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Before Katie Couric

Posted by Jan Gardner  November 27, 2006 08:55 AM

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With "On Her Trail,'' John Dickerson has written a compelling and nuanced portrait of his mother, Nancy Dickerson, who was TV news' first woman star. As a child, John didn't know her well because she was jetting off to report stories and hosting parties for presidents. (She was widely rumored to have had an affair with LBJ. She denied it.)

A political correspondent for Slate, John Dickerson contrasts his own experiences as a journalist with his mother's life. She loved being glamorous (She was once named the best coiffed woman in America) but she also wanted to be known for her skills as a reporter. For her coverage of the news surrounding JFK's funeral, she was named "Woman of the Year'' in radio. And she scooped everyone when she reported that LBJ had selected Hubert Humphrey as his running mate. (She savored the moment by saving 86 copies of an article in the New York Times that mentioned the scoop.)

There are plenty of details in Dickerson's book to interest Kennedy-watchers. (Nancy Dickerson dated Jack Kennedy when he was a bachelor and she was routinely mistaken for Jackie.) But most of all, the book is rich with details about the political and the powerful in the '60s and '70s as television news came of age. And John Dickerson, who used to call his mother "Mommie Dearest,'' offers an unflinching portrait of all that one woman did for the love of her career.

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