The CBS correspondent-turned-anchor on avoiding activism and why being the only woman to anchor a major Sunday talk show isn’t a novelty
Margaret Brennan doesn’t want to make waves.
The newly appointed anchor of “Face The Nation” takes the hot seat this Sunday morning, and sees her role as maintaining the traditions of the 63-season current affairs talk show rather than doing anything radical. Brennan previously served as CBS News’ senior foreign affairs correspondent while also covering the White House, and at 37 is both the youngest anchor of the big five Sunday morning political shows and the only woman.
Brennan takes on the role at a tough time. For one she has big shoes to fill. Her predecessor, John Dickerson, drew 4 million viewers for his last broadcast, beating out the competition. At the same time, mainstream media organizations like CBS are under heavy fire for alleged bias and so-called “fake news” by some on the right; President Donald Trump famously called the program “Deface the Nation” last year.
Her solution is to double down. “I’m just continuing to carry on this tradition that John Dickerson defined,” Brennan tells Moneyish. “I don’t see us as activists or advocates, but rather people trying to boil down the essentials of fundamental questions. I want to try and have civil and thoughtful conversations on the substances of the issue, rather than argue with each other through filters.”
That said, Brennan is also intent on avoiding the “false equivalence” of having guests on just for the sake of representation and balance. That’s a charge that’s been laid at competitors like CNN, which hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski when he was still on the then-candidate’s payroll. “I really hope to avoid the arguments you’re talking about,” she says. “We’re going to try and book the best guests for the best information, not just for the flashiest headline or most interesting moment on TV. We’re interested in giving context to all our coverage.”
Born in Connecticut, the Arabic-speaking Brennan was educated at the University of Virginia. After reporting on business news for CNBC and Bloomberg, she covered the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt and has interviewed a host of senior government figures like Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Rex Tillerson.
Brennan’s promotion into a chair once occupied by éminences grises like Bob Schieffer and Lesley Stahl was triggered by the firing of Charlie Rose last November. Following allegations of sexual misconduct against the veteran broadcaster, Dickerson took on Rose’s “CBS This Morning” spot. A similar scenario of female ascension occured at NBC’s “Today” Show, where Hoda Kotb landed the coveted 7 to 9am hour spot following Matt Lauer’s firing for sexual misconduct.
There’s some evidence that putting a younger, female (but also qualified) face— Kotb is 53 to Lauer’s 60— on air is catnip for audiences. The “Today” Show has seen steady ratings despite the departure of the veteran Lauer thanks to both the popular Kotb and the Winter Olympics. (Indeed, two of the three stand-in moderators for “Face the Nation” after Dickerson’s departure were women– Nancy Cordes and Brennan herself.)
Brennan refuses to talk about the events following Rose’s downfall or if she thinks a fresher, female voice will help lure younger, cordcutting viewers. “I’m here to do a good job. Lesley Stahl had this job before so CBS has been there. It’s not a novelty,” she says. “It’s only a good thing when the best person for the job gets it. We can’t get away from the fundamentals of journalism, that’s where I have to stay focused.”
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