'Face The Nation' Moderator Margaret Brennan In The Hot Seat

Oct 21, 2019
Originally published on October 21, 2019 8:53 pm

On “Face the Nation,” moderator Margaret Brennan asks the tough questions about Beltway politics and world affairs. We turn the tables and put those questions to her.

Guest

“Face The Nation” moderator and senior foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, Margaret Brennan (@margbrennan).

Interview Highlights

On the decision-making process when sitting down to interview someone

“It’s a real challenge. And we’re at this moment where things are of real consequence — in terms of this impeachment inquiry — as well. So, every word that is said is parsed. … One of the things that is challenging, as well, is … that choice of: ‘Do you go with [your] instinct — as a reporter and correspondent — which is to pull out more information — try to understand, try to ask the follow-up — to move the story forward?’ Or, ‘Are you in the pinning down, which can sometimes be chasing down rabbit holes, and sometimes it doesn’t take you anywhere?’ And, sometimes, that just plays into what is often used as a device to deflect. Which is to say, ‘You’re arguing with me.’ Or, ‘That’s an opinion.’ So, it’s always tough to make that call.”

On the role gender plays as moderator on “Face the Nation” 

“Gender always does play a role, in some ways, in terms of how people perceive you, how they hear you, how comments land, how viewers are receiving … [your] having to pin down and be dogged. It’s not always received well, if it’s a female interviewer versus a male interviewer. I think figuring out how to do the best job you can, because frankly, no matter what gender you are — in television news — you’re all measured by the same thing: which is the news you make or break, and the ratings you are able to deliver. But, how the audience hears you — or how the interviewer does — is also interesting. Are they more comfortable talking over you, because it’s a female voice? Are they more comfortable, perhaps, having a conversation with you, because you don’t come off in the same overly aggressive, argumentative way that some have the ability to adapt? It’s really an interesting thing. I think it depends on the person. I’d love to say it’s both an asset, and something that you have to figure out how to manage around. Just like anything with being a woman, I think there is always another side story to it, and it’s something that we could have a bottle of wine and spend a lot of time parsing each interview over. We’ve got a tremendous number of female staff members too, and we talk about this.”

On Feb. 3, 2019, Margaret Brennan interviewed President Trump, in an interview that aired before the Super Bowl. 

Did that interview present a different set of challenges from others you’ve interviewed?  

“It’s really, in the moment, calling those audibles of, ‘Do I jump in here? Do I interject? Do I correct? Do I follow him there? But, how do I get back to the point that I was asking, rather than the place he’s taking me, which may be a different side story?’ And, it was challenging, because I also didn’t know who I was walking into the room to see that day. Because this had been on the back of this political loss, essentially. On the back of a government shutdown, at that time, where he didn’t get immigration concessions. Was he going to be upset? Was he going to be wanting to put a good face on things? I think he, in that moment, realized also that this was a tremendous platform, with an extremely high number of viewers. I mean, the Super Bowl, and that viewership, is tremendous for him. And, he is a TV person. And, he knew that. He knew who he was reaching. And he knew he was talking — and engaging — in a different way than when he does hits with, perhaps, Fox News, where it’s a very different conversation. So, I was wondering, ‘Who is going to sit down across from me?’ And my colleague, Lesley Stahl of ’60 Minutes,’ I talked to her at length about that. And she said, ‘That is really going to influence the rest of the interview. How does he walk into the room, and how does he feel?’ ”

On the role “Face the Nation” plays in the modern age

“With the Sunday shows, it is different. There are only still three major networks that have this program. And I so respect the fact that we’ve been on air for 65 years doing this. And, it is still a place to have an extended conversation. And the way I view our position, is that it is not a place where you’re tuning in for an argument  —and a food fight — between two talking heads. [Where] one [guest] checks the box of having an ‘R’ next to his name, and one has a ‘D’ next to her name. That’s not what I am doing. Because that is not providing, in my view, the service that is needed. Which is sort of like, ‘OK, timeout. What happened this week, that is of consequence? And what do you need to know when you start your week, that next Monday morning, after you watch the Sunday shows?’ So, that’s how I view our particular time slot, in our platform.”

From The Reading List

Forbes: “Margaret Brennan Is The Right Journalist For Now” — “When I reached CBS News Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan for our interview, I told her, ‘I don’t want this to be a story of how you’re only the second woman host of a Sunday Morning show (the last one was Lesley Stahl in the 1980’s), because you’re a total badass’ who has reported from Tehran, Baghdad, Kabul, and Beijing, covered the Iran nuclear deal, the chemical weapons deal in Syria, the reopening of relations with Cuba, and served as a White House correspondent.

“And yet…when you Google Margaret Brennan most recent stories cover her baby bump, how she met her husband, and her ‘first-ness’ as a woman moderator.

“I find interviewing women trailblazers challenging, because in 2018 it angers me that we’re still having firsts, that an eight months pregnant foreign policy wonk sitting in an anchor chair is something we need to remark on, and that it’s remarkable that women are running for office in significant numbers. But these facts are noteworthy, and Brennan worth celebrating, not only because she speaks fluent Arabic but because she can sit there, very pregnant, with a group of women voters in Virginia and ask them ‘Does President Trump respect women?’ That’s a tough question for a man to ask.”

Variety: “Margaret Brennan Hopes to Build ‘Nation’ at CBS” — “As moderator of one of the nation’s longest-running Sunday news programs, Margaret Brennan often finds herself jousting with top government officials. She says she’s looking for facts, not a fight.

“‘There is a place for the hot take. There is a place for the tweet,’ says Brennan. But CBS’ ‘Face The Nation,’ she says, is not that place.

“Brennan is the newest entrant in a very different sort of TV-news battle. Sunday public-affairs programs like ‘Face’ and its competitors – NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ ABC’s ‘This Week,’ Fox’s ‘Fox News Sunday’ and CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ – typically win plaudits not for showcasing the reporting of other staffers, as most TV news programs do, but for getting America’s top officials to give up some bit of information that could affect economies, elections or public well-being.”

New York Times: “Margaret Brennan Named Host of ‘Face the Nation’ on CBS” — “Margaret Brennan, the senior foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, will be the next moderator of ‘Face the Nation,’ the network’s prestige Sunday morning public affairs show and one of the most influential venues in American politics.

“Her new role, announced by CBS on Thursday, makes Ms. Brennan, 37, the only woman currently serving as a solo anchor of a major Sunday political affairs show. She succeeds John Dickerson, who left ‘Face the Nation’ in January after less than three years to replace Charlie Rose on ‘CBS This Morning.’

“Along with mainstays like NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and ABC’s ‘This Week,’ ‘Face the Nation’ features interviews with prominent lawmakers and White House officials that often make news, and can forge Washington’s political agenda for the week ahead.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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