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U.S. presidential campaigns have a way of echoing throughout history. Take this year: a race with two deeply unpopular candidates, a spotlight on one candidate’s private correspondence and inflammatory comments made by another. These may be headlines in 2016, but similar stories are in the history books, too. On the other hand, some moments from past primaries, conventions and debates feel utterly unique. John Dickerson, moderator of “Face the Nation,” has spent decades covering elections, and he documents his favorite stories from campaign history in a new book called “Whistlestop.” He joins us to share some of his favorite tales from the campaign trail… and to talk about what moments from the 2016 race future historians might look back on.
- John Dickerson Moderator, Face the Nation; political director, CBS News; columnist, Slate magazine; author, "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star"
Read An Excerpt
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. U.S. presidential campaigns have a way of echoing throughout history. Take this year, a race with two deeply unpopular candidates, a spotlight on one candidate's private correspondence and inflammatory comments made by another. These might be headlines in 2016, but similar stories are in the history books from campaigns past. On the other hand, some moments from past primaries, conventions and debates feel utterly unique.
MS. DIANE REHMJohn Dickerson is moderator of the CBS program, "Face The Nation." He's spent decades covering elections. He documents his favorite stories from campaign history in a new book titled "Whistlestop." He joins me in the studio. Throughout the hour, you can be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. John Dickerson, it's so good to see you again.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONDiane, it's wonderful to be here and it's a treasure to write a book that I get to hear you describe. So it's a joy, thank you.
REHMWell, you know, the one reason I am not happy you've gotten the job on "Face The Nation" is that you've been so busy you could not be back on our Friday News Roundup where I could challenge you with questions you might not be prepared for.
DICKERSONWell, we're going to -- too much time on the road made that impossible, but I'm going to come back because it was -- it's such a joy to do that show and if, for no other reason, the great reason to do that show if you have to work also on Sunday is it's the best preparation in the world, being ready to answer your questions makes -- by the time I get to Sunday, I actually know what I'm doing.
REHMWell, I just want to say I have the feeling your mother, Nancy Dickerson, would be very, very proud of you.
DICKERSONThat's very sweet to say. I really appreciate that and making her proud would be not a bad, you know, accomplishment. Just that alone. So thanks, Diane.
REHMYou know, thinking about the number of presidential campaigns you have covered, covered in a very different way from the way you are now covering, explain for me the difference in use of time and travel and how you go about it now.
DICKERSONWhen I started out, I get -- the first real campaign I covered was '96. And in 1992, I was an intern so I was at the conventions and kind of at the edges of a campaign, but in '96, you know, you just -- you go out on the road and you're following candidates and you're spending all your time with them. You see them evolve. You spend a lot more time with the voters at rallies then I do now and you're just kind of -- you're marinating in the campaign. The upside of that is you get a fingertip feel for the campaign, but you also are in the bubble.
DICKERSONYou're in the campaign bubble and that feel you think you have may be wrong and so you spend a lot of your time -- one of the first things you learn is, you know, a candidate goes to a rally and they go crazy for him and it's very hard to resist the -- what's happening right before your eyes, which is a number of people getting absolutely bonkers about a candidate. And what you learn pretty quickly is that that's -- that doesn’t tell you much and, in fact, it's maybe telling you the exact opposite of what's actually happening in the race.
DICKERSONA candidate may be getting huge rallies, but they're not doing, you know, they're not building their coalition, they're turning off people who should be voting for them who don't necessarily attend rallies. You also learn that, of course, the electorate's not made up of everybody that goes to rallies. There are a lot of people who vote on election day, but here the campaign kind of threw a lot of fog and ricochet and maybe a TV ad here and a pundit there. And so now I cover it kind of from the opposite end.
DICKERSONI have a lot of people I've collected over the years who I still talk to in states, regular just humans and not analysts, but you try and -- what you miss from being on the ground all the time you try and fix by trying to have a bigger sense of the race, although this race has been so hard to cover, I wouldn't claim that I have a grand understanding of it.
REHMWhy is this race so hard to cover?
DICKERSONWell, as a news -- the news cycles faster and more chopped up than ever before. That's obviously, in part, because of social media because of also just the rapidity of the news cycle that we now know in everything we cover, but then also Donald Trump has taken what we've seen before, which was flash moments that whips all the news cycle out of whatever it -- wherever it was. He produces those moments at a rate faster than anybody we've ever seen.
