Unethical Quote of the Week: “Face the Nation” Host Bob Shieffer

“The nation was plunged into shock. Nothing like this had ever happened.”

—“Face the Nation” host Bob Shieffer, looking forward to the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, and describing the aftermath of the murder in Dallas on November 22, 1963.


Hey Bob...do any of these guys ring a bell?

Hey Bob…do any of these guys ring a bell?

As it is, younger generations have a tendency to assume that what is happening now is unprecedented, that every crisis is the worst crisis, that what they are experiencing is unique. The remedy to this self-centered, ignorant and crippling cognitive malady is education, resulting in perspective. Unfortunately, the schools are doing increasingly little to provide useful historical context, and our leaders find it useful to exploit the low-information voter (worker, driver, patient, parent, student) for its own devices.

That leaves the field of journalism. Journalists, however, do not generally go into the arena of describing the present because of any particular respect or appreciation for the past, so their ability to convey perspective is usually limited as well. Fortunately, there are still older, veteran, experienced pros like Bob Shieffer,  76 years young, who…who…who appears to be as irresponsibly ignorant of basic American history as the college goofs Jay Leno makes look silly on his “Jay Walking” segments. How is this possible?

What could Shieffer possibly mean by saying of JFK’s assassination that “Nothing like this had ever happened” that is not flagrantly misleading, careless, ignorant and wrong? For those of you as bad off as Bob, there had been three previous Presidential assassinations before JFK, and all of them were big deals. Lincoln’s was a bigger deal than Kennedy’s in fact, because the U.S. had barely finished a war, and Lincoln’s assassination caused legitimate fears that it was part of a second Southern assault. Let’s see…maybe we can give Bob the benefit of the doubt and find an explanation for his statement that doesn’t involve having to shop for rest homes:

  • He meant that Kennedy had never been assassinated before. True, but hardly necessary to point out.
  • He meant that no President who was under the age of 50 had been assassinated before.
  • He meant that no President who was a Democrat had been assassinated before.
  • He meant that no President had ever been shot in the head before. No, that can’t be it, can it?
  • He meant that no President had ever been shot with his wife beside…no, that’s not right either. That any President had been shot under circumstances that raised suspicions of a conspiracy…wait, that’s wrong too! What could Bob possibly have been thinking?  Did he mean that no President had been killed in Texas. Perhaps? With a rifle instead of a handgun?  In a car? I would say in a Ford, but Lincoln was murdered in Ford’s Theater…
  • He meant, “I have gone senile and forgotten my basic American history. Bvuh.”
  • He meant, “I don’t really give a damn anymore, and neither do the producers and editors at CBS.”

I must assume it was the latter. Shieffer’s ridiculous, ahistorical hyperbole wasn’t even live, but pre-recorded. Neither he nor CBS News apparently care that they spread misinformation and make ignorant Americans more so, or they are jaw-droppingly ignorant themselves. Bob said this, everyone heard it, and said, “Good enough! Let’s tell our audience that nothing like Kennedy’s assassination had ever occurred before. Really, who cares?”

No respect, no diligence, no competence….and this kind of shoddy, lazy , crummy, brain-rotting journalism HAS happened before. Just about every day, in fact. Time to retire, Bob. The question is, who is going to be any better?


Pointer: Newsbusters

Facts: CBS News



20 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: “Face the Nation” Host Bob Shieffer

  1. Maybe he meant that never had a president been shot and the fact not been known globally almost immediately. It was, I suppose, the first assassination of a US President during the era of rapid, global media…

    I mean, when else could you have had the reaction of newscasters and the like the moment they learned of it? Had a program preempted by a special news bulletin?

    • I “hope” that was what Shieffer meant. Lincoln, obviously, was a far bigger deal. It’s just that the world didn’t know about it immediately.

    • There’s also the fact that he was sniped in public, with all eyes on him, while being video recorded… not to mention the fact that the footage of the shooting was aired to the public.

      Or I could mention that Kennedy’s was the first *at distance*. Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley were shot up close and the killers were seen by numerous witnesses (and in all cases but Booth, subdued at the site and caught in the act). The Warren Commission took ten months to parse out all the evidence. Then there’s how Oswald was assassinated himself before trial…

      (Of the other assassins, only Booth managed to avoid trial, and only ’cause he was killed resisting arrest… and a whole lot of his conspirators *were* tried.)

      So yeah. Kennedy’s assassination does stand out quite a bit.

      • The Zapruder film wasn’t shown to the public until at least 10 years after the assassination, minimum. Most of the public had no idea it even existed.

  2. I think it may be that our friends in the corporate media world are desperately eager to keep alive the myth of the Kennedys. JFK, “Camelot” and all the rest may have meant something to Mr Shieffer and his cohort, in their long ago youth,but in these days of a horrible economy, which keeps on being horrible, the 12 year long Forever War, NSA spying, and general justifiable cynicism no one really cares about a rich white criminal 50 years ago.

