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How Can a Sunday Show Make Sense of This Insane News Cycle? Margaret Brennan Has Some Ideas

"I’m just really used to being sleep-deprived."

Margaret Brennan is the new host of CBS’s Face the Nation after a career covering business, foreign affairs, and the White House. We sat down with her to talk news in the age of Trump–and pizza in the District.

Washingtonian: You’re taking over Face the Nation at a time when the news cycle seems faster than it’s ever been. How do you approach that with a weekly show?

Margaret Brennan: I’ve been in the center of the storm because I was at the White House as a correspondent and doing foreign affairs at the same time, so that pace, that hyper drive has been my life. And then transitioning to this role, while you might think that means things will slow down, it really hasn’t. In fact, a once-a-week show means you’re not just prepping all week for one thing, it means you’re prepping for a number of different shows because the possibilities of where you end up by the end of the week can be so different from where you start the week.

We are constantly reshuffling the deck in terms of guests and topics but we have an amazing group of producers who do that.

It kind of only really starts coming together on Wednesdays. There are so many permutations of where a show can be by the end of the week, and even going on air now, you don’t know what’s going to come up.

We are at a time of massive distrust in the media and politicians. Is that changing how you approach putting the show together and how you think about making it accessible to different types of audiences?

Right now, there’s too much horse race, too much politics in terms of having people on to argue with each other. I hope this show will be a refuge from that when someone ends the hour they spent with us, they learned something.

The idea that if you’re staying too inside the Beltway, you’re missing the story, that was one of the lessons of the 2016 elections, if you’re not hearing what’s going on outside, you’re going to continue to get the political forecasting wrong. As we look ahead to November, to these votes, I feel like you turn on cable, you talk about the blue wave, the blue wave, I think we need to be a little more cautious and look more at policies to figure out the politics from there.

For me, because of the background I come from, I’m not from inside the Beltway, I spent a decade covering Wall Street, I’ve covered foreign affairs, I see all these threads coming together right now, so it’s not just the Beltway.

You’ve now been here in DC  for several years. How has your life in DC evolved with your changing roles?

I lived in Manhattan for 12 years and grew up outside New York City, so that was definitely how I saw the center of the world. It was a huge adjustment when I moved here from New York. And it’s interesting now because I see that with the Trump administration. So many people that I covered on Wall Street—Gary Cohn at Goldman Sachs or Wilbur Ross, who is now commerce secretary, who was constantly on CNBC and Bloomberg, places I worked at. Larry Kudlow, I was a co-worker of his at CNBC. It’s funny to see Manhattan move here, now, after having been through that transition myself. And I get that frustration, being bottom-line driven, results driven, from Wall Street, but understanding the context and experience of the people here in Washington, who have been doing this work for decades, is something I’ve really grown to appreciate.

Moving to Washington when I did and getting to cover foreign affairs, I was traveling all the time, but I’ve built more of a life here, we’re going to have our first child here. I love DC—people who have such cosmopolitan background, who are doing interesting things. It’s a fraction of the size of Manhattan but the knowledge that people have is amazing.

As you think about building your life in the city, what are some of your favorite places, where is your refuge here?

It’s funny, because people are like ‘How do you feel? You’re pregnant!’ and I think I’m just really used to being sleep-deprived. We live in Columbia Heights and we love that area of town. We’re excited to have a child that we’re going to raise here. These days I’m trying to figure out my weekends, which are now Mondays, with my rescue dog, Callie, and do what we need to do to get ready for the baby.

After this [show] though, my husband and I are going to grab pizza from Ghibellina for lunch. We are obsessed with the pizza there. We do one of the custom pizzas—our special one. It’s a margherita with extra sauce and pecorino cheese and Calabrian chilies. The sauce is really good.

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Vittoria Elliott
Editorial Fellow