DICKERSONI mean, in a single day, he will say three things that on the one hand, he's challenging the Speaker of the House of his own party. On the other hand, he's still reacting to a dustup he created with a Gold Star family. And then, on the third place over here, he's offering a new policy prescription that calls into question U.S. alliances for the, you know, last 60 years.
REHMAnd just today, apparently, the campaign now says he is going to support Paul Ryan.
DICKERSONRight. So this is a...
REHMWe didn't hear it from him personally.
DICKERSONFrom him, exactly. And, you know, what -- so he used the words Paul Ryan used when Paul Ryan was asked if he was going to endorse Donald Trump at first and Paul Ryan, you know, was noncommittal and so Donald Trump, when asked about it recently, used that exact same language. So he's -- that grievance is still there. He's got the language in the -- and Donald Trump keeps those things in mind and what was extraordinary was just that he was -- he had a lot of those other things on his plate.
DICKERSONPicking a new fight with Paul Ryan was not in the top ten things he should've been concentrating on and, you know, little other sidelights here. They had talked about trying to play in Wisconsin, trying to compete with Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin. If you want to compete with her in Wisconsin, it's probably not a great idea to make the Speaker of the House from Wisconsin -- to get into a little spat with him. And when the chairman of the party is from Wisconsin, too, and you're trying to work out a relationship with that party chairman, that's complicating, too.
DICKERSONAnd when you've just had a four-day convention and come out of it and talked about unity, there's really no reason to be in a spat either with Paul Ryan or Kelly Ayotte, the senator from New Hampshire, who he said was weak, who's running in a tough race there. He's already in the middle of an ongoing battle with John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, crucial swing state. So you kind of want to limit -- if you're trying to fight in battleground states, you kind of want to limit the number of people in those states -- your fights with them because you've got other stuff you should be paying attention to.
REHMAll right. And you've had an opportunity on at least several occasions to talk directly to him. What's been your impression?
DICKERSONWell, my impression is that he has a very strong sense of what he believes. He believes that his gut instinct has gotten him where it's gotten him both in life and as a politician and it is powerful medicine when you say what you believe and arena full of people gets passionate and excited about what you're saying. When you look at the Trump voters, it's not -- they don't just like him. They really like him and they really like him because they think he is speaking both for them and also punching in the nose the elites in the Republican party, the elites in the media and all the people who have had their fancy theories for all these years and none of those theories have helped those people in their lives, either economically or in terms of the change in the culture.
DICKERSONAnd so he is -- that comes across when you interview him and talk to him and it's a part of what both has created his support and is also creating these problems.
REHMI fully agree on the change in the culture. It is now a much more heterogeneous society, but what about the economy? When you continue to argue the economy is in terrible shape, yet we see the unemployment rate going down. I understand that they argue there are millions more than are being reported out of work. The economy seems to be improving and yet, his argument is it's getting worse.
DICKERSONYes. So his argument has -- there's always shift and churn in the economy and so there are going to be areas that are -- even if the economy is doing well, there are areas where the churn is hurting people in those areas and so that's who he's speaking to. He's also -- the economy, despite the low unemployment numbers, growth is week -- it's not negative, but it's weak and wages have been flat while prices have been going up. And so -- and, you know, that's a puzzle that the Democrats are trying to solve themselves.
DICKERSONAnd so he has a constituency there, too, so it's the people whose jobs have changed in manufacturing and in mining and in industries like that, but then it's also people who just have seen their wages kind of flat and also say, geez, my college costs are going up, healthcare is not only going up, but the quality is different. It's -- the choices I thought I had are now being limited or I'm being forced into these programs I don't like. And also, when you hear the growth numbers, there's this feeling among -- and this is not among regular people, but it's among economists on the right that just say America could be so much better, that the engine is kind of constantly sputtering.
DICKERSONAt least it's on, the engine's on, but it's not roaring in the way it could and that's the economic message that he speaks to.
REHMJohn Dickerson, he is the moderator of CBS' "Face The Nation," author of a brand-new book titled "Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories From Presidential Campaign History." Short break here, and when we come back, we will talk about some of those stories, take your calls and comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Feel free to join us for a conversation with John Dickerson, who, as I'm sure you know, is moderator of the CBS Sunday morning program "Face the Nation." His new book is a compilation of anecdotes, pictures, portraits of things that have occurred during campaigns, not just recent but going all the way back as much as 200 years. It's titled "Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History."
REHMJohn, you'd think while you're on your own you'd be doing something else other than reading about presidential history.
