John Dickerson on the Purpose of Sunday Morning Shows

What to do with the "fire hydrant" of news out there.

Face The Nation host and Bob Schieffer successor John Dickerson was on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show this morning to discuss President Obama’s very eventful week when listener question prompted a discussion on the place of Sunday political shows in the current news environment.

“Do you have any thought,” asked host Brian Lehrer, “as to the role of Face The Nation and any of the Sunday shows at this point where, they used to really set the national conversation and a lot of people of more ages used to really watch. Now, what you do on Slate is heard by an entirely other demographic and probably gets grabbed even more quickly than what happens on Face The Nation, so how do you see your new job?”

To which Dickerson replied:

The more news we have the more requirement it feels to me [there is] for putting things in context. At the end of a busy and crazy week like this one, and this one was obviously crazy in a way we just haven’t seen for a while, is a moment to kind of say, let’s stop and figure out what this all means. The extent to which news is a fire hydrant now, there’s a place where it’s a good idea to try and figure it out where we are and where we’re headed going forward. So I think that’s a big role that the show can play.

This sounds like a bit of a hard sell to us, considering how much space has opened up to do just that, especially online. Between news magazines, the punditsphere, much-maligned thinkpieces, and, when we’re lucky, stop-in-your-tracks beautiful writing and analysis, there’s a surfeit of that sort of thing.

But Dickerson’s second point spoke to the reality of how we do end up using what comes out of the Sunday shows:

I think also it can be a part of an ongoing conversation. It’s happening on Sunday but then also it continues throughout the week and my hope is that, particularly in the context of the presidential campaign, we can take things that are said, in much the way you and I are having a discussion about this, and then kind of break them down in the days afterwards and then use whatever conclusions we draw from the lawmakers and our assessment of what they said to set up the next week’s conversation, because some of these issues, on healthcare, on same-sex marriage, on national security in particular, those are rolling conversations that are going to take place over a period of time.

Lehrer added to that the value in the “concentration of major government officials who go on the Sunday shows when maybe they don’t appear on other places,”  and how the ability of those shows to “get these people on the record” benefits other news orgs without the same capabilities.

It’s a fine line, balancing the ability to deliver access with the problem of giving voice only to the already-powerful.