Alisyn Camerota has just arrived at her hotel a few miles from Parkland, Florida when she calls The Daily Beast to talk about about a whirlwind two weeks since a teenage gunman killed 17 people at a high school in that town.
In her role as co-host of CNN’s morning show New Day, Camerota has spent the past several days speaking directly with activists on all sides of the gun issue—from the student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, who told her to her face last week that “many” in mainstream media “love mass shootings.”
“Obviously, that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Camerota says of Loesch’s “sickening” comments.
Fortunately, her employer had no problem with her taking a stand against Loesch during their interview. The same would likely not have been the case at Fox News, where she worked for 16 years before decamping to CNN in 2014.
These issues of subjective bias versus objective truth were among those the host explored in her 2017 novel Amanda Wakes Up, about a female anchor making the transition from local TV to cable news.
Over the course of our talk, Camerota opened up about the biggest differences between Fox—where she had to serve the specific right-wing agenda of the late Roger Ailes—and CNN, where she says network chief Jeff Zucker has finally allowed her to be a “journalist.”
Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
It’s been almost two weeks since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and today you traveled to Parkland, Florida to report from there. Do you think that is a testament to the staying power of this event compared to past mass shootings?
Definitely. This is my third trip in two weeks. So I’ve been here three times and look, we’ve all, sadly, covered way too many of these and this one is different. Because the kids are still out there, they’re not retreating, they’re still talking, the students still want to talk, they’re available, they’re reaching out to us, we’re reaching out to them. The momentum continues, I just see it, you know? So I do think that it’s just different from other ones.
Do you see that translating into meaningful change on the political side of things?
Well, I can only tell you what appears to be happening. And that is that this Florida State Legislature appears to be taking their demands seriously. They appear to be moving forward. I don’t know what’s going to happen nationally, I mean, Congress obviously moves at a more glacial pace. But in terms of Florida, they are already talking about all of the things that have come up over these past two weeks. Increasing the age minimum, expanding background checks, banning bump stocks. The governor put out a proposal, we’ve spoken to lots of lawmakers who are trying to move this forward. So it seems to me, from where I sit today, that Florida might follow the lead of Connecticut and do this themselves.
Well, I think it’s a sickening thing to say. I know that she’s a provocateur and that she’s intentionally stirring the pot for a CPAC audience, but it was just sickening to people who are in journalism and who heard it. Because, obviously, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was just so mean-spirited to say something like that. It just can’t stand without being called out.
Were you surprised by how much she stood by those words in her interview with you?
No. I mean, she had said it knowing all the cameras were there at CPAC. She said it to the cameras. And these were her prepared remarks, you know? She delivered them with gusto, so no, I wasn’t surprised that she repeated it to me. I am still shocked if she really thinks that. That just shows me how far out of touch she is with journalists. Everybody cries about these things, people feel sick about them, people pray about them. I don’t know how to explain it. She was almost putting us in a sort of inhuman category, which is crazy to me.
By the end of your interview she was saying, “This was a good conversation,” but it’s not as if you were any closer to agreement. So did you feel like it was a good and worthwhile conversation?
I think we were able to get to substance. We were able to move from flamethrowing to actual policy. And obviously I wanted to know what the NRA’s stance was on all of these different proposals that have been suggested in the past week or two. So I did want to hear the answers to that and she did answer those things. So we worked our way around to some substance, but I don’t know if I convinced her to stop saying malicious things like that about journalists.
There’s a criticism that gets levied sometimes, whether it’s about this interview with Loesch or the many interviews your New Day co-host Chris Cuomo has done with someone like Kellyanne Conway, that they are very exciting and there’s a lot of back and forth, but at the end of the day, do they really provide a service to the viewer? Do you have any feelings about that?
Well, I mean, with Dana Loesch I did feel like we needed an answer as to why she seemed sympathetic to the students and what they were calling for at the CNN Town Hall and then why at CPAC she said those mean-spirited things. So I did feel like that was a legitimate question and she should have to answer for that. After we confronted that, I did also feel that it was useful for the audience to hear exactly where the NRA is. After a school shooting like this, they really don’t want to take any action, they don’t want to put out a position. I just think it’s good to hear it from the horse’s mouth. So I think that is valuable, but I understand that sometimes some of these things can be more heat than light. But I do really try to fight my way to the actual substance.
Obviously CNN has become a favorite target of Trump and others on the right over the past couple of years. Does that make your job harder?