DICKERSONYou mean talking to other people and hanging out with my family and doing what normal people do?
DICKERSONIt's true. On the other hand, this has been -- a lot of these stories I've sort of collected over the years. When you're covering campaigns, first of all, they're just great stories, you know, I mean, high stakes, striving people, time crunch. There are moments of -- you know, turning-point moments in debates and primaries and then the ultimate election. So it's got a narrative gallop that is just fun to read, the way we would read a, you know, a detective novel.
DICKERSONAnd also over the 25 years I've been covering politics, I've been kind of building these stories because when you read about campaigns of the past, even 1824, which seems a long time ago, and you hear Andrew Jackson talking about the power of the people to decide their nominee and not some group of elites, you just -- well, you're like, well, that sounds like Bernie Sanders.
DICKERSONAnd so the patterns are fun to find, but then also what does that tell us about what we're watching now? Can we then have an expectation about what's to come if we know it's happened in the past? Or when it doesn't come, then we're like aha, that tells us something that's new here, so let's focus on that. So it's -- to the extent that you can have any sense of what might happen in the present, the past for me is a place -- I mean, obviously in addition to all the reporting I do, it's a place where you can just kind of look for some clues that might help you put that picture together that you're trying to put together about the current race.
REHMSo you don't start this book chronologically. How do you put it together?
DICKERSONI -- it's basically, it's a jumble. I mean, we categorize the stories by turning points, sort of convention fights, party battles, times when candidates collapse and then gambles that certain candidates take. And so the reason we arranged it that way is again, since I was collecting and thinking about these stories and reading about them and researching them, first for the podcast and then for the book, and there's a real difference between the one and the other...
DICKERSONBut is I was, like, those are the themes that kept coming back. And convention fights in particular, not because we thought we might have them this time around but because that's where parties get together and adjudicate the debates at the heart of their parties. And not only are the moments dramatic, Everett Dirksen speaking to the convention in 1952 with that amazing voice of his. He used to gargle with Pond's cold cream.
DICKERSONNo, yes, that's among...
REHMPond's cold cream.
DICKERSONYes, and his voice was once described as being like fresh milk from a Jersey cow. So Dirksen you can spend a whole afternoon with him, but he gives a speech at the '52 convention where he calls out Thomas Dewey, the previous nominee of the party, and says don't go down that path anymore, it's committing suicide and basically saying don't endorse Eisenhower, go with Taft. And he's saying this in the middle of a convention, and it's all basically about sticking to your principles or trying to kind of be slightly more moderate.
DICKERSONIn this case they're talking about the New Deal. Do you rip it out, or do you try and improve it? And there's also a huge debate about intervention overseas. And it's all taking place at the convention. Now our conventions are much more about a four-day show with no dissention, no conversation.
DICKERSONAnd so that's why there are a number of convention fights in here because they illuminate what are issues we still talk about.
REHMTake us back to '68.
DICKERSONWell, 1968 what I write about is George Wallace and his rise because there are so many echoes of today. At first he was considered a joke, and all of -- going back and reading the newspapers at the time, analysts were saying, well, this is the Democrats getting Wallace to run as a third party so he can draw votes away from the Republicans, and he's not a serious candidate. Well, that wasn't true. He was a serious candidate, and he was serious not just in the South, as segregationist Governor Wallace, but also he started to find strength in the Midwest.
DICKERSONAnd they -- there was a study done at the time. He was the -- he was the one who was running on law and order. Nixon basically stole that from him because he was -- Wallace was doing so well. There were riots in the cities. Every night on the evening news in 1968, not every night but often, you'd see smoldering city blocks of where there were riots and unrest. And when he talked about law and order, the message he was sending was, A, was those people who were worried about purely just their safety, but then also there was obviously a strong racial component of that.
DICKERSONAnd they found in the Midwest that the strongest Wallace support areas were those counties right on the edges of the cities, so the people who felt the encroachment the most acutely from the cities. And he tapped into an anger in America that is not unlike what people say Donald Trump has tapped into. When he talked, people would say, you know, he says what he means, and he means what he says, which is what we hear about Donald Trump also. He was also passionate about polls but of course only the polls that had him doing well.
DICKERSONAt one point he goes into some detail about a poll from a Sacramento, California, TV station. I mean, he really was hunting for the numbers for him because a lot of the other public polls showed that there was not really widespread support for him, and he would of course say those were all rigged, which is a version of also what we hear today. So there's a lot of -- there are a lot of echoes there.
