CBS’s Bob Schieffer Notes ‘Landslide’ 1964 Election, But Avoids the Role CBS Played in Sliming Goldwater

June 21st, 2014 2:23 PM

The other Sunday, Bob Schieffer, the longtime CBS journalist and anchor of the network’s Sunday morning show Face the Nation, had Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on his show.

Mysteriously, a seriously hard fact of the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign -- a fact about the role of CBS News itself  -- disappeared from Mr. Schieffer’s recounting of that “historic landslide”  to Mr. Priebus and the CBS audience. Vaporized more thoroughly than Lois Lerner’s e-mails from the IRS. As noted here by Jeffrey Meyer, the two had the following exchange about the state of the Repubican Party: 

SCHIEFFER: So much of it reminds me of 1964, maybe I'm the oldest person around, and I probably am and maybe only one old enough to remember that. But I remember a Republican Party where you had Republican moderates mostly in the east headed by Nelson Rockefeller and then you had western conservatives headed by Barry Goldwater. Those two factions never came together and Goldwater lost the election in a historic landslide. How do you prevent that from happening?

PRIEBUS: You do what we're doing at the national level. You become a four-year period. You get in communities nonstop. But the fact is, where are we not winning, Bob? What state governor's races are we not winning? What House races are we not winning?

SCHIEFFER: What you’re not winning is the last presidential election.

The “elephant in the room” (so to speak) with any discussion of Barry Goldwater and that 1964 election is the media. Specifically the role of CBS News. And the subject is hardly a piece of ancient history. It moves in a straight line from the conduct of CBS in 1963/1964 - to the accusations by today’s Sharyl Attkisson, recently resigned from CBS News over charges of liberal bias at the network.

Senator Goldwater is now long gone. He died in 1998. But he left behind, among other things, a specific recounting of his treatment by CBS News. They appear in his 1988 memoirs Goldwater,  written with Jack Casserly. Goldwater illustrates, with three detailed examples, just how he  came to be seen as, to use a term from 1964, a “right wing extremist, ” a view of him presented by the supposedly-objective CBS News that fueled the fires of division in American politics -- fires that, if anything, burn hotter today.

Ignoring the discussion of honest differences, and replacing them with scurrilous myths that smeared not only Goldwater but the larger conservative movement of which, in 1964, he was the very embodiment. And Goldwater also mentions a fourth incident involving -- yes -- Bob Schieffer himself. Which we will get to shortly. But first, the three incidents from 1963-1964 with CBS, three incidents that Goldwater saw as playing a serious role in his wildly misrepresented introduction to the American people as a potential president.

On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy had just been shot while riding in his motorcade  in Dallas, Texas. At that moment, Barry Goldwater was on a plane, “escorting my mother-in-law’s body from Phoenix to her funeral and burial in Muncie, Indiana.” Goldwater, in spite of his political differences with JFK, was “personally close” to his old Senate colleague. Landing in Chicago to change planes Goldwater is shocked to learn from his waiting brother-in-law that the President -- his friend -- has been shot. There was at that moment no word on JFK’s condition. Goldwater is duty bound to keep going, so continues on with his journey and when he arrives in Muncie with his mother-in-law’s body he is stunned to learn that JFK has died. 

That evening, watching television along with the rest of the country, he hears Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchor, deliver the CBS Evening News. Cronkite says that Senator Goldwater, in Goldwater’s words, “was off giving a political speech in Indiana and would not be present for (JFK’s) wake and funeral.” Goldwater was furious, later writing:    

“The inference was clear. I wasn’t showing the proper respect to the slain President and the office. I was never so angry in my life, and I phoned Cronkite to say ‘Mr. Cronkite, I don’t know you. I’ve always respected you. But you just told CBS viewers a blatant lie. I’m not here in Indiana to make a political speech, but to help bury my mother-in-law.”

Eventually, Cronkite got around to apologizing on-air. But CBS “never offered a credible explanation” for why they had portrayed Goldwater as so contemptuous of JFK and the office of the presidency. Implying with  all the subtlety of a two-by-four over the head that Goldwater was so far removed from the bounds of simple decency as to be well outside what we now call “the mainstream.”

