This week, veteran CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer announced he would retire from hosting “Face the Nation.” Today on the show, it was revealed that John Dickerson, the political director for the network, will take his place this summer.
“Now the obvious question is, who’s going to take this seat? I’m happy to say the answer is my friend CBS News political director John Dickerson, who has been on this broadcast 83 times. And he sure has the right bloodlines,” Schieffer said on his show this morning.
The “bloodline” he was referring to is Dickerson’s mother, Nancy Dickerson, who in 1960 became the first female correspondent for CBS News.
Dickerson followed in her journalism footsteps, but began his career in print media. He was a reporter for Time magazine from 1993 until 2005, then a writer for Slate. In April 2009, Dickerson joined CBS as an on-air political analyst. Two years later, he was named political director.
In the announcement from the network, CBS News President David Rhodes stressed Dickerson’s reporting chops.
“John is first and foremost a reporter — and that’s what he’ll be as anchor of Face the Nation,” Rhodes said. “His work in the studio will always be informed by what he’s learned in Iowa, in New Hampshire, on Capitol Hill — anywhere there’s news. He has earned the respect of newsmakers across the political spectrum.”
Dickerson was recently criticized for a Slate story headlined “Go for the Throat!” that concluded that President Obama should move to “declare war” on his Republican opponents in his second term if they continue to oppose him at every turn.
Slate editor Julia Turner said Dickerson will continue to write for the site and participate in its podcast Political Gabfest. His title will change from chief political correspondent to contributing columnist.
“He is serious and rigorous but so charming, funny and genuine that no matter what he’s doing, whether that’s asking questions, writing a critical piece or pressing hard on an issue, he does it in a way that seems fair, wise, and engenders respect for his readers and subjects,” Turner said.
As White House correspondent for Time during the George W. Bush administration, Dickerson was known for getting called on, apparently because the president and his staff found Dickerson charming. He did not throw softball questions in return.
“Every now and then, the press has its day,” wrote Mike Allen in The Washington Post in 2004. “The master of the game is John Dickerson of Time magazine, who has knocked Bush off script so many times that his colleagues have coined a term for cleverly worded, seemingly harmless, but incisive questions: ‘Dickersonian.’ ”
One of those questions was this: “In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you’d made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You’ve looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?”
Bush stumbled to answer, said he wished the question had been in writing, and explained a month later at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, “It’s an excellent question that totally stumped me. I guess looking at it practically, my biggest mistake was calling on John.”
In his new role on “Face the Nation,” Dickerson will be taking the place of a man who has been hosting the Sunday news program for 24 of his 46 years with CBS. Schieffer announced his retirement on Wednesday during a speech at his alma mater, Texas Christian University. Here’s a clip of both men on air together with Norah O’Donnell during the 2012 election:
An attempt to live up to Schieffer won’t be Dickerson’s first experience entering a role in someone else’s shadow. His mother, a predecessor to prominent broadcast journalists Katie Couric, Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer, was a star before he was born. He wrote about her accomplishments and fame — and the difficult relationship between them that resulted — in his 2006 book “On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News’ First Woman Star.” Like her son, Nancy was serious about her work.
“Three weeks after I was born, Mom was in Miami covering the Republican convention,” he wrote. “That confused viewers even more. Didn’t she just give birth? She had, but she gave up on her experiment with breastfeeding and went off to cover the story.”
She covered the civil rights movement and made a documentary about Richard Nixon’s demise. She dated John F. Kennedy, covered his campaign, then covered his funeral. She interviewed the president of Egypt and the prime minister of Israel.
Although their relationship was strained for many years, they became closer before her death in 1997. Dickerson then spent years digging through her journals, letters and newspaper clippings, connecting with a side of his mother he was too young to ever know. Three years after his book about her was published, he joined CBS.
“She never once suggested I get into the business,” he wrote, “but one day I looked at my office and it looked like hers.”