DICKERSONBut the echoes also tell us about what's different. So in -- if you watch Wallace's numbers in the turmoil and violence of 1968, you see them when Martin Luther King is assassinated, then when Bobby Kennedy is assassinated. Wallace's numbers go up. The '68 convention is a very violent convention. Wallace's numbers go up. None of those three things have happened in this election, and when Donald Trump talks about the state of siege that he outlined in his convention speech, and you compare America and just let's forget about statistics for a moment, just what we see on our evening news every night, we don't see assassinations. We went through two conventions, and there was no violence of any major order, certainly nothing like 1968.
DICKERSONSo that's a way in which history says, okay, is his message about law and order going to be as resonant as it was for Wallace? Wallace was so powerful in his law and order message that Humphrey and Nixon tried to steal it, and the mayor of San Francisco said these candidates aren't running for president, they're running for sheriff because they talk so much about law and order. And so that's a place in which history says, well, wait, we're not in the same place, and therefore the message may not be as resonant with voters today.
REHMAnd even more recently Ross Perot.
DICKERSONYes, well, Ross Perot, here you have a businessman who comes in and says the business world knows what's going on, I'm not responsible -- he had a great answer to the question of, well, you don't have any experience in politics. He said, yes, I don't have any experience running up huge deficits, and I don't have any experience in creating a bureaucracy that kills free enterprise, and I don't have any -- and he just turned that thing right on its head.
DICKERSONAnd what's different, though, about Perot, and again here's another way, so Perot, businessman comes in, takes the world by the tail, but Perot talked about the corruption in the system in the same way Trump does. But what Perot did was said -- and here are the five things I'm going to change. We're going to have term limits, we're going to try and reduce the money in politics. He had an agenda for reform.
DICKERSONSo you say oh, okay, well Donald Trump is saying the same thing about the corruption in the system and the special interests who are involved. So what's his agenda for reform? And there isn't one. He doesn't have a plan for term limits or for -- I've asked him, and he said that he won't have lobbyists work in his White House, that's -- but that's something we teased out of him. It's not something that he's -- he's using the message but not using the policy.
DICKERSONThe other thing is Donald Trump has essentially said, look, policy doesn't matter, it's what people feel they get from me, and that's how they know they'll trust me. Remember Ross Perot had 30-minute infomercials in which he had chart after chart after chart.
DICKERSONAnd he was a policy -- he was neck deep in policy. So that's again another difference between then and now, and then what does that tell us about the electorate. Is the electorate different? Is it the same, and therefore Trump won't appeal to them? You know, you -- and you also, I guess one other point I would make is Ross Perot basically when -- he hired some professionals, they said you've got to do ads, you've got to do this and that, and he said no, I can just go on Larry King. I can go on Larry King, and people will hear what I have to say, and that's how I'm going to get my message out. I don't have to do all this stuff and pay all you consultants.
DICKERSONThat's exactly what Donald Trump is saying now, too, about the trickery of modern campaigning. He doesn't have to do that, he says. He can send a tweet, he can give a rally, and it'll be carried live on cable news, and we'll see in the end whether he's right. But it is -- in Perot's case, he was wrong, it didn't -- you know, Perot needed to do more than he did. So we'll see if it's the same with Donald Trump.
REHMHowever, Perot got 19 percent of the electorate on election day.
DICKERSONHe did, and that was -- you know, that was a big deal.
DICKERSONBut not enough. But it's also, though, you know, the Perot voter, the '92 Buchanan voter, we've seen this voter before. What we haven't seen is someone like Donald Trump, although here are, as we mentioned, there are the parallels to Wallace. And even when he flies his plane over a stadium to -- and the crowd goes wild, that sort of sense of circus atmosphere, if you look at the race in 1840, William Henry Harrison, the Whigs, they had an eight-hour parade in which they rolled log cabins down the road, a full log cabin representing the fact that Harrison was supposed to have been born in a log cabin, which wasn't quite true.
DICKERSONBut -- and they were drunk all day on hard cider. And so, you know, there was a period where campaigns were -- didn't have anything to do with the issues unless the issue was how many pints of hard cider you could drink.
REHMYou talk about John McCain's bus in 2000. What was that experience like?
