CBS News’ John Dickerson expects Clinton rivals to get aggressive at Des Moines debate
No one would blame CBS News political director John Dickerson if he felt a little disappointed when he learned that Vice President Joe Biden decided against a run for the 2016 presidential nomination.
Had Biden decided to run, Saturday’s Democratic primary debate on CBS (6 p.m. Pacific) would have been his first on-stage confrontation with front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. It had the makings of a political battle royal.
Dickerson, who will moderate the debate at Drake University in Des Moines, agrees that Biden can liven up such events and even bring out clarity on the issues. But he also believes there is so much on the line for Clinton’s two remaining opponents, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, they will need to come out swinging in their second debate if the primaries are to be competitive at all. And fights for survival generally make compelling television.
“They have to be more provocative because they don’t have any more chances,” he said over lunch Thursday at a Des Moines coffee spot. “And they should be. This is the one chance they have to engage. Where they can say, ‘I disagree with you here -- I agree with you here.’ Talk about the differences at the heart of the campaign. So they should do that regardless where they are in the polls. That’s what these are about. They are not just stump speeches given in parallel.”
You kind of live with the story in your head until you can get it out.
CBS News’ John Dickerson
No one expects the CBS event to draw the kind of ratings that the Republican primary showdowns have managed to attract, thanks in large part to Donald Trump. But the Democrats drew 15 million viewers to CNN in their first meeting on Oct. 13. Even though Clinton has extended her lead in the polls, a Nov. 4 candidates forum that did not have nearly the build up of any of the previous debates - still managed to draw more than 2 million viewers for MSNBC on a Friday night.
So it’s not a reach to say that Saturday night’s meeting will provide a significant platform for Dickerson, who viewers are still just getting to know as the moderator of CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the long-running Sunday public affairs show. Dickerson, a political journalist for Time magazine and Slate before he joined CBS, took over the anchor chair from the network’s veteran chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer, who retired in June. The program has remained competitive in the ratings since the transition, which is never easy for long-running franchise programs.
While Dickerson has never moderated a debate before, he knows all about the preparation process for major news events. His late mother, Nancy Dickerson, was a pioneering Washington correspondent for CBS, NBC and other outlets over several presidential administrations. In 1971, she represented PBS in a rare network anchor sit-down with President Nixon.
Dickerson brought his mother’s reporter’s notebook from that broadcast to provide inspiration for his big moment. It’s filled with 76 hand-written questions. He will also have her rosary, which he always keeps in his pocket when he does major interviews.
For weeks, President Obama kept quiet as the Donald helped fuel “birther” conspiracy theories.
“He doesn’t have a birth certificate,” Trump told “Good Morning America” in spring 2011. “He may have one, but there is something on that birth certificate -- maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim, I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or, he may not have one.” Trump also told a tea party rally that Obama “almost certainly will go down as the worst president in the history of the United States.”
But Obama seemed to get the last laugh when, right after releasing his long-form birth certificate, he lampooned Trump at the White House correspondents’ dinner. “Now he can get to focusing on the issues that matter,” the president said. “Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened at Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” Zing!
But that didn’t quiet Trump. The Donald fired back during Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign with a “big announcement” goading Obama to release his college transcripts the October before the election so that he would donate $5 million to charity. Turns out the offer was one the president could easily refuse.
OK, so it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Hello, Newman,” the greeting the fictional
Yet should one cross Trump, don’t expect a shrug and a handshake. Instead, Seinfeld received a rant after the comedian backed out of a charity benefit hosted by one of Trump’s sons, supposedly because of the birther issue. Seinfeld’s camp has been relatively quiet, but Trump was quoted as taking a swing at Seinfeld’s TV credits.
No, not the beloved “Seinfeld,” but instead the unscripted show
They exchanged barbed words in November 2010 over the project with Trump saying, “I like the developer, but it’s always very tough to make something successful at the high-end level with a public school in the building.” Gehry said that Trump was just holding a grudge ever since he turned down working on one of his projects, adding, “I don’t like his hairdo anyway.”
Touché, Frank. Touché. (Getty Images)
The pop star supposedly backed out of a Trump event due to a lingering battle with bronchitis. Yet the next day Rihanna performed in Los Angeles at the NBA All-Star Game. Trump wasn’t too hard on Rihanna, but he was quoted in the Palm Beach Post: “I thought [the cancellation] was insulting to everyone. But for Rihanna to go to the All-Star Game and perform after she told us she was sick, that is just a lack of respect.” (Getty Images)
It may have started when
“I’ll NEVER GO TO MACY’S AGAIN!” Cher tweeted. “I didn’t know they sold Donald Trump’s Line! If they don’t care that they sell products from a LOUDMOUTH.”
But Trump didn’t take the tirade sitting down, firing back about the singer’s surgical procedures.
“Cher-- I don’t wear a ‘rug'--it’s mine. And I promise not to talk about your massive plastic surgeries that didn’t work.” (Getty Images / Los Angeles Times)
“She is definitely on my mind in this process,” he said. “Hopefully they have good TV reception wherever she is.”
Dickerson said his approach to Saturday’s showdown is similar to how he has organized and written long news pieces.
“You kind of live with the story in your head until you can get it out,” he said. “It’s constantly bedeviling you. When you’re making coffee and then it suddenly comes to you how to make a transition between two issues. That’s what it’s been like intensely for the last three weeks. I started with a huge list of topics that I’ve been whittling down. And it’s always with you. I can be out for a run and it’s like ‘Ah, this is how I ask that question about executive experience.’”
While Trump has been the ratings magnet for the recent debates, Dickerson believes the entertainment value provided by the candidate is not the only factor for people tuning in. “He’s touching on something that is real, which is the frustration out in the country,” he said. “While he’s entertaining, people want to connect it to something important.”
Dickerson will moderate a Republican debate for CBS on Feb. 13 in Greenville, S.C. “I expect Donald Trump to be there,” he said. “Unless something cataclysmic happens.”
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