It doesn’t really change what we do. We just keep showing up every day. We keep being fact-based. I mostly, in my life, and I know this because it happens every time I’m at an airport or on an airplane — and it just happened an hour ago — people make a point of coming up to me and thanking me. And so strangers, particularly in airports and airplanes, come up and say, “Don’t stop, we’re counting on you, thank you for what you do, we so appreciate you fighting the good fight every day for journalism.” And so, to me, the criticisms that are lobbed at us from the White House, it doesn’t seem to be having the intended effect. I’m just not around a lot of people who buy the “fake news” moniker or insults. What I see is the opposite.
I noticed that you’re not Twitter. Is that a conscious choice? Because I assume that’s where you would be hearing from that other side.
Oh, I broke up publically with Twitter. I wrote Twitter a Dear John letter. I publically broke up with Twitter — having nothing to do with President Trump — I just felt that it was just a toxic playground. It had become this kind of cesspool to lob whatever insults at me. And it wasn’t even always about me. I was never someone who was that active on Twitter. I could go days or even weeks without checking in. And then when I would check in, I’d realize that there’d been a food fight in my absence. That people [in my mentions] had been yelling at each other. And I thought this is not healthy, for anybody. I don’t even want to be providing a platform to lob these insults at each other. So I’m just going to check out of all this.
And you don’t miss it?
No, I don’t. I don’t miss it. I think my life has actually improved. I’m interested, obviously, in what viewers have to say. And obviously as a journalist I want to have my finger on the pulse. But I really don’t need to hear every person’s insults. I don’t think that’s good for our national psyche. I don’t think that’s helpful to our national dialogue. I don’t think it’s helping our kids. I like talking to real people. That’s why I do my job — even people who disagree with me, you know, Dana Loesch or whomever. I like talking to real people and I don’t like the anonymity of a keyboard that allows people to feel so empowered.
I guess the good news is that Chris Cuomo is doing enough tweeting for the both of you.
[Laughs] Yes, I appreciate that he’s taken up my mantle on that.
So you have a unique place in this media landscape given that you’ve worked for both Fox News and CNN. Now that it’s been about four years since you made that move, how would you compare your experiences at each network?
Well, I do feel very lucky that I’ve been able to work at both. And working at both informs what I do every day. I got a real education at Fox from being around so many conservatives and you know, having my antenna attuned to bias, in either direction. So I think that it has helped. In some way, cable news is the same in that you’re always up against a deadline and you’re always rushing out for breaking news. But, obviously, the big way that it’s different is that Roger Ailes had a very particular mission statement. Roger wasn’t a journalist. Roger believed in good TV and presenting what he thought was the counterbalance to what he called “liberal media.” So that’s not what journalism is. I’m just so struck every day by, now, all the stellar journalists that I work around. And it’s freeing not to have to conform to a mission statement like that.
I’m sure a lot of Fox viewers believe CNN has its own mission statement in the other direction.
Oh, god no. It just isn’t the case. Jeff Zucker is never telling me how I have to do a story or what questions I have to ask or what questions I have to not ask. Never.
And that would happen directly with Ailes?
President Obama recently said that Fox News viewers are “living on a different planet” than those who consume other media. Do you think there’s truth to that?
Well, I can only tell you that I have a quad box, which is what we have in TV news where we monitor the other channels from our desk. So in the morning, on the anchor desk, Chris Cuomo and I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching what some of the other networks are doing. [Laughs] Chris and I will just have engaged in some high-calorie burn of an interview with somebody from the NRA or a politician and we’ll be holding their feet to the fire. Then we’ll look to the quad box and over on some other network they’ll be doing a pancake eating contest. That was happening this morning and we always stop and marvel at the different life that we have in morning news compared to some of our competitors that have a much more morning zoo approach to their programs. [Note: Fox & Friends celebrated National Pancake Day during the 6 a.m. hour on Tuesday.]
Well, I think we know which show the president is tuning into during your time slot and sadly I don’t think it’s New Day.
Listen, sometimes it is, I wouldn’t count him out. Sometimes we do notice that the tweets seems to dovetail exactly with whatever segment we’ve just had a guest on. So I think that he’s a channel surfer.
So you spoke a little about Roger Ailes and like several of your former female colleagues at Fox, you spoke out about the sexual harassment you were subjected to by him long before this current #MeToo movement took off. What has it been like for you to witness this big cultural change?
I think that it’s always remarkable to watch a tipping point happen. Sometimes you wake up a year later and realize there had been a tipping point. But to be in the middle of it and to be conscious of it while it’s happening, to watch this watershed moment and all of the change that has happened—I mean, this has been a remarkable two years. I can trace it back to the demise of Roger. I trace this movement back to the beginning of Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit. Then you just watched cascading effects after that. After what happened at Fox and then Harvey Weinstein and then everything that’s happened in my business with Matt Lauer and on and on and on. So it does feel like it’s the dawn of a new era.