DICKERSONThe -- I was working for Time magazine at the time, and in August of 1999, they said, okay, you're going to go cover John McCain, and I thought, oh, what did I do wrong because George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, had the whole thing wired, and that was the -- he was going to be the nominee. I mean, he had the lobbyists, he had the fundraisers, he had the governors from the Republican Party. He had it locked up.
DICKERSONAnd McCain was at -- and he used to tell a story that he was at, you know, two percent in the polls with a margin of error of four, which meant, as he used to tell it, that meant he could have been negative two. And at his first event in New Hampshire, in Peterborough, they had to give free ice cream, and they only had, you know, seven or eight people show up.
DICKERSONWhat that campaign was for me, and at times a little bit to Truman's campaign in 1948, it was a campaign in which what the candidate did day to day on the stump, 114 town halls in New Hampshire, was built, vote by vote, town hall by town hall, a constituency for himself. And it's where what we cover actually had an effect on the outcome. A lot of what we cover in politics and spend a lot of time on, speeches in particular, isn't moving voters, and it's not -- or if it's moving some voters, it's not moving the ones that change and shape the ultimate result in an election.
DICKERSONBut in New Hampshire in 2000, John McCain went from that two percent all the way up to beating George Bush, George W. Bush, by 18 points in New Hampshire. And what's also funny about that is that John McCain was the anti-establishment candidate. Now John McCain is considered, by somebody like Ted Cruz, as the epitome of the establishment.
REHMSo did Sarah Palin help or hurt John McCain?
DICKERSONWell, in 2008 when he picked Sarah Palin, I think it helped in terms of that show at the convention, inject a sense of excitement for McCain because the conservatives, which this is another funny little wrinkle, the conservatives who thought Mitt Romney was the more conservative character, or excuse me candidate in the race, in 2012 Romney wouldn't be conservative enough for that group, but nevertheless.
DICKERSONMcCain wasn't seen as conservative enough. Here comes a conservative governor, she adds pizzazz to the moment, excites everybody, but then, you know, that obviously dissipated as she went kind of on her own way, and also it undermined his -- one of his central arguments was you need to have somebody who's experienced in the White House, and she was not experienced in the way that he was saying you needed to be.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And John, what about Pence separating himself Trump on Ryan?
DICKERSONSo Governor Pence, who is a longtime friend of Paul Ryan, has -- when Donald Trump was ambivalent about whether he was going to endorse Paul Ryan in his primary, Pence said I strongly endorse him. This was part cleanup, because as we talked about before, you just don't want to -- you don't want to create questions about unity when you're trying to drove to the finish line here. Voting in Ohio, which, you know, there's early voting in a lot of these states now, voting in Ohio starts in two months, on the third of October.
DICKERSONThe days are passing fast. So the campaign needs to get its act together and so doesn't need distracting fights. So Pence was an effort to, I mean, say what he believes but also kind of clean this up and say yes, we support the speaker. There are a lot of Republicans who are reluctantly supporting Donald Trump but who find hope in the idea that if he's elected, basically he's going to just sign the Paul Ryan agenda, and which Paul Ryan has worked on with his House colleagues.
DICKERSONAnd so to create a sense of uncertainty about the relationship between Ryan and Trump calls into question that piece of hope that a lot of Republicans have about a coordination between the two.
REHMAnd what about President Obama speaking out about those Republicans who have distanced themselves from positions that Trump has taken and challenging them and saying how can you continue to support this guy if you don't agree with him?
DICKERSONYes, he's making mischief in the other party, and we heard him do it at the convention, as well, where he said Donald Trump's not a Republican, and he's not a conservative. And he's -- he had -- there is an audience there because Republicans are saying -- there are some Republicans who say that, too. So the president is not -- he knows that he's playing in somewhat fertile territory.
DICKERSONOn the other hand, there are a lot of Republicans who really don't like the president, and his encouraging them to leave Donald Trump would be a reason for them to stay because they don't want to do anything to give joy to this person who they've been fighting for the last eight years. But he also makes a case that -- again he said, you know, well I disagree with John McCain and Mitt Romney, but I thought they were fit for the job. He's trying to put Trump way out there, and that's because, even the Trump people will tell you, the key hurdle for Donald Trump in an election where people want change is whether he's too big of a risk.
DICKERSONYou know, people talk about change, you know, a haircut is change. Decapitation is too much change, right. So that's what Democrats are trying to do is say yes, you want change, but this is risky change, this is dangerous change. And that's what the president was trying to do there. Another element of it just quickly is this is the last time we've seen -- or not the last time. We haven't see a president campaign for somebody in his own party like this since Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush.
