Surviving The News With CNN’s Alisyn Camerota
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Somehow, Alisyn Camerota has time to write.
The co-anchor of CNN’s New Day morning show is also author of the novel “Amanda Wakes Up.” Booksellers might shelve it under breezy beach reads, but for those who navigate the waters of American journalism, the book may come to serve as a modern-day sextant – essential in finding the way home.
Protagonist Amanda Gallo wrestles with issues of false equivalency and commercial media’s Faustian bargain with ratings, all while figuring out love, integrity, and how to survive under the scorching spotlight of sexism, social media trolling, and spray tans.
During the In the Moment interview, Camerota talks about the changing landscape of journalism in the wake of the #MeToo Movement. What she doesn’t mention here is that she became one of the forces in forging that new landscape when she spoke out about the behavior of former boss Roger Ailes at FOX News.
Camerota also recently made headlines after she talked on air about the death of colleague Anthony Bourdain, skillfully maintaining the balance between blowing past the stigma of suicide while avoiding inciting copy-cat attempts.
She’s spent some time under that dark cloud of depression herself, she told viewers. She’s come out the other side. It’s possible.
If a whole lot of readers need a splash of Amanda Gallo right now, it seems even more of us need the voice of Alisyn Camerota.
This interview has be edited for web use. You may listen to it in its entirety here.
Lori Walsh: Welcome back to In the Moment. I'm Lori Walsh. A young broadcaster with big city aspirations, makes it in the world of breaking news. Alisyn Camerota's novel, Amanda Wakes Up, looks at how sometimes when you throw your hat triumphantly into the air, it lands in the mud. The book is timely, comical, romantic, and philosophical, all at the same time. It features fierce and frazzled protagonist, Amanda Gallo, who lands a coveted spot on a cable news morning show only to have her journalistic moral compass battered by lazy producers, the blood sport of Twitter, and the chaos of an increasingly surreal presidential campaign. Amanda Wakes Up is now in paperback.
You might know author Alisyn Camerota from her own career in broadcasting. She's currently the co-anchor of CNN's New Day. She was a crime reporter on America's Most Wanted, and she worked for many years at Fox News channel as a national correspondent and host of the morning show, Fox and Friends Weekend. She lives in New York with her husband. She lives in the New York area, I should say, with her husband and her three children, and she joins us now on the phone to talk about Amanda Wakes Up.
Alisyn, welcome to the program. Thanks for being here.
Alisyn Camerota: Lori, great to be with you.
Lori Walsh: All right. Let's talk about this ... Well, we should first say you got up pretty early today, right?
Alisyn Camerota: I get up early every day. I get up ... This morning was actually, believe it or not, earlier. I get up at 3:15 every morning. This morning, I got up at 3:00 AM. Those 15 minutes, I try to eek out, honestly, every single square minute that I can, so I got up at 3:00 AM this morning because we had such a packed news day with the President in Singapore and having left the G-7 and all that stuff. That's my morning routine. That's what time my alarm goes off.
Lori Walsh: You need to be ready to talk about every one of those things, that the rest of us looked at the headlines over the weekend. You need to understand the headlines, the facts, the nuances of it, as well as who you're going to talk to about all those events. You need to know that rundown.
Alisyn Camerota: Look, I always say that it is like taking a final exam in front of a million people every morning. My busiest hour of the day is 3:45 to 4:45 AM every morning because that's when the emails start coming in, fast and furiously, from my producer with all of the different guests and all of the different angles that we'll be talking about and all of the articles and all of the primary sources and all of the transcripts of the different interviews that they've done, and I send back my requests. "Can you pull this soundbite for me? Can you find the numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for me? Can you make this into a full screen? I'm going to need a graphic of this." It is an incredibly dizzying kind of intense time because we have to have all of our facts totally buttoned up by the time the red lights go on at 6:00 AM, and, frankly, one of the reasons that I wrote Amanda Wakes Up is because I wanted to try to capture that breathless quality for the reader and for the viewer so that they know everything that goes on.
I can't begin to tell you how many people say, "Well, you just read a teleprompter every morning, right?" There are some mornings I wish that I just read a teleprompter, but, no, I'm crafting my questions for all of my guests, and I'm trying to get my head around these major international issues of our day. It is a challenge every morning.
Lori Walsh: All right. Let's talk about Amanda because not only is she thrust into that role, which she really wants, she's very excited to be here, this is a dream job for her, but in the role of morning host, she has to do things that her male co-anchor clearly does not have to do. She's the one who gets on the floor to do a yoga demonstration. She's the one who has to wear silk pajamas because that's the fashion trend. His main expectation outside the office seems to be he has to know how to golf. Talk about that sort of gender disparity or what she has to go through just to be taken seriously in the midst of doing all these things that will keep her from being taken seriously.
Alisyn Camerota: Well, please don't forget the spray tanning of her legs and the massive makeup makeover that has to happen every morning, also. Look, the pages of Amanda Wakes Up are rife with sexism. This has been, in the past, a sexist business and maybe every business has been in the past. I'm happy to report that, in the past year, there has been a major shift in our landscape. The pages of Amanda Wakes Up would be different, frankly, if I wrote it today. There was sexist things said to her then that I haven't heard in the past year because of the huge cataclysmic shift in terms of all the sexual harassment in my business, but, look, it's been pointed out more than once that I have to wear jewel tones every morning, and my cohost can wear the exact same navy blue suit every day, and nobody would ever notice.
In fact, there was one anchor team. I can't remember if they were in Canada or where, but they did a test where the man, for a year, wore not only the same navy blue suit, he wore the exact same outfit. He wore the same dress shirt and the same tie, and no one noticed. It is more of a challenge for women to get into hair and makeup and all of that stuff, but that was my life. That was my life for most of the years in this business of doing all of those other things, like going outside in pajamas. I know Amanda. I know Amanda's pain. I know Amanda's struggle. I lived some of those things.
Lori Walsh: For listers to this station, it's a fun book. It's a great summary, but also you dive into these really difficult and convoluted and confusing and complex issues of what is happening to journalism in America, and we see all this really condensed for Amanda in a fairly short period of time where she struggles with this presidential campaign, but, also, she's quoting in her head her journalism professor and trying to figure out what fair and balanced mean, what is false equivalency. Although we never really use that term, that's what she's wrestling with. This is an important journalism book.
Alisyn Camerota: I really appreciate you saying that, Lori. One of the readers on, I think it was Amazon, wrote something that I really appreciated, and that was the book is kind of a self missile because you think that it might just be peeling back the curtain on the fun, glamor, behind the scenes of cable news, and there is that, and I didn't want it to reveal some of that, the backstage pass to what goes on during commercial breaks, but, really, the reason that I put pen to paper was because I was so frustrated by what I was seeing happen in cable news, where I was starting to see when I started writing it all of these kind of blurring of the lines of TV shows that were masquerading as news programs and TV personalities that were masquerading as journalists. They're not the same. They're not the same.
Journalists and news, we have real rules that we have to follow every day. We're trained in these rules, we go to school for these rules, and if you don't follow them, you lose your job, and I was starting to see people not following them, and I was starting to see viewers not know that they weren't watching a news program. They thought they were getting facts. They thought they were getting real information, but, really, they were just getting sort of an entertaining packaging of the host's opinions and things like that, and I don't blame viewers for being confused.
I wanted to write this to just talk about the real ethical dilemmas that we have in journalism and the real fight that we're fighting right now to preserve good journalism, particularly when we're under siege by being called names and being targeted by the President and beyond.
I did feel there was a purpose to writing this. I did feel compelled to write it because of all the struggles that I was having ethically in the news business. I hope that it's packaged in an entertaining, amusing way, but there are real issues we're dealing with every day.
Lori Walsh: It's going to be a college text book or it's going to be a read this, as well as we go through history ethics law of the press kind of coursework in America. You have an awareness of that, that it's going to be picked up as a serious look alongside some college work that young journalists will be doing.
Alisyn Camerota: Well, thank you for that. I have had college professors talk to me about it, and I do think that there will be some assigned reading for it because I really tried to make it ... Look, it's a satire on some level, but I did try to also imbue it with realism because I know this subject matter, I wrestle with this subject matter, and I wanted viewers and readers to understand that journalism is a living, breathing thing. We duke it out every day. We try to figure out what the lead is. We try to figure out what fair questions are. We try to make sure that we are fact-based, and all of that is happening in realtime, and there are some very big ... Life and death situations is maybe a little strong, but, sometimes, well, always they do involve people's real lives, and, sometimes, the stakes are really high.