Said Goldwater years later: “This was the first in a series of major errors made by ‘CBS News’ over the course of my candidacy for the Presidency.” Notice the quote marks he puts around CBS News.

Goldwater’s next run-in with CBS? Fred Friendly, then the head of CBS News, along with regular Evening News commentator Eric Sevareid, “told me in 1963 that they wanted to produce an hour-long documentary on the conservative revolution in America. They even mentioned a title, The Conservative Revival.”

Goldwater hesitated, concerned even then about what he felt was  - his words - a “liberal bias” with CBS.  But he decided both the head of CBS and Eric Sevareid, were “gentlemen and men of their word.” They told him such a program would “help the conservative cause greatly.” So Goldwater agreed. 

Sevareid showed up for the interview and, Goldwater later said, “the interview went downhill shortly after the start.” First, Sevareid tried to paint Goldwater as ignorant because he didn’t have a college degree, which Goldwater countered by listing his extensive business, military and political experience. He had, after all, been deeply involved before his political career as an executive with the highly successful family department store business. A pilot and by then a major general in the US Air Force Reserves, he had spent World War II flying supplies to US troops around the globe. Politically, he had been a member of the Phoenix City Council before defeating an incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator who was also the Senate Majority Leader. No matter. Without a college degree, Sevareid presented him as an ignoramus.

Then “the questions got meaner and nastier as we went along. They suggested I was an accomplice of the John Birch Society and similar groups.” Goldwater was decidedly not a Bircher, but this mysteriously seemed not to matter. A camera crew followed Goldwater around for an entire month.  By the time the show aired it was now called Thunder on the Right and “would now be an attack” on the Birchers and Minutemen and other extremist activists.

The “only part of my long interview with Sevareid that was used,” Goldwater later wrote, “was a single answer on the John Birch Society. The selection and editing of the film attempted to link me directly with the group. After the narration blasted the Birchers, Barry Goldwater suddenly appeared saying the society was not violating the Constitution. Yet we had long opposed the views of the Birchers and similar groups. In view of their conduct, I would never again accept the word of Friendly or Sevareid. …CBS had called two strikes on me.”  And the third strike from CBS in creating the image of Barry Goldwater as a right-wing nut wasn’t long in coming.

As the 1964 Republican National Convention opened, with Goldwater on the verge of nomination, CBS carried a report from correspondent Daniel Schorr broadcasting from - you can’t make it up - Munich, Germany. It was infamous a mere twenty years after the end of World War II as being, in Adolf Hitler’s own words, “the capital of the Nazi movement.”  Reported CBS’s Schorr:

It looks as though, Senator Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany’s right wing.

Goldwater has accepted an invitation to visit, immediately after the convention, Lieutenant General William Quinn, commander of the (US) Seventh Army at Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s onetime stamping ground but now an American Army recreational area.

In addition, I learned today, Goldwater has given his tentative agreement to speak next weekend at the annual roundtable of the Evangelical Academy at Tutzing, on Bavaria’s Lake Starnberg, where Chancellor Adenauer spoke last year.

It is now clear that Senator Goldwater’s interview with [the news magazine] Der Spiegel, with its hard line appealing to right-wing elements in Germany, was only the start of a move to link up with his opposite numbers in Germany….Thus, there are signs that the American and German right wings are joining up, and the (American presidential) election campaign is taking on a new dimension.

In short? The CBS message on the eve of Goldwater’s nomination was that Barry Goldwater was a Nazi-sympathizer. (Ignored of course, was the inconvenient reality that the Nazis -- aka the National Socialists -- were Leftists, not right-wingers much less conservatives.) Goldwater had no plans of going to Germany, much less linking up with German neo-Nazis. This was, after all, a man who had risked his life flying US Army Air Force planes to help defeat the Nazis. But no matter.