REHMAnd to say she is the most qualified candidate he's ever seen.
DICKERSONYes, I asked him about that, and I said wait, you know, Eisenhower had a few things going for him, too. George Herbert Walker Bush, too, had a great resume leading into the job. And he sort of modified it a little, saying, well, she might be on the level with some of those other people. But that's right, and he's thrown his back into this campaign in a way we really -- even Ronald Reagan didn't work that hard for George Herbert Walker Bush.
REHMJohn Dickerson, moderator of CBS' "Face the Nation." His new book is titled "Whistlestop." Short break, your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd if you're just joining us, John Dickerson is with me, his new book titled "Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History." He is the moderator of the Sunday morning program, CBS' "Face the Nation." Going to open the phones, first to Michael in Ashburn, Virginia. You're on the air.
MICHAELGood morning, and thank you for bringing such wonderful conversation into our homes.
MICHAELI don't know if this would be in Mr. Dickerson's book, but I think it might qualify as a campaign moment. It would have been probably one of the first campaign moments of the 1964 campaign, and that was the moment when his mom narrated the arrival of Air Force One back at Andrews Field with the body of the slain president. I as a nine-year-old boy had never or was not aware of women doing hard news. The narration was of such drama and poignancy. To this day I can still, as we speak, hear in my mind her voice as she gently but so evenly narrated that moment.
MICHAELThe only moment of perhaps black comedy was when the president, President Johnson, came on to speak, my grandmother saying oh, that man, why does he have to interrupt. But it was, it was such an unbelievable moment. I don't even know if Mr. Dickerson was alive. I was nine years old.
REHMYou were not alive.
DICKERSONNo, I wasn't alive. I wrote a book -- thank you, by the way, for remembering that moment to me. It -- so it was an extraordinary day. I wrote a book about mom's life because much of it took place before I was alive or old enough to know about it, and that's a perfect example of that. She was at the NBC offices when word came that she had to get out to Andrews. But everything was still very much up in the air about what had happened in Dallas.
DICKERSONAnd she jumped into a truck, it was the janitor's pickup truck, it was the only car that they could get, and there was no radio in the car. So she had to take the drive all the way to Andrews and not know what's going on.
DICKERSONNo cell phones, no nothing. She talked her way in. She knew the Secret Service, which -- who allowed her to get into the -- onto the field, and she was there with Bob Abernathy, and there are -- there's actually, on YouTube you can hear the recording, and which I have, of her narrating the plane when it came back. And what happened was they were all looking, as they'd been -- they'd been habituated to, looking to the front of the plane for the president to walk down Air Force One when they arrived.
DICKERSONBut of course they realized that's not going to happen, and the focus them came onto the back of the plane, where the casket came out, and she narrated that, and then Mrs. Kennedy not being able to get into the -- the doors were locked on the hearse. She couldn't get in, and so she had -- mom had to narrate all of that, and she was I believe the pool feed, which meant she was on I think every network was taking her live, narrating these pictures. So that was -- that was a little more than four years before I was born.
REHMNow how much did she talk with you about her work? How much do you think her work inspired you?
DICKERSONI think her work inspired me a lot and inspires me a great deal and has since I started looking into it. We had a pretty rough relationship from, say, around 13 or 14 years old until really I kind of got into the business. So we became very close at the end of her life. She died in 1997. And she sort of saw me cover my first, my first campaign. She got very sick, and so it's not really clear if she -- how aware she was of it.
DICKERSONSo that story I just told you about, being at Andrews, I discovered all through history, not from hearing her talk about it, which is really, really tough. Now a great thing, though, is she was a pack rat, and when I wrote the book, she kept even her journals about girls she was jealous of when she was eight years old. So thank goodness she kept everything that she had, so when she passed away, I got about 40 boxes of material, including all of her letters and journals and things like that.
DICKERSONSo in some ways I know her better than maybe a son normally would because I went about basically studying it, but the person I know is now the character in the book I wrote, a little bit less than the person I actually had direct experience with because I've spent so many years subsequent thinking about that person. And the way in which she inspires me, basically, is that she worked incredibly hard.
DICKERSONAnd spent, you know, 10 years trying to get on TV in a man's world, and her constant -- her constant working, I don't just mean working long hours, I mean just the grit is an amazing...
REHMTruly a pioneer.
REHMAnd John, why do you think you had such difficulties?
DICKERSONI was not a charming 14-year-old.
