Bob Schieffer

3506 Sunrise Drive West
Minnetonka, MN 55345

May 15, 2010

CBS Television Network
51 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. Schieffer:

I have always enjoyed seeing you on television.  You project kindness, respect, and a genuine interest in the truth.  You also seem to express what I feel when I watch the news: Do I laugh or do I weep?

I just finished reading This Just In, which I much enjoyed for several reasons.  In it, your sense of humor plays about much more than it gets to on a broadcast news show.  Too bad network marketing works that way.  I enjoyed your book because you write well.  I enjoyed it because you wrote about my times.  I was born in 1951 so I lived during the events you describe.  And I enjoyed it because you are a curious and humane person.

You give yourself the descriptor “conservative,” but my guess is that you were no more supportive than I was of the Bush 43 administration.  There was a time when conservatism meant integrity, balanced budgets, resistance to involvement in conflicts abroad, and tight boundaries on the activities of the federal government.  No more.  I have always been bothered by the separation of people in to groups, like conservative and progressive.  I especially dislike the cleaving of the nation into red and blue states, and not least because most states are about 47/53 one way or the other and on the move.  Divisions like these portray the struggles in America as fights between two teams rather than as one people meeting common problems.  They also redirect our attention from the problems to what jerks they are on the other side of the aisle.  And my guess is that even though I claim for myself the descriptor “progressive,” I haven’t said anything in this letter yet that you would disagree with.

I write though to challenge you on one item in This Just In.  You mention the incident of a peace protester spitting on a veteran returning from Vietnam.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that actually happened, though I have never heard any specifics mentioned in the hundreds of references to it I have encountered over the decades.  But I was one of those protestors you describe in your book and I never saw anything even remotely resembling that attitude among my fellow protestors.  Universally, peace activists I knew regarded the American soldiers in Vietnam as victims nearly as much as the citizens of Vietnam were. 

The story has persisted not because it was a significant bit of news, but because it captured a moment that represents a much larger complex of emotional and historic elements.  It became an icon.  A sailor kisses a nurse in Times Square.  The flag goes up in Iwo Jima.  John-john salutes his father.  The south tower collapses.  The problem with representing the peace movement with the spitting incident is that it tells a lie; the other icons I mentioned don’t.  How often have the likes of Bill O’Reilly used that story as shorthand for condemning all peace activism?  As is typical of contemporary conservatism, they can’t win the argument with logic and information so they win with an appeal to emotion.  Unfortunately conservatives are much more effective than moderates of any type at using emotional arguments in the mass media.  That’s why most people don’t want science taught in school.  That’s why sexism, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism are so intractable.  That’s why Stevenson, McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry lost.  But persuasion based on fear, anger, or hatred produces bad science, bad policy, and the election of incompetent officers. 

You have a lot of credibility in America. Your reference to the spitting incident, especially mixed in with all of the fact-based stories in your book, has powerfully contributed to the credibility of the argument that says that if you criticize conservatism, then you are the type of person who spits on veterans.  My sense is that you probably agree with me in general on this issue too.  I remember the look on your face during the presidential debates in 2008.  Only decorum prevented you from shouting, “My God, man, you call that an answer to my question?”  If you ever get an opportunity to diminish the value of the spitting story as a hammer against fact-based policy discussion, I hope you will take it.


Chris Sullivan