It was excruciating viewing.
There was Lauren Green, the religion correspondent for Fox News, interviewing Reza Aslan, a best-selling author and widely respected scholar of religion.
And Green, again and again, kept wondering how it was possible that Aslan, a Muslim, could possibly have written a historical analysis of the life of Jesus Christ.
“I want to be clear, you are a Muslim,” Green began. “So why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”
Aslan explained, in patient yet annoyed terms, that yes, he is a Muslim, but he is also a scholar of religion, someone who has four degrees in the field and is fluent in biblical Greek, someone who has approached the life of Jesus as a scholar.
“But it still begs the question,” Green interrupted. “Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?”
It went on and got worse, with Green reading excerpts from those who criticized the book, but mainly because its author was a Muslim, and Aslan, increasingly exasperated, explaining that those criticisms were absurd.
At one particularly cringe-inducing moment, she asked Aslan, isn’t this a little like if a Democrat wrote an unflattering biography of Ronald Reagan? No, he responded, it would be like a Democrat who had a Ph.D. in political science and dedicated the last two decades of his life to studying Reagan writing a book about him.
It was a terrible, terrible performance, and one that left Green’s former colleagues and friends shaking their heads.
“She got beat up,” said Vicki Plaster Kueppers, a voice-over artist in Green’s native Minneapolis and a friend of 35 years. “I am just very surprised by the whole thing. That is not who she is. She is very well-read, very thoughtful.”
Kueppers crowned Green Miss Minnesota in 1983, having held the title the year before losing the Miss America title to Vanessa Williams. The next year Green finished as the third runner-up. Her mother told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in a 1997 profile that Green lost because pageant officials were reluctant to give the prize to another African-American after Williams.
“I think Lauren really felt that hurt her fair chance of winning,” her mother said then. “That’s life. You have to learn to roll with the punches and get up and start again. We don’t carry our color on our shoulder, but we’re not blind to the fact that there’s a subtle racism in this world.”
A classically trained pianist—in 2004 she released her first album, Classic Beauty, featuring pieces by Chopin and Brahms—Green went to the Medill School of Journalism after a modeling and acting career, and quickly zoomed up the ranks from a local station in Minneapolis to Chicago, and then on to New York as one of the first hires by Roger Ailes for a fledging new type of network modeled on CNN called Fox News.
“It was obvious she was the kind of performer who reached out and grabbed people,” said Chet Collier, then the Fox senior vice president, in an interview published back when the network was just starting up. He hired her out of a pile of 750 applicants.
“You had to listen to her, you had to pay attention to her,” he said. “When we talked, she was a person of substance. You can’t have all the externals in this business; you have to be someone who thinks things through, asks the right questions, and understands things in the news. She had that.”
Green has been linked romantically to a variety of famous figures through the years, including Isaac Hayes; Green Mile star Michael Clarke Duncan; Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk composer Daryl Waters; and, at one point, Condoleezza Rice, a rumor that seemed to flourish because they were both highly accomplished African-American women who were classically trained pianists and were, of course, single.
Fox News State Department correspondent James Rosen gave Green’s CD to Rice in 2005, but Green shot down the story to a Star Tribune gossip columnist: “It’s hard enough to find a date,” she said. “You know what I mean? I don’t need that! ... I am very straight. All Christian men single and over 35 can apply.”
Christian is key there. One former Fox News producer described Green as a “very devout Christian,” with an office full of religious books and who can be overheard listening to religious music on her computer. Every year, according to one Fox staffer, she invites everyone over to her house for a Christmas-carol sing-along.
Green’s recent Fox News career has been something of a study in downward mobility. She began as an arts reporter and then moved on to news reader on Fox & Friends, occasionally filling in as host. She was moved to religion correspondent and is an occasional panelist on the late-night show Red Eye but does not often appear on air. The interview with Aslan, for example, ran online.
She has kept the same plum office, however, even after being bumped from the news-reader job and cheerfully telling colleagues that she would have to get a new apartment after her salary was cut.
The relentlessness of her questioning of Aslan led some longtime Fox News watchers to wonder if she wasn’t just following orders from a higher-up.
“I have to believe she was told to answer that question,” said one former colleague. “Somebody—Roger, or somebody near to him, had to tell her to press this person on this particular point. I mean, she never presses people very hard. She couldn’t do an adversarial interview if her life depended on it. That is not her style.”
Another former colleague echoed the point:
“She is very nice, but she is not the type of person who does her own research. That totally looked like one of the producers handed her a set of questions.”
The staffer said Green is unlikely to be the kind of correspondent to push back against a producer’s demands.
“A lot of the on-air talent have pretty healthy egos, but she has none at all,” the source said, adding, “Perhaps it is because she realized she is low on the totem pole.”
Fox News insiders, though, say that since Green has been there so long, she is unlikely to go anywhere, even after this latest embarrassment.
“She is one of the originals, and Roger prides himself on loyalty,” said one longtime journalist there. “She could murder somebody, but Roger being Roger, he would stand by her.”
And despite dominating the Internet, Green has her defenders. Dr. Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of the evangelical magazine WORLD, said Green should be commended for asking tough questions of Aslan, who Green said has received fawning coverage elsewhere, especially since the controversy erupted.
“She was well-prepared and asked some questions,” he said. “Aslan was claiming a certain pseudo-objectivity, and Lauren was right to call him on it.”
And Kueppers, her friend from Minneapolis, said she could not figure out why Green was getting the attention and not Aslan.
“I think he just tried to drive the whole interview into the ground, wanting to talking about his 20 years of study and his credentials,” she said. “He had all the tricks, and it made it seem as if she wasn’t prepared.”
Fox News did not return multiple requests for comment.