DICKERSONI was a little, you know, jerk, and she had a career in which she was a very famous star, and then that career went away. And she went from CBS to NBC, and then she got into some issues with the management at NBC in the early '70s, left there and had some real successes, but they were of a different kind. And she had had a super-powered, star life, and that was in serious transition, and I think my adolescent behavior and her frustrations, and there were a lot of other things going on, which are detailed in that book, but that created a mixture -- including the divorce of my parents, that created a kind of a pretty volatile experience.
REHMHow old were you when they divorced?
DICKERSONI was 13 and then actually moved out and went and lived with my dad. So distance didn't improve things probably either. But in the end there were a couple of years there where we were quite close and would talk every day on the phone, multiple times during the day, and that was just as I was trying to break in from being a secretary to being a reporter. So it was funny, I'm sure, for her to see me trying to kind of break in. It took her, you know, 10 years, and they were a lot meaner to women back then. So I had it a heck of a lot easier. But during that period we were quite close.
REHMYou began as a secretary?
DICKERSONDoing stenography, taking phone -- taking phone message on those while you were out, those pink while you were out pads.
REHMOh, I remember them well. You're talking to a former secretary.
DICKERSONThere was no email, you know, there was a lot of -- yeah, there was -- I had a benevolent and wonderful boss who let me sort of sidelight trying to break into Time magazine at the time, and he was really great and taught me a lot as a, you know, as a person starting out, as a lot of people did in that kind of assistant role. But yeah, that's how I started.
REHMLet's go to Louisville, Kentucky. Josh, you're on the air.
JOSHWell thank you, Diane.
JOSHIt's a pleasure to talk to Mr. Dickerson. Mr. Dickerson, I know you are a professional journalist, and it might be hard to answer this question, but I'm going to do it anyway. It seems like journalism is divided, and I know it has been for years, maybe centuries, into left and right, conservative, liberal, and the whole thing about, you know, some stations like Fox that does fair and balanced, we report, you decide, it's almost like they alter the stories, and MSNBC has a problem with that, too.
JOSHBut they seem to alter the stories to benefit their side or not really tell the truth. It's just, like, well, we're going to say things, and then hopefully our constituents or the people who listen to us are going to listen to us more, and they're going to decide with us. how do you feel about that fair and balanced and left-right issue?
DICKERSONWell, I think you've described it pretty well. I think the -- you know, there was a long, and in the book "Whistlestop" I write about, you know, in 1800, the papers were -- they make today's left-right look like patty-cake. I mean, the editors used to get in fistfights in the street, and they were purely partisan, and it was quite harsh, the level of political discourse. So we're doing better than that right now. So that's -- we can pat ourselves on the back for that.
DICKERSONI think that what has happened is -- I mean so there is the mistakes we make because we are blind to our biases, and then there is the putting the thumb on the scale when reporting is done and only reporting certain kinds of stories. I think having a -- I think it's good to have kind of lots of different animals in the menagerie, to have people who are reporting from the left but who are reporters, which is different than -- and from the right as well.
DICKERSONPeople from the left and the right who are reporters, who are conservative reporters and liberal reporters, can report good and do great work. They just come at it from an angle, and you know that, and -- but they're not, they're still trying to apply reason and facts and marshal an argument towards convincing somebody. That's different than just hackery. That's different than I'm a Republican, or I'm a Democrat, and every fact is only important in the -- if it advances the cause of my party or my ideology. That's no good.
DICKERSONAnd in the menagerie then the other thing you want is people like me, who try to look at the facts as best they can and come up with a set of questions to illuminate things further or to try and play it down the middle, recognizing that we will fail at times, not out of design but just human error, but that also try to play it down the middle and look at that diet and try and inform yourself by taking something from each of them and recognizing there's no universal truth just in one person.
REHMExactly, all right, to Truro, Massachusetts, Jeff, you're on the air.
JEFFHi, interesting as always, Diane, thank you.
JOSHMr. Dickerson, you said something earlier that almost forced me to drive off the edge of the road to, like, say, oh, I want to ask more about this. It was this comparison with Andrew Jackson. And I don't know if this is in your kind of area of expertise, but I feel like I hear, and I listen to a whole bunch of different NPR talk shows, I hear reporters and hosts talk about the Trump voters, and I heard this with, I don't know, probably the Reagan voters and a long time ago, that they're looking backward, and then there's the forward and the diverse country and all that.
