no editor. The worst newspaper has somebody there who knows where the stuff came from. This stuff pops up on the blogs and you don't know where it came from. Some of it is true. Some of it is not true. Some of it has been vetted. But some of it is just made up out of whole cloth. And we're all trying to figure out how to deal with it.

Do you think there's an inherent bias in the media, and that there are stories like abuses at ACORN that don't get coverage for ideological reasons?

I think [ACORN] was a legitimate story. And I think a lot of us were slow to catch it. But I don't think that happens too often. The truth, whatever it is, eventually comes out.

Why do you think the partisan divide seems so deep at this moment?

I think one of the reasons that partisanship and the divide are so wide now is we're not all getting the same stuff. A lot of people tend to define objectivity as whatever agrees with their point of view. They get it from that point of view, and somehow they just never get the other side of the argument.

While we've got more news than we've ever had, the burden on the consumer is greater than it ever was because you truly have to get your news from a variety of sources to feel like you're informed.

Technology has changed a lot. Has it changed how you do things?

Yes, for those of us who think of ourselves as being in the mainstream media, I think our role now is to knock down these false reports that pop up on the Internet. We spent most of our time during Sept. 11 knocking down false reports that popped up on the Internet. In the old days, if you made a mistake, you corrected it.

Our job is to give an independently gathered report on what the government is doing, which you have to have in a democracy. I think in the end, if the mainstream media survive, it will be because people may not agree with our editorial page but at least they can agree on the facts. And we have to be the place where people can turn to and when they hear what we report, they know that we have vetted it, that it just didn't come off the top of somebody's head-that it's true.

Do you think the word "exclusive" is overused?

I think it has always been overused, and it's certainly overused now. Sunday morning between 10:30 and 11 a.m. Exclusive! We've had a few of those.

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