Director of Communications
You probably know John Dickerson as moderator of the popular CBS Sunday morning political program “Face the Nation,” but he is also a lifelong Catholic whose faith impacts the way he does his job. Dickerson joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” to discuss his book “Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History,” as well as his own spiritual roots and insights.
Prior to reading “Whistlestop,” I thought the 2020 presidential campaign was unprecedented in the sense of the divisiveness and mistrust. But in 1948, Harry Truman compared Republicans to Hitler and Mussolini, and referred to voters as “suckers.”
Sometimes the negativity was influenced by religion. For instance, explained Dickerson, “In 1884, one of the reasons James G. Blaine lost [the presidency] is that a Reverend Urchard in New York was at a Blaine event and said that the Democrats bowed to the ‘gods of rum, Romanism and rebellion.’ The Irish Catholics in New York were furious about that shot at the Pope and made Blaine pay for it.”
Religion has played a far more beneficial role in Dickerson’s life. He still attends 5:30 Mass on Saturday evenings in the church where he grew up, Holy Trinity. He said, “It’s full of so many memories of my life and childhood and the grounding nature of faith that I’ve always reached to. Also, in the case of politics and the world of television, there are a lot of things that can blow you off course and make you forget yourself. But that hour of worship, and worship in general – no, I’m not as good as I should be – really help me try to keep my eye on the ball instead of getting distracted.”
Dickerson’s late mother, pioneering broadcast journalist Nancy Dickerson, was a devout Catholic, as was her mother, who went to Mass daily. And his father converted to the faith. Even after his parents divorced, the Church remained an integral part of Dickerson’s life. He believes it has helped him in the often harsh world of Washington, D.C. politics.
He said, “I try to see the good in people. I think bringing joy to others – and not focusing always on those cynical and dire parts of things – is an important way to live one’s life. Going back to my faith, [I think of] ‘judge not lest ye be judged.’ You can be an analyst and assess in as clear-eyed a fashion as you can without slipping over into judging people’s motives, judging their hearts, and getting into more corrosive snap judgments, which condemn people and entire classes of people. If we think about people, with all of their frailties and complexities - and recognize that in ourselves - it’s a better way to approach life than to be so ruthlessly judgmental in the way that we discard people.”
Alongside faith, Dickerson notes that being a parent has helped him become a better man and journalist as well: “When I talk to my kids about what it’s like to be fair to the politicians I cover, what it’s like to be fair to people who disagree with you, or people with a different view of the world than you have - all of that, when you have to say it out loud and talk about principles in politics and journalism, explaining it to a kid, it helps you put yourself back in touch with what your goals should be as a professional in a way that is very grounding.”
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