By Gina Vergel
Ken Burns (left) and Bob Schieffer addressed the issues of the day during their appearance at Fordham.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert
What happens when you combine a 40-year television news veteran, the nation’s foremost documentarian and an open microphone?
A no-holds-barred conversation on the news business, documentaries, reporting bias and the Republican vice presidential nominee, among other weighty topics.
“Sarah Palin is a 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency—the most important office in the world,” said Bob Schieffer, CBS correspondent and host of Face the Nation. “I find it odd that some people think [the media] should just accept on faith that she’s qualified.”
Schieffer and renowned documentarian Ken Burns appeared on Sept. 22 in a special engagement hosted by the Graduate School of Business Administration’s Center for Communications and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
“A Conversation with Ken Burns and Bob Schieffer” was held in the McNally Amphitheatre on the Lincoln Center campus hours before the pair was honored with 2008 Lifetime Achievement Emmy Awards, along with the late Tim Russert.
Speaking on Palin, Schieffer said, “She’s basically an unknown person, and the American people have a right to know who she is.
“I do not believe she’s been mistreated by the media and if she doesn’t start holding news conferences, it could be a problem,” he continued.
Burns was more direct on the topic of John McCain’s running mate.
“She is so supremely unqualified,” Burns said. “No one has ever run [for vice president] with credentials as thin as hers.”
Schieffer and Burns also discussed how the Internet and other technologies that have revolutionized television will affect their crafts.
“Journalism is still about the individual reporter that has the courage and professionalism to go wherever the news is,” Schieffer said. “We need to remember that it’s not whether the story will be downloaded onto an iPod, it’s the content that matters.”
Burns, one of public television’s most celebrated and prolific directors and producers, preferred to discuss what he wouldn’t be doing in future documentaries.
“We’re not going to change the way we make the films and how long they are,” he said. “We’re going to continue to show the real stuff.”
Burns, a perennial award winner, has directed and produced major PBS specials including The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), and The War (2007).
Schieffer has likewise won many journalism citations, including six Emmys and two Sigma Delta Chi awards. He is set to moderate one of three presidential debates this fall, which will be held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
“I’m honored to be moderating this upcoming debate,” Schieffer said. “The way this race is going, I really do believe these debates are going to be crucial.”
The Center for Communications and National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences have a tradition of hosting newsmakers at Fordham. Last October, Ted Koppel, former anchor of ABC’s long-running news program Nightline, and current managing editor of the Discovery Channel, was the special guest. Dan Rather had the honors in 2005.