Rose’s Successor on CBS Is Serious but Can Banter

Posted January 9, 2018 9:12 p.m. EST
Updated January 9, 2018 9:18 p.m. EST

The journalist John Dickerson is a Washington creature to his core: a presidential historian, repository of political trivia and scion of a glamorous Beltway family whose party guests regularly included Kennedys, Johnsons and Reagans.

Now, Dickerson, who until recently was better known as a political correspondent than as the host of the CBS Sunday show “Face the Nation,” is leaving the capital for a new job in New York: morning TV host.

CBS said on Tuesday that it had chosen Dickerson, 49, to replace Charlie Rose as the third member of the of “CBS This Morning” team, a spot left empty since Rose was fired in November after allegations of sexual harassment. Dickerson is to join the lineup of Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell, who have carved a niche as a news-driven morning team.

A genial on-air presence who speaks in a light Virginia accent, Dickerson received praise at “Face the Nation,” which he joined in 2015, for his rigorous, and at times academic, approach.

So how does he feel about shifting to the mornings — that is, banter central?

“It’s banter, but it’s not frivolous,” Dickerson said, affably, in an interview. “I’m totally juiced about doing that for two hours about everything that’s happening in the country.”

If NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” serve up a syrupy breakfast for viewers, “CBS This Morning” is opting for a high-fiber diet.

“They started this six years ago, which is to stay focused on the news, focus on what’s important, with as much original reporting as they can jam into a broadcast,” Dickerson said, adding, “I feel like I’m not just taking a flier.”

Dickerson’s understated, occasionally old-fashioned style — he casually tosses the word “foursquare” into conversation — belies a shrewdness honed by years of campaign and political reporting. Before joining CBS, he covered the George W. Bush administration for Time magazine and wrote about politics for Slate, where he is a frequent guest on the “Political Gabfest” podcast.

David Rhodes, the CBS News president, was asked in an interview whether Dickerson was prepared for a TV genre typically known for its reliance on light chatter.

“I don’t want him to be light,” Rhodes said. “And I don’t want our show to be light. That doesn’t mean that each of them won’t be approachable to the audience. I think each of them is and can be. But we’re not hiring him for this program to be something that he’s not.”

Rhodes added that he believed real reporting had a place in the early hours of the TV day.

“I’m hoping that the audience sees John, sees Gayle, sees Norah, as serious journalists, and I think that’s our value proposition for a really large audience,” Rhodes said.

So far, that approach has paid off in the ratings. CBS, for years an also-ran in the morning show wars, has lately drawn within striking distance of its ABC and NBC rivals.

Dickerson — whose mother, Nancy Dickerson, in 1960 became the first female correspondent at CBS News — plans to move his family to New York and relinquish his duties at “Face the Nation.” CBS has not yet chosen his successor, effectively setting off a horse race for one of television’s most influential political roles.

Likely contenders include Major Garrett, CBS’s chief White House correspondent, and two of the network’s Washington reporters, Margaret Brennan and Nancy Cordes.

Dickerson, who is also a contributing editor at The Atlantic, said he planned to continue his political reporting. He is among the few television journalists outside Fox News who have interviewed President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. His persistent questions — specifically about Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that his campaign had been wiretapped by the Obama administration — so agitated the president that Trump abruptly walked out of the room.

The addition of Dickerson is the second major shift in morning TV this year. Last week, Hoda Kotb replaced longtime morning host Matt Lauer, who was fired after allegations of workplace sexual misconduct, as a co-anchor for the opening hours of “Today.”