  3. Then there’s the provincialism that other presidents and leaders who had widely affected the world never happened either. Frankly, more than half the population is too young to remember him, except as a photo or video montage, even the Challenger disaster is on that cusp now.

    You have to convince them it’s still important and relevant before saying it’s worse. That would have made my younger eyes roll because I’ve learned about the other deaths too and I consider Lincoln’s to have more far-reaching consequences.

  4. I think what he meant was “nothing like that had happened to me before”. I base this conclusion on the Wikipedia article on him that describes that he had received a phone call from Marguerite Oswald, Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother, whom he accompanied to the Dallas Police Station while working as a reporter from the Fort Worth Star Telegram newspaper. Still, the comment seems to reveal an appalling ignorance about American history.

  5. Maybe it was “The nation had never seen anything like this” because it was recorded on film, and thus the nation could see it firsthand? (I actually don’t know how accessible the Zapruder film was at the time.)

    • Of course, “Nothing like the modern mass media coverage of this had happened before” could be said of anything that happened post radio and TV that had been happening regularly prior to that point. So WWI doesn’t count—nothing like the coverage of WW II had ever happened before. And the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson is no precedent to the Clinton trial—nothing like Bill’s impeachment had ever happened before, because the nation had never “seen it.” Then again, that’s not what “happened” means, and journalists, being in the communications profession, are supposed to say what they mean and what happens to be factual.

  6. I remember watching television after I got home from school, Jeff. One of the top anchormen was commenting and mentioned that films existed of the shooting. He also said that they were images “that I’m sure you would not care to witness”. It wasn’t until later that people got to see Kennedy’s right temple blown away from his skull by the impact. TV still had standards, then.

    It should also be noted that Jack’s four examples were of SUCCESSFUL assassinations of American presidents. Naturally, the last (known) unsuccessful one was of President Reagan. President Ford also escaped an attempt. Andrew Jackson almost beat to death the poor fool who tried to shoot him!

  7. “Plunged into shock” I can go along with, the sudden assassination of the chief executive will plunge any nation at any time into shock. That said, even an attemped one will shock a nation, most folks my age and older remember the famous misquoting of then Secretary of State Al Haig saying “I am in charge” after a deranged Jodie Foster fan’s attempt to take out Ronald Reagan. The statement that nothing like this had ever happened was in fact sloppy journalism, but, giving Bob the benefit of the doubt, maybe it can be attributed to the fact that he himself had never witnessed anything like that, it became one of the defining moments of his life, and, as Jack correctly points out, everyone assumes what they experienced was unique, the same as every newlywed couple assumes no one has ever been so in love before and every new parent assumes that there’s never been a child as miraculous as theirs. Arguably it is, however, the job of serious journalism and certainly of academia to put the brakes on, put up the caution flag, and say “wait a minute here, let’s put this in perspective, let’s read what came before, and not scream and shout that the sky is falling.” Some things really were unique, and some were just extreme in their horror – i.e. 9/11, the Holocaust, the AIDS crisis, all of which had historical analogues: Pearl Harbor, Armenia, the plague, and other examples. This is not to diminish the horror of any of these events, but rather to say that they are not unique in history, and that though they may be fresher in living memory, they do not diminish equally horrible events that happened earlier and have now passed out of living memory. Unfortunately, baby-boomer-era folks like Shieffer (although not a boomer himself he was someone whose primary audience for a long time was boomers) tend to think their generation’s experience is unique and somehow special, since they got their way on key issues like Vietnam, abortion, and choice of leadership. I think that’s part of what you are seeing here.

  8. No president had ever been assassinated and been replaced by a vice-president named Johnson…no….wait, that happened before too!

    Let’s just cut through the garbage, here. Kennedy was and is a media darling and a liberal darling. Bob Shieffer is not fool. He knows that this has to be special and of greater importance than any other event because this was THEIR GUY. They are the center of the universe and for this to happen to THEIR GUY was just the worst thing that has ever happened in the world. He was young, and hip, and attractive, and not a very good president. He was and is the poster child for the ideal liberal president.

  9. Nothing like that had ever happened in their lifetimes, or at least in their memories. The last president who had been assassinated was McKinley. So it was a shock, and something most people had never experienced before, even if the quote was technically inaccurate.

    9/11 was another such event… people were saying nothing like it had ever happened before, although you could argue Pearl Harbor was somewhat like it. Or worse.

    • The quote isn’t “technically inaccurate.” It’s factually wrong, as in false. He didn’t say “this something none of us had experienced before.” He said it hadn’t happened before. His profession is communication. Unacceptable.

  10. Why, Jack, don’t you realize yet, that ANYthing the Obama regime does is by definition “unprecedented?” Therefore, it is only fitting for major media conveyors of the regime’s free speech for the freedom of the free, like Schieffer, to be trained to describe reflexively ANYthing that is SUPPOSED to be treated as news as “unprecedented.”

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