Wrote Goldwater of CBS in his memoirs: “The CBS broadcast was false, and Schorr’s was the most irresponsible reporting I’ve witnessed in my life……CBS compounded its unfairness with a report whose critical timing could affect not only the GOP Presidential nomination but the outcome of the national election campaign as well.”

Goldwater, stung now three times by CBS, had been presented as contemptuous of the assassinated JFK (at a time when, assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s Communist ties notwithstanding, the assassination was portrayed as somehow a result of right-wing kooks in Dallas), a thorough-going John Bircher and now, a Nazi sympathizer. And in the wake of that last CBS story, right on cue the New York Times followed up with a similar and equally untrue story along the same lines. Without doubt, as Goldwater was acutely aware, these stories made an impact with Americans who had never heard of Barry Goldwater before his presidential run, the kind of voter Rush Limbaugh today describes as the “low information voter.” They were designed to present as negative an image of Goldwater - Goldwater notes that Schorr used the word “lethal” -- and by extension his fellow conservatives -- as possible. It worked.

Now comes Bob Schieffer, decades later, saying to, of all people, the chairman of the RNC, that “ I remember a Republican Party where you had Republican moderates mostly in the east headed by Nelson Rockefeller and then you had western conservatives headed by Barry Goldwater. Those two factions never came together and Goldwater lost the election in a historic landslide. How do you prevent that from happening?” 

Answer? Begin by not listening to CBS News, which went out of its way in 1964 to misrepresent Barry Goldwater and as such made their network a major player in the Goldwater “historic landslide” defeat. To be clear, Goldwater himself didn’t believe he could win the presidency in 1964. JFK’s assassination had traumatized the country. There was no way, he felt, that Americans wanted to have a third president in as many years. LBJ, whom he disdained for his petty and dirty politics, was no JFK. A campaign against Johnson would not be about the issues. Good personal friends that they were, Goldwater and JFK wanted to talk issues, and had even discussed the idea of flying around the country together on Air Force One to do a series of modernized Lincoln-Douglas style debates.

JFK was now gone, and Goldwater was reluctant to get in the ring with LBJ. But he was persuaded to make the try to get the conservative movement off the ground in presidential politics -- and in fact his campaign succeeded spectacularly in that goal, introducing then-actor Ronald Reagan to the nation for the first time as a political figure and possible future president. But CBS News was there every step of the way, repeatedly mis-portraying Goldwater to considerable - make that “lethal” -  effect. Goldwater never forgot it.

But all of this wasn’t the last of Goldwater’s bad feeling for CBS. There was one more incident that involved -- yes -- Bob Schieffer.

Years after 1964, when Ronald Reagan was finally in the White House,  CBS correspondent Phil Jones asked for an interview with Goldwater to discuss Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union speech. Goldwater did the interview. Sure enough, CBS edited his forty-minute interview to make it seem Goldwater was attacking Reagan over his handling of “minority problems.”  Goldwater, feeling bitten yet again decades later, called reporter Jones and complained. What did Goldwater learn?

“..Jones had nothing to do with the final product. My interview had been incorporated into a larger segment handled by another CBS correspondent, Bob Schieffer.” Schieffer came to Goldwater’s office with the CBS Washington Bureau Chief to apologize. Acknowledging the courtesy, Goldwater would write that “I took no comfort in their words.”

In the news recently was an episode revolving around CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson resigning from CBS News over frustrations with what she charged liberal bias and a lack of commitment to investigative reporting.

So what we have here is a very simple, basic problem at CBS News. It showed up fifty years ago when Barry Goldwater was running for president. It showed up 28 years ago when Goldwater felt Bob Schieffer and CBS had misrepresented his views on a Reagan State of the Union address. And now it shows up in the resignation of CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson.       

Is it any wonder that when Bob Schieffer tosses off the history of the 1964 campaign in his interview with Reince Priebus, he presents a revisionist version that leaves out the role of CBS News in the Goldwater landslide?       

From 1964 to 2014 -- fifty years! -- apparently the more things change at CBS News, the more they stay the same.


About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania.