SWAAY Exclusive: Female Fox Anchors On Trump, Twitter and The Network’s Tumultuous Year

SWAAY Exclusive: Female Fox Anchors On Trump,

Twitter and The Network’s Tumultuous Year

Walking into The Fox News Channel’s headquarters you can’t help but notice the smiling faces on larger-than-life framed posters adjacent to the elevator banks. The headlines are all about trust, the color scheme: classic Americana. With names like Outnumbered, Happening Now and America’s News HQ, Fox has been putting out a mix of news and entertainment news programming since 1996. From its conception, the network was meant to fill white space, taking on the big players (NBC, ABC and CNN) with a new kind of news network that targeted right-leaning middle America with brazen opinion shows and a 24-hour content cycle that came complete with compelling visuals, polished anchors and real-time news alerts.

It would be an understatement to say the Fox News Channel, whose parent company, 21st Century Fox was acquired by Disney in a $52.4 billion deal last week, is controversial. Over the past 18 months, the scandals have been innumerable. Everything from Roger Ailes’s downfall (in full disclosure, the plaintiff of this suit, Gretchen Carlson, is a SWAAY investor) to Bill O’Reilly’s public fall from grace to various class action racial discrimination lawsuits, the channel has been often in the headlines. And yet, the network’s business is booming, with Vanity Fair reporting it made over $1 billion in profit last year. The reason for the channel’s popularity seems due to a loyal audience, marathon programming and its knack for openly discussing lightning rod topics.

Historically speaking, as a viewer, if you’re not with Fox, you’re against it. Those who love the network (including our President, who wrote in one Tweet that “@FoxNews is much more important in the United States than CNN”), watch it day and night. For anyone else, Fox is wrought with negative connotations, which, according to Fox defenders, are often meant for its opinion programming vs news programming.

To better understand bi-partisan feminism, SWAAY sat down with five female news anchors currently employed by the network for a roundtable discussion that covered  everything from Trump to Fox’s questionable reputation. Among these ladies, who have a collective 10 decades of experience, was Shannon Bream, a former sexual harassment lawyer and Fox News at Night anchor; America Newsroom’s Sandra Smith, a former commodities trader who was was part of the first-ever female duo to moderate a presidential debate (alongside FBN’s Trish Regan); anchor of Outnumbered Overtime, Harris Faulkner, an Emmy award winning journalist (six to be exact); National Security Correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, an experienced war reporter who has covered everything from Hillary Clinton’s campaign trail to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison; and Host of The Story, Martha MacCallum, a business reporter and winner of the American Women in Radio and Television award. In their personal lives, they play piano, they hike, they can shoot a gun, and believe it or not, they’re not all Republicans.

Harris Faulkner

“Sometimes there’s such a broad brush that sweeps across the whole network, it’s really good for people to hear from us and meet us,” said Bream, who shared the story of meeting an older gentleman at the nail salon recently. “When I told him I worked at Fox he sort of gasped, which is the reaction I get [often]. I think that a lot of times we are cutting through some of the misperceptions that are out there publicly.”

While we did not talk personal politics throughout our conversation, including whether any of the women voted for Trump, the discussion highlighted the fact that as a female face of Fox, life is not without its fair share of judgment, and a lot of it is coming from their fellow woman. We also explored whether the Women’s Movement has ostracized entire segments of our gender based on certain beliefs that do not feed into this typified version of a 2017 feminist. Given the results of Alabama’s special election, it’s abundantly clear that we are living in a time where the status quo is no longer guaranteed. Women today find themselves with more of a voice and political sway than ever before, thus achieving certain cross-party goals (like eradicating sexual harassment), requires the entirety of our gender.

“I think back on the Women’s March and I remember reading about conservative women who were not made to feel welcome in those large crowds,” said Faulkner. “I think that was disheartening, because as women, we can come together on a whole host of issues that have nothing to do with the political sides that divide us. I think all it comes down to is not vilifying the other side and [giving] each other that space to be as different or as alike as we are.”

What, indeed do we get from bucketing women into feminist layers? Where do we go when a woman only ticks two of the boxes we believe qualifies her as an advocate for women’s rights? Is not true feminism the willingness to recognize anyone – black, white, brown, man, woman, trans, conservative, liberal – who endeavors and hopes for gender parity, as your equal, or comrade in arms?

The inability to separate ourselves from the media to which we are devoted is perhaps the single biggest driver of this segregation of opinion. We qualify people who agree with us as smart, and label the people who don’t as idiots. As the centers of our respective digital universes, we tend to surround ourselves with only the voices that please us (including what news and media we pay attention to vs. discredit), very purposefully omitting, ignoring, unfollowing and muting any people, opinions and even facts we don’t like. Thanks to the term “fake news,” it’s become easier than ever to live life in an echo chamber of your own making. According to the Fox ladies, there is a lot to be learned from conversation between opposing viewpoints. There is a rich opportunity to find commonalities, and maybe, just maybe, get closer to objectivity.  

Sandra Smith
On Sexual Harassment

Given that the Roger Ailes’ scandal broke in July of last year, and Weinstein just two months ago, there was plenty of time for Fox to linger in that singular space of ridicule, and for these women to become objects of immense press and social media scrutiny. Immediately following the allegations, Fox was deemed a hotbed of sexual misconduct by many who had not yet become aware that this rot was rampant across the networks and political parties.

“We were the first to go through the fire and I think in some ways it was hardest for us because the reaction was that it wasn’t surprising that these things were happening at Fox,” said MacCallum. “That was hard because you definitely found yourself in the position where you’re trying to convince people that you’re not crazy to work where you work and you don’t actually work in some Playboy den.”

MacCallum – alongside Faulkner and Smith- originally spoke publicly in defense of the company during Carlson’s case, sharing that in their experience they had never been witness to anything but above-board behavior from Ailes. According to the The Story host, being the first to go through a scandal of this magnitude meant that many of the news anchors were unprepared to deal with the ramifications of quickfire interviews in its immediate wake.

“I just kept feeling and knowing that the daily experience of working here was nothing like what was being described in the press,” said MacCallum. “Now, did things happen? And did we learn about them? Of course. But now that everybody else is going through what we went through to varying degrees, I think that the rest of the world gets it now.”

“The biggest insult is that people think we’re airheads, or that everyone on Fox is a pin-up girl. We’re all pretty educated.”

-Jennifer Griffin

Jennifer Griffin

Although names were not specifically used in our conversation, it was clear that these women have learned from the experience how to better deal with issues surrounding sexual harassment. “All of us in this room have talked about this, more so in recent days because it is exploded as a topic around the country,” said Faulkner.

“For those of us who are strong women, and I would say that’s all the ones I work with here, a big thank you to the fierceness of those [early] women who came out and spoke up.”

As is seen in the backlash against Meryl Streep and other women who are being accused of knowingly enabling harassers by not speaking up, there is a tendency to want to condemn more than just the perpetrator.

The fact that most of this aggression was coming from women themselves, who questioned this enduring allegiance to a company where almost all of these anchors got their biggest breaks, was a particular sore spot. What should the reaction be when the head of an organization is proven to be a harasser? The jury’s still out.

“I think that other networks have now learned [that] when there are predators in your midsts, it’s not that everybody knows,” said Griffin. “We went first so there was a lot of gloating at other networks saying ‘Oh everyone must have known.’ I can tell you I’ve been here more than 20 years and I did not know. I look back and I play back the reel and I think ‘how did I miss these signs?’ But I think what [we] are learning is that predators are pretty tricky and they can cover their tracks and divert attention from what they’re doing.”

Bream, who made a major career pivot from defending the victims of such sexual harassment scandals to covering the Supreme Court beat for the network, went on to say that the pattern of harassing behavior, which often begins by pushing limits, can quickly snowball. These predators might start off with something as seemingly harmless as a lewd joke, before escalating to assault years down the line, because their co-workers were unable or not moved enough to nip it in the bud at the very beginning. “Young women will ask themselves, did I misread that? Is anyone going to listen to me? Am I overreacting?” she remarked.

In order to avoid the pattern of sexual harassment in the future, Smith, who has both a young girl and boy at home, said that she hopes this reprehensible behavior will be left behind with the Mad Men generation it appears centralized within. “I think it’s explosive right now because, this is from decades of behavior,” she commented. “So while it feels enormous right now, hopefully it finds its way.”

Martha MacCallum

“It’s very hot out there, and it is really hard, even with your close friends and family members, there are certain topics that are impossible to talk about now without people getting really emotional. I hope we can get to a place where we can have these conversations and not feel like one side is vilifying the other.”

-Martha MacCallum

On Public Scorn

What alighted from the sexual harassment scandals in the last year was an overwhelming (and impossibly infuriating) woman-on-woman hate. Each of the anchors had her own story of being laughed at, dismissed and screamed at by complete strangers who made no secret of their lack of respect for their employer. One thing is for sure, whether or not you agree with the politics of the network, or even the personal politics of these women, is there ever any justification for downright disrespect? And furthermore – are you elevating yourself while you tear another down, or are you simply enforcing a useless, regressive divide?

“Are we progressing or are we not?,” asked Smith. “Are we going backwards? It’s this idea that there are women who have a better idea of how you should behave, whether it’s politically, or with your families, or socially. When we talk about this divisiveness and this mistreatment of women by men, we need to start treating each other better, and respect people’s opinions, regardless of what they are.”

For Griffin, whose husband Greg Myre is a reporter for NPR, the schism in respect is evident, and rarely if ever in her favor. “When we’re at a party, if somebody’s talking and asks us where we work, and we’ll each say where we work, and then [depending on] their political bent, they’ll turn their back on the other as if they don’t exist,” she said.

Griffin, who co-authored This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, with her husband on what they had seen of the Israeli and Palestinian divide, makes the point that working at Fox means nothing in terms of the quality of her reporting. “When we sat down to write the book, we realized that most of our notes and what we had done was very similar,” said Griffin.

“And here we were working for two polarized newsgroups, and we were just old-fashioned journalists. So we just kind of roll our eyes when people love one of our networks and hate the other – we just think, when did we get so polarized?”

Shannon Bream

For her part, Bream recalled a Christmas gathering a few years back when she answered a fellow reveler who asked what she did for a living. “I said ‘I cover the Supreme Court for Fox News’ and literally a woman almost spilled her drink she was that taken aback,” said Bream. “Does it say something about you that automatically upon hearing that, your wall is up and you think that I’m the most horrible person you’ve ever met?”

According to Faulkner, who touched on the complexity of race and how it affects her treatment by others, being a woman of color on the network is judged on a two-point scale. “I’m straddling the fence in two senses as a black female,” she said. “There were times when I would walk into the building and I would get things shouted at me that were disgusting. Sometimes my Twitter, I couldn’t even look at it. But I also know you can’t fix anything from your house. We don’t cut and run. We’re a pretty tough bunch.”

On Trump

It’s no secret that our President is a Fox fan. His praise of the network, in many ways, makes women who identify as Feminists further distance themselves from its content, and in turn, the women who deliver them. “We know he watches, all hours of the day and night, but it never once enters my mind how it’s going to be received by him,” said Bream.

In the past year alone, Trump has tweeted dozens of times about Fox’s superior news coverage, while slamming competitor networks like CNN and MSNBC. “Sometimes the praise is as misguided as the criticism,” said MacCallum on the subject of Twitter. “Twitter has completely changed the way we do work.”

For the anchors, having the network so closely aligned with such a controversial political figure, complicates matters to say the least. Despite their best journalistic efforts to deliver “fair and balanced” news (a term the network coined in 1996), just a few Tweets from our commander-in-chief can do a lot of damage in terms of discrediting them.

“Whenever the President makes those comments about his favorite shows, it gets you a little bit, because you don’t want to be swept with a broad brush, and you want to be fair about your coverage of the presidency,” said MacCallum, adding that while Trump’s controversial management style may be new to the public, behind-the-scenes network favoritism in Washington has been going on for years.

“President Trump is a very different kind of president, he says what he thinks,” she added. “Prior presidents all had editorialist news hosts who were incredibly positive about every single thing they did, but prior presidents didn’t stand at the press podium and thank them for it.”

In terms of Trump’s questionable behavior, and sometimes off-the-wall choice phrases, MacCallum makes the point that he is, in fact, an equal opportunity offender. “That’s why, when President Trump goes after a woman, I think it’s best to say, is he crass, is he impolite, is he crude? Rather than, is he attacking her because she’s a woman?,” she said.

She also alluded to the fact that in previous administrations, women – like Condoleezza Rice under George Bush – were chosen for their worth within the government rather than the fact that they were women. “I find it cheap when someone appoints a woman and wants credit for appointing a woman,” she mentioned.  

