Googling His Mom

October 21st, 2006 by Larry Smith

As a rule, especially on a Saturday when you’re on your way to a hoops game, it’s best to leave everyone’s mom out of things. … But before I go raise hell on the mean courts of NYC’s Chinatown, I took a quick glance at Slate. Good thing, too, as I found a story by John Dickerson that stopped me in my tracks.

Dickerson has just written a book about his mom, the late Nancy Dickerson, the first female network correspondent for CBS, and all-around media star in her day. Like many people researching a project, John Dickerson pressed a few buttons so that search engines would crawl the Web for anything containing the subject at hand and magically send him email alerts. That’s when his mother starting arriving in his in-box, long after she died, and even after he finished the book.

But what you keep about yourself is different from what other people keep about you. The little automated e-mail scouts were a way to screen for what might have been enduring about what she achieved. She’d been famous, but was any of it real?

Almost everything that arrived came from the period of her life I never experienced. Combined with my methodical slog through the materials she left me, the woman who was interrupting me on my BlackBerry became more real than the woman who had pasted back my cowlick and taken me to the doctor. She was authentic and natural, qualities I hadn’t seen much with my own eyes.

Dickerson barely knew his famous mom until the twilight of her life (he explains they were in a cold war for his first 27 years), one reason he felt the pull of pursuing a book about her.
That book, On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News’ First Woman Star comes out this week. His thoughtful piece about the process is found here.

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