Dick­er­son pre­pares for ‘Face the Na­tion’ de­but


For his first week as mod­er­a­tor of CBS’ “Face the Na­tion” on Sun­day, John Dick­er­son has no in­ten­tion of play­ing around with a for­mat con­sis­tent for more than half a cen­tury.

The CBS News po­lit­i­cal direc­tor re­places Bob Schi­ef­fer, who re­tired last week af­ter 24 years at the Wash­ing­ton-based public af­fairs pro­gram. Un­like some peo­ple who en­ter a job in a whirl­wind of new ideas, Dick­er­son is be­ing cau­tious and has no qualms ad­mit­ting it.

“I want to put my own stamp and touch on the show,” he said. “But I don’t know what that is yet.”

Dick­er­son, a for­mer Time mag­a­zine cor­re­spon­dent and a Slate writer who joined CBS six years ago, saw in the ar­chives that Sen. Joseph McCarthy was in­ter­viewed on the first “Face the Na­tion” in 1954. That il­lus­trates a sig­na­ture he wants to main­tain, of book­ing the most im­por­tant news­mak­ers he can each week and div­ing right in to ques­tions.

His first week’s guests in­clude three men with na­tional as­pi­ra­tions for them­selves or their ideas: just-an­nounced GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Rick Perry, New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie and New York City Mayor Bill de Bla­sio. He’ll also speak with the head of the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee about ef­forts to fight ter­ror­ism.

“That was Bob’s mantra and ad­vice — stick to what­ever the news is, fig­ure out who you can have on who can il­lu­mi­nate that and ask the kind of ques­tions that peo­ple want asked,” Dick­er­son said.

At least ini­tially, he won’t do a weekly com­men­tary. A re­porter’s round­table this week will fea­ture Su­san Page of USA To­day, Jamelle Bouie of Slate, Ron Fournier of Na­tional Jour­nal and Nancy Cordes of CBS. Dick­er­son plans to ro­tate dif­fer­ent pan­elists each week.

Dick­er­son, 46, has a CBS her­itage. His mother Nancy Dick­er­son was CBS News’ first fe­male cor­re­spon­dent. Her son’s book about her, “On Her Trail,” is com­ing out in pa­per­back this sum­mer.

Schi­ef­fer left “Face the Na­tion” in strong shape: it of­ten wins a tight rat­ings com­pe­ti­tion among the Sun­day morn­ing public af­fairs shows and the nearly 4 mil­lion peo­ple who saw his fi­nale last week was the show’s big­gest au­di­ence in four months. Dick­er­son is the sec­ond rookie in the space head­ing into a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, with Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Dick­er­son ap­pre­ci­ates the tim­ing of the torch­pass­ing, giv­ing him the sum­mer to get set­tled in be­fore the cam­paign be­gins in earnest.

He’ll keep his job as po­lit­i­cal direc­tor, be­liev­ing it nec­es­sary to re­port sto­ries dur­ing the week to ask sharp ques­tions on Sun­day, and hopes to be in touch with view­ers through so­cial me­dia and con­ver­sa­tions on the road.

Schi­ef­fer was a true Wash­ing­ton in­sider, but his Texas twang re­minded view­ers he was from else­where. Dick­er­son grew up in Wash­ing­ton.

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