He talks the talk on Sunday news show

CBS host Bob Schieffer, 72, has postponed plans for retirement more than once. CBS host Bob Schieffer, 72, has postponed plans for retirement more than once. (Ron Edmonds/Associated Press)
By David Bauder
Associated Press / June 1, 2009
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NEW YORK - While followers of the Sunday morning political shows obsess about which host best represents the genre's future, a man who's proven an utter failure at setting retirement dates is making some noise.

CBS "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer's bookend interviews with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell in May made news and offered riveting inside looks at old conflicts within the Bush administration and the struggle for the future of the GOP.

Schieffer and Cheney, the former vice president, go way back. When Cheney was chief of staff for President Ford in the 1970s, Schieffer said he was the most open and accessible person he's ever seen in the role, a contrast to his public image as vice president. With Cheney speaking out against President Obama, Schieffer invited him on "Face the Nation." It was accepted within 10 minutes.

"I can't remember a story that got as much pick-up and reaction as that one did," Schieffer said of the May 10 appearance.

After a lengthy discussion about Cheney's views on fighting terrorism, the former vice president visibly startled Schieffer by calling Rush Limbaugh a better Republican than his former colleague Powell. In fact, Cheney considered Powell an ex-Republican for backing Obama in last year's election.

Schieffer knew immediately he'd struck gold.

"You never know till you ask," he said. "I would have thought he would have gracefully sidestepped that question, off the top of my head . . . That's what I always tell people in journalism lectures: You don't want to assume when you ask someone a question that you know what he's going to answer."

Powell just as quickly accepted Schieffer's invitation and appeared two weeks later. Schieffer, who asks methodical, get-the-facts questions in a Texas twang, brought up Cheney's comments immediately. He replayed that segment of Cheney's interview on a split screen that showed Powell's impassive face watching the tape.

He may be soft-spoken and carry a military man's demeanor, but Powell did some slicing and dicing of his own. He pointed out that Cheney not only opposed Obama on the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, he opposed George Bush. Powell said he decided whether or not he was a Republican - not Cheney or Limbaugh.

"It's just a good story, really, the story of where the Republican Party is right now and where it is going and what does it want to be," Schieffer said.

The interviews continued a good run for "Face the Nation," which had its largest audience in five years when Obama appeared on March 29. With an average of 2.55 million viewers a week, "Face the Nation" is right behind ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, at 2.72 million viewers. Both broadcasts are up 3 percent over last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That's largely a reflection of the return of NBC's once-dominant "Meet the Press" to the pack since David Gregory replaced the late Tim Russert. NBC's average of 3.19 million viewers is down 23 percent from last year. That's nearly 1 million people gone; some have switched to Schieffer, Stephanopoulos, or others, but the majority have tuned out altogether.

Schieffer, 72, a bladder cancer survivor, has publicly set retirement dates and let them pass by. Now he doesn't pretend to know. He'll take a Sunday off now or then, and CBS will quietly test a substitute who might someday replace him, but Schieffer has an open-ended contract.

"I guess when they get tired of me, they'll tell me," he said. "And if I get tired of them, I'll tell them. I hope we're a long way from that right now."

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