CBS Will Add More ‘On The Ground’ Reporting to ‘Face The Nation’

Face the Nation: John Dickerson To
Image courtesy CBS News

CBS wants to add something extra to the ranks of the decades-old Sunday-morning talk shows: shoe leather.

Rather than turning to a veteran TV anchor with decades of hosting and interviewing under his or her belt, CBS said Sunday it would fill Bob Schieffer’s seat at “Face the Nation” with an operative with years of experience in longer-form reporting and analysis as well as traveling a beat.

John Dickerson, who will this summer take the reins of what is typically the most-watched among the nation’s Sunday public-affairs program, has logged years covering politics for Slate and Time magazine and has spent nearly 20 years in Washington covering the White House, Congress and economics. He authored a longform series on presidential attributes, which won the Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency.

“I think ‘on the ground’ is a good way of putting it,” said David Rhodes, president of CBS News, in an interview, of what Dickerson will bring to “Face the Nation.” CBS isn’t interested in reworking the program, he said, citing Schieffer’s success in the role and reputation. But there is a desire to see what elements can be added to the mix to keep the program vital. In doing so, CBS News may add a touch of the outside to what has typically been a show that delights in inside-the-Beltway elements.

Naming Dickerson the heir to Schieffer’s seat is the latest wrinkle to be introduced to one of TV’s oldest wardrobes. The Sunday-morning format has been a staple of TV since NBC introduced “Meet the  Press” in 1947. And yet, detractors have suggested the genre has grown stale amid the cacophony of inside-Washington media that has sprouted online. From Politico to “Talking Points Memo” to the Weekly Standard, multiple news outlets suss out nuance on pressing political issues seemingly every minute of the day, not just on Sundays.

When Dickerson joins the fray, CBS will have a relative newcomer to the format in the chair as opposed to a veteran. Chris Wallace, who anchors “Fox News Sunday,” which appears on the Fox broadcast network as well as Fox News Channel, has held forth in that seat since 2003, and moderated “Meet the Press” on NBC for a year in the late 1980s. George Stephanopoulos is on his second term leading “This Week,” which he hosted between 2002 and 2010 and again since 2012. Chuck Todd just took the reins of “Meet the Press” last September. CNN continues to use a rotation of hosts to lead “State of the Union” since Candy Crowley left the network late last year.

Dickerson will continue a long-held practice of grilling political operatives and government officials who visit the program, said CBS’ Rhodes, and won’t shy from exposing inconsistencies in viewpoints. The host’s knowledge base, he said, is likely to come from on-the-street reportage. The strategy comes as CBS News has placed heavier emphasis in recent years on original reporting and a focus on harder news than some of its rivals.

Dickerson is no stranger to the “Face the Nation” studio. He has been political director for CBS News since 2011, working with Christopher Isham, the network’s Washington bureau chief, to guide coverage of politics. He has been an on-air political analyst for CBS News since 2009, and has made 83 appearances on “Nation.” His mother was Nancy Dickerson, CBS’ News’ first female correspondent and an associate producer on the first broadcast of the show in 1954.

Rhodes declined to offer specifics on CBS News’ selection process, but noted executives had great comfort in Dickerson, whose on-air efforts they have watched for years. After Schieffer retires from “Face the Nation” this summer, the program’s regular audience will likely give the new host a similar degree of scrutiny. Meantime, he is expected to appear Monday on “CBS This Morning,” Rhodes said, where viewers can examine him for the first time as an heir apparent.

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