Roy Eaton and Bob Schieffer sharing stories from 60 years in journalism.
Two old friends reminiscing about the early days of their careers together and sharing stories from more than 60 years in journalism provided some of the most memorable moments of the 2019 Texas Press Association Convention and Trade Show.
Wise County Messenger President Roy Eaton, the 2019 Mayborn Award winner, and legendary broadcast journalist Bob Schieffer, retired CBS News anchor and chief Washington correspondent, sat down together on stage Saturday morning for the final program of the convention.
They shared stories of their first jobs as part-time reporters for a Fort Worth radio station when they were journalism students at Texas Christian University. The TCU journalism school, home of the Texas Center for Community Journalism, is now named for Schieffer, and Eaton has served on the faculty as publisher in residence. However, as freshmen in 1956, they were among the first “street reporters” chasing down stories at the scenes of accidents, crimes and sometimes more festive events.
They described their means of gaining access (wearing hats similar to those worn by detectives) and taking sometimes questionable advice (“if a suspect confesses to you, you can use his name”) from an editor who later became a professor at TCU.
While still a student, Eaton advanced to news director of the radio station. Following graduation, Scheiffer served three years in the U.S. Air Force before returning to Fort Worth to work for Eaton.
Eaton went on to another station and later joined WBAP-TV, the NBC affiliate in Fort Worth then owned by the Star-Telegram.
Eaton purchased the Wise County Messenger in his hometown of Decatur in 1973. He and his wife worked there part time while he continued full-time work with the television station until the Star-Telegram sold the station in 1975. At that time, the Eatons moved to Decatur and to full-time work with the Messenger.
Schieffer also worked in radio and television in the Fort Worth area before moving to the national arena; however, it was his work with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that earned him his first journalistic awards. In addition to covering the Kennedy assassination in 1963, Schieffer became the first Texas newspaper reporter to cover troops on the ground in Vietnam in 1964.
Schieffer said the newspaper ran a full-page ad inviting Fort Worth readers to send in the names of soldiers in Vietnam for him to track down and talk to.
“We got some 850 names,” he said, adding that he tracked down 220 of them.
“I went from one end of Vietnam to the other, and then back,” he said. “I would just go and stay with them a couple of days. And these kids were very, very young. Mind you, I’m 27 years old or something at the time. These kids, some of them, were 17, 18, and they were draftees,” Schieffer said.
“I remember walking up to this one Marine kid one time, he had on his helmet and he had his weapon and he had his bandoliers around him and everything. I said, ‘I’m Bob Schieffer from the Star-Telegram, and your mom asked me to come see how you are.’ And he just broke down. He just bawled standing there. I never got over that.”
Schieffer described his move to Washington and eventual hiring by CBS, where he built a decades-long, decorated career. He said he has always believed that CBS hired him by accident, after he walked into Bureau Chief Bill Small’s office without an appointment and said, “I’m Bob Schieffer, here to see about a job.” To his amazement, the secretary said, “Oh, yes, Bob, go on in.” It wasn’t until later, on his way out, that he saw journalist Bob Hager by the elevator, and confirmed some years later that it was Hager who had an appointment with Small that morning in 1969.
In the midst of both serious and humorous stories about “scoops” and his relationships with other high-profile journalists and politicians, Schieffer’s most inspirational comments came when he addressed the importance of journalism, especially in today’s political climate.
When Eaton asked him about recent events such as the White house revoking the press credentials of CNN reporter Jim Acosta, Schieffer said “I’m not worried about somebody getting kicked out of the White House. You know, that’s not where the news is. I am not faulting press briefings and I am glad we have them, but that’s not where the news is. The news is out covering the people, not in the press room.”
He addressed what he said he felt was the most serious point, in light of the current trend of questioning the right of reporters to ask questions.
“We are not the opposition party as some in power will try to make us seem. I do not consider myself an enemy of the people. I consider myself a citizen of the United States of America doing what I see as my job as a reporter, and that is to try and get to the truth.
“We cannot have democracy if our citizens don’t have access to a free press.
“Let the politicians deliver the messages; we simply have to check out and find out if their message is true or false, then let people decide what to do about that.”