CNN's Brown Plays It Straight at 8
The former NBC News anchor jumps into the primetime cable-news arena
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/22/2008 8:00:00 PM
Campbell Brown couldn't have picked a better time to jump into the cable-news fray. For the former NBC News anchor and admitted political-news fanatic, the 2008 presidential election, with its early kickoff and drawn-out Democratic primary, has provided the perfect welcome as she settles into her new role as an anchor and primetime host on CNN.
“I have been swept up in the [election] news, and I'm grateful,” Brown says. “We had no idea this would be such an incredible story. It is driving my job and, as a journalist, you should be driven by the story. I know what I have to do, and it has made my transition easier.”
Along with playing an integral role in CNN's election coverage, Brown hosts the political-themed weeknight show Election Center at 8 p.m. Eventually, the program will evolve into a more general, hard-news show, Brown says, but will continue to be heavy on politics.
But Brown faces formidable competition in the time slot, where CNN has long struggled to gain traction. Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, with Bill O'Reilly, has long dominated the time period and counts legions of loyal viewers. On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann's quirky Countdown has steadily been gaining a following.
Brown says she'll stand out by playing it straight. Where she says her competitors skew ideologically (by most observations, O'Reilly to the right, Olbermann to the left), Brown says she'll be news-driven and down the middle.
“My hope is to present a broad set of opinions and let viewers sort out what they think,” she says. “You're not going to get a perspective tilted to the left or right, at least not from me.”
The daughter of a Louisiana politician (her father was a state senator and Louisiana secretary of state), Brown caught the political bug early.
“Politics is like sports in Louisiana,” she explains. One of five children, Brown—whose given name is Alma Dale Campbell Brown—went on to study political science at Regis College in Denver and, after graduation, taught English in Prague as Eastern Europe was transitioning to democracy.
Brown eventually settled in Washington and juggled three internships at local stations. NBC News veteran correspondent Andrea Mitchell, she says, was her idol. Brown sent out 200 audition tapes and one landed on the desk of Debbie Bush, then news director at KSNT Topeka.
Bush recalls that Brown was green, but driven. “She had a lot of raw talent, she comes from a political family and she was very smart,” says Bush, now general manager of NBC affiliate WFIE Evansville. “She just needed a chance.”
In Topeka, Brown fervently covered the Kansas Statehouse and within a year moved on to a similar role in Virginia, at Richmond NBC affiliate WWBT. After a stint at WBAL Baltimore and as a freelancer for WRC Washington, NBC News took notice and hired Brown for its NBC News Channel, which feeds MSNBC and local NBC stations.
Brown's big break came with the 2000 election. She covered George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, even living for months in Austin, Texas, where the campaign was based. Appearing frequently on MSNBC's The News With Brian Williams, Brown relished the time on cable news for lengthy reports and debriefing by Williams on-air.
SWEATY PALMS, SCREAMING NERVES
After the election, Brown was named NBC News' White House correspondent. Brown recalls preparing for her first live shot for Nightly News with former anchor Tom Brokaw. She can't quite remember the story—“some tax relief bill or a bill signing”—but the 20 people whispering in her earpiece, the sweaty palms and screaming nerves were memorable indeed. “It was Tom Brokaw, Nightly News and the White House,” she says. “It was everything I ever dreamed of.”
Brown went on to cover major stories at home and abroad and became the main substitute for Nightly News. She added co-anchoring of Weekend Today to her duties in 2003. And while she says the morning show was enjoyable, she felt constrained by focus on lighter fare such as cooking and fashion segments. “I had a good time, but the emphasis was more on entertainment,” she says. “I wanted to cover things I cared about and was interested in.”
When Katie Couric left Today to anchor the CBS Evening News, Brown was considered to replace her. But after the job went to Meredith Vieira, several news organizations began courting Brown, chief among them CNN, where network president Jon Klein says he saw her as “someone with real CNN DNA.”
“She was more than just an anchor; she was a fully formed journalist,” Klein says. “I felt like there was a very interesting and vibrant personality yearning to bust out of broadcast television.”
Brown saw CNN as an opportunity to delve into hard news at greater length. “I needed more than a minute and a half to tell a story,” she says, noting the cable network's vast array of platforms, including radio, CNN International and online. “If you are a news junkie, there is no better place to be than CNN.”
Her arrival to CNN's primetime, however, proved complicated. Though she joined CNN in September, her NBC contract prohibited her from appearing on the cable network until November. Then there was her pregnancy, which she announced on Weekend Today before leaving the network (she is married to Republican strategist and Fox News analyst Dan Senor).
Brown squeezed in time on CNN, including as a questioner for a November Democratic debate