Lori Walsh: If you're just tuning in, you're listening to In the Moment on SDPB Radio. My guest, Alisyn Camerato, she's a CNN co-anchor of the morning show, New Day, and we're talking about her book now in paperback. It's called Amanda Wakes Up. It's a fictional novel, but there's a lot of truth in it, and, Amanda, this job changes Amanda, and one of the things I really appreciated reading this was a look at the personal life. One day, if she asks a certain question of a guest, everyone on Twitter is calling her too liberal. The next day, everyone's calling ... Well, the same day with the same question, people are calling her too conservative. Her mother's calling her, asking her, "Are you gonna do this guest next," and she's having this sort of relationship transition, as well.
The job is changing her the deeper she goes into it. Has your job changed you the deeper you have gone into it?
Alisyn Camerota: Definitely. Definitely. I think that our jobs do affect our personal relationships, and our personal relationships do affect our jobs. We all come from somewhere. We all have a mom who may or may not be invested in our career choice and what we do every day, and our romantic relationships do become affected by our jobs. In this way, I think it's a universal story. I think that Amanda's struggle is universal. You don't just have to be in TV news or in broadcast journalism to have all of these intersections of relationships happen.
Definitely, my job has changed me, and what I wanted Amanda's arc to be is that, at first ... I think I felt this way first in my career. It was about give me a big scoop. Give me a big get. Give me something that puts me on the map. Put me in, Coach. I want a big story, even if it's tragic. Give me whatever, a big story, national stories where I can get attention, and it takes a little while, but, soon, you realize in this business that it's actually not just about a big story and about a big get. It's people's lives. Every single story that you do, there are people's lives behind it, and sometimes you can ruin people's lives if you don't do it with sensitivity. Amanda is very ambitious, but she, I think, over the course of the book learns how to become a better and more fair journalist.
Lori Walsh: When you talk about people's lives being at stake, I also think of the people who are doing the reporting, and we see Amanda go through these periods of hyper-competitiveness, isolation, maybe her own little depression as she has some issues with the job.
Just last week, you were on the air talking about the loss of your colleague, Anthony Bourdain. Has the loss of Anthony Bourdain made you look at journalism in a different way, or was it something that, like you always knew, this was part of it, that the risks of being isolated, the risks of being depressed?
Alisyn Camerota: Well, I'm still reeling from Anthony's death. We all are. I'm dreaming about him at night. Just to be clear, he was not a close friend of mine. I interacted with him at various functions and parties. I interviewed him probably a dozen times. I admired him. I lived vicariously through him, but, yet, it so permeated my psyche because of the tragedy of all this and the suddenness of it all, and it's just so, so heartbreaking.
What I felt on Friday morning when we got the news of what had happened just hours earlier, there are sometimes that I really ... Some mornings, I really feel the weight of our platform and the responsibility of our platform, and I just felt that we needed to do as real and authentic a show as possible, and so I didn't want to shy away. Look, it's obviously very hard to talk about suicide on television. I think that it can be ... We've been warned that it can be dangerous. I'm always conscious of not wanting to inspire any sort of copycats, but I also felt that we needed to be honest, and we needed to be honest that a lot of people feel this way, and a lot of people contemplate ending their lives, and a lot of people are in despair, and I felt like if I can share some of my own experience and if I can be there, even just on somebody's television screen and let them know that there is help out there and that these feelings can pass and usually do pass and there are tools to use to allow it to pass, I just felt the responsibility of having that conversation out loud.
I'm really lucky to be able to have that platform, so, some days, even as hard as it is and as emotional as it is, we just have to go there. That's what I felt like we did on Friday.
Lori Walsh: Well done, Alisyn. Be well. Thank you so much for your time today. I know you've got a busy schedule ahead of you. We appreciate the book-
Alisyn Camerota: Oh, thank you, Lori.
Lori Walsh: We appreciate your time.
Alisyn Camerota: Thank you. Such a pleasure to talk to you.