Regardless of the positive feedback from the Commander-In-Chief, however, Griffin is adamant that the network’s news division is not necessarily the President’s biggest cheerleader. “If anyone thinks that it’s always positive coverage, they need to go back and look at the difference in the news and opinion division,” she said. “If you go back to the campaign, and the presidential debates, I was among the first, if not the first television reporter to report that the FBI was looking into four members of the Trump campaign. That didn’t make me very popular at the time on Twitter, and nobody at Fox told me not to report on it.”

On The Feminist Movement

“We’ve given a lot of power to the word feminism, especially in the last few decades. Feminism to me is about equal pay and equal opportunity, but when it ventures off to – are you on the side of hating men, then it goes too far,” said Faulkner, underscoring the fact that we negate progress when our energy is spent on attacking the other side rather than dealing with issues of commonality that can strengthen the cause. “I don’t think anything should be about hating the other side to lift one up.”

The word feminism inherently implies a unity and a parity with which women (and men) have been vying for over a century now. And while we’ve very obviously progressed in that span of time, the idea that feminism itself has progressed is still out for debate. Now, women find themselves bucketed by political affiliation, and a litany of issues that you must agree with to be “in” the movement, so to speak.

“If you’re going to be genuinely advocating for women in whatever they choose to do, we should be celebrating stay-at-home moms, people who want to do non-traditional work, from astronauts to CEOs, people who are pro-choice and people who are pro-life,” said Bream. “I think that when you shut down any one faction of women out there because they don’t agree with your agenda, that’s not feminism, that’s not equality. Anybody who wants women to be grouped to a single mindset or certain thought process, I think that it’s just not supportive of each other.”

And really, has there ever been a more contentious time as a woman to call yourself a feminist? Whether it’s what you wear – say, a short skirt – some would deem you anti-feminist because you don’t cover up those parts that would entice the other sex; whether it’s your stance on abortion, or whether it’s, for instance, what news channel you watch; there are qualifiers to being accepted into the social conversation.

We’ve really got to get back to listening to each other, discussing things and not labelling each other,” says Griffin. “I’m not afraid to call myself a feminist, but I also don’t want to be limited by any label. The reason that I’ve worked for Fox for 21 years is that I enjoy multiple points of view, and I believe it makes me a more intellectual thinker to understand what different parts of our country are thinking about different issues, and it’s been the greatest intellectual challenge I think of my adult life to be not in a group think situation.”

For MacCallum, as for ourselves, while we would like to believe we live in a post-feminist world, it’s our inability to get past our own beliefs and become accepting of those on the proverbial ‘other side’ that keep us from living in a world where, she remarked, “men and women are judged on their abilities.”

“I don’t want us to be a protected class anymore,” said MacCallum. “I want us to be judged on our merits across the board.”

The fact of the matter is, we can talk forever about gender disparity and its causes – and we will. Until we put action behind words, however, and do something to affect change instead of pointing at others who we believe aren’t doing enough – the term feminism will continue on its ramble to become a pseudo obsequious term that bends to the will of the beholder. This finger pointing and ridicule will become the death of this movement built on a foundation of unity and a will to uplift and empower rather than scorn and destroy.

When did we forget how to dialogue and debate? Why are we so unable to discuss issues that we feel passionately about without putting up walls that entirely mute those on the other side and their (relevant) opinions? “What we have to do is stand up and support each other when we decide to speak up,” said Faulkner. “And to make sure that the apparatus is there for us to fix things when they break.”

Belisa Silva and Amy Corcoran

Our kickass Editor-In-Chief and Head of Content

4 Comments
  1. There should be no protected class. The ideas on the negative force behind feminism should also stretch to race. Anything that is used to identify us other then men and women and equally human defeats the progress towards unity. Great article and my respect for these women has grown considering what they’ve had to endure

  2. Solid sit down and interview with these FOX professionals. Each of them are “top-shelf” in my book, great at what they do and seem like really good people, which is most important.

  3. This is a good generalization article. Your title says female fox anchors on Trump. But no one says they are for or against President Trump. We know some definitely are for him, but others like Smith and Faulkner dont really come out and say. Please bring back Andrea Tantaros. She was definitely a Trump supporter and a very good host.

  4. “Shannon Bream, a former sexual harassment lawyer.”

    This sounds better that it should.

    Shannon was a corporate attorney and in all likelihood defended those accused of sexual harassment — not the victims.

    Wonder if she agrees with Fox News legal analyst Mercedes Colwin who paid a price (a demotion by her employer) for saying on “Hannity” that women who experience sexual harassment and assault are “very few and far between.”

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