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It was more than talent that led John Dickerson to join CBS News this week.
It was genetic destiny.
His mother, pioneering newswoman Nancy Dickerson, in 1960 was named CBS’s first female correspondent. The first woman to break into the Washington TV news corps, she covered all the iconic events of the era and had close relationships with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.
Dickerson fils acknowledges that blood “probably played into my decision” to sign with CBS Monday as a part-time political analyst and contributor.
“I grew up hearing about CBS,” says Dickerson, 40, chief political correspondent for slate.com and former CNN analyst. “When Mom started, she worked with Ed Murrow and Eric Sevareid and Don Hewitt. She revered them. That was the sort of water I grew up in.”
Dickerson was drowning, however. Mother and son didn’t forge a connection until a few years before she died in 1997 at 70 from complications from a stroke. He chronicled the relationship in 2006’s On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson.
How would his Dickerson mere have felt about his new appointment?
“Because we had this personal narrative, her reactions wouldn’t follow the normal trajectory,” he says. “Her excitement was manifested through energetic discussion of the news. In a lot of ways, the news business was her life.
“I don’t think she ever saw me on TV. The fact that I ended up in her business and at her network adds extra poignancy to the moment.”
Dickerson’s one-year CBS contract allows him to continue working at slate, NPR and “Washington Week in Review,” where he’s a regular.
“Regular” isn’t a word used much to describe Dickerson’s mojo at presidential press conferences.
As White House correspondent for Time magazine during the Bush administration, Dickerson’s finely-nuanced questions so rattled the president that a White House wit labeled the approach “Dickersonian.”
“My questions were not always on ‘Topic A’ of the day,” he explains.
“What I tried to do was to get him to sort of think out loud; to give us a sense of the way he approached positions.”
Still, Dickerson admits that such gatherings “are a bit of a show. On the other hand, it’s a very useful show. The President has to give answers that stand the test of public scrutiny.”
Great Expectations, indeed.