JEFFAnd I feel like just for example, these days most families have two working family members, and clearly the family members, the man, the woman, whoever, in that family know that they're getting economic benefit from the change in the economy. And I don't hear from the typical NPR guest, liberal, left, moderate, whatever the -- a sort of sensitivity to how do -- how does that get integrated into the world view, the understanding of those Trump voters.
JEFFThey're not -- they can't just be looking backward. I'm, you know, I'm like a solid Democrat, blah, blah, but how do we understand people who are different and not just say, well, they're so different, but, you know, demographically there are going to be more of us, so, you know, you can also worry for an election, but the world is going our way. It just feels like it's not a broad enough understanding that will allow people to get what is the full mind.
REHMAll right, and that's a very thoughtful comment. Before you respond, John, let me just say you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DICKERSONSo -- so a couple things. I guess we'll start on the Trump voter. I mean, the way you go to understand them is to spend as much time as you can talking to them. And in the conversations I've had, you're quite right, there is a diversity of people who support Donald Trump, and that's one of the things that's most offensive to them when we in the shorthand, we usually talk about, to talk about the different voting groups, and also the characteristics of these voters, people in one box get angry when they're associated with -- if you're all on the Trump bus, there are lots of different kinds of people, and this is true, of course, with the coalition on the left, as well, and you don't want to be defined by the person in the first row if you're in the ninth row.
DICKERSONAnd so I have been at a lot of rallies for other candidates during the Republican primaries, and somebody will say, you know, yeah, I'm here to, you know, listen to Scott Walker, but, you know, Donald Trump really has -- he's saying something that really strikes a chord with me. Now when they say that, they're not -- you know, you can watch the most vile thing that one person at a Trump rally says, but the guy I'm talking about at the Scott Walker rally is not associating himself with that person.
DICKERSONWhat he's thinking is Donald Trump is actually saying something that's on his mind, and he's sick of going election after election and hearing politicians say things and knowing that the minute the words come out of their mouth that it has nothing -- or a very distant relationship with what the candidate themselves is actually saying. And that sense of constant dishonesty wears on you after a while.
DICKERSONAnd so the candor with which Trump speaks is appealing, and that's as far as that voter is going at the moment. There are other voters who follow Donald Trump all the way down to build a wall and deport the 11 million undocumented workers. They're both on the Trump bus. They have, you know, very different views, but you're right, it's a much more complex electorate.
DICKERSONThe analogy to 1824 is just that Andrew Jackson was a military hero. There was a lot of worry that if you had elevated a military hero, you'd be elevating somebody who had no political skills, and that would be -- basically you would be elevating a demagogue, that this would be a person who was playing to the passions of the people, and the worry then was that the passions of the people would overrun the system.
DICKERSONWell, people are worried now in the Republican Party that the passions of the voters have carried Donald Trump forward, and there are Republicans, Mitch Daniel, the former governor of Indiana, Mitt Romney, who wouldn't mind having some super-delegates to say hey, we understand everybody's passionate for Donald Trump, but there are other parts of the presidency and of this party that must be preserved and that are getting overrun by the momentary passions of the people.
REHMAnd tell us quickly about the 1800 election because so many fans of "Hamilton" are around.
DICKERSONYes, well, there was a fellow named James Callender who was a scandalmonger, a journalist, who was responsible for printing the first piece or the story, breaking the story about Maria Reynolds. This was the woman with whom Hamilton had an affair. Hamilton then in response to Callender's writings -- Callender by the way was paid by Thomas Jefferson, who in public would whine on about how mean the press was but was paying one of the best scandalmongers in the business. Basically Callender was his attack dog.
DICKERSONAnd Callender causes this -- prints the news about Maria Reynolds. Hamilton in responding to that says, because the charge was that he was engaged in speculation, not simply in adultery, and he responded and said no, no, it was just adultery. Well, no that -- he misread his audience. Everybody said, well, that's not good. So it basically, you know, and certainly in the way the musical is written, that ends his career.
DICKERSONThen Mr. Callender expects in return -- he then savages John Adams. John Adams throws him in jail under the Sedition Act. Callender is a bit of a cheeky fellow and writes a chapter that says more sedition. In the end Callender turns on Jefferson and is the first to print about his affair with Sally Hemmings.
REHMWow, what history we have, John Dickerson, and you bring so much of it alive in your new book "Whistlestop." Congratulations.
DICKERSONThank you so much, Diane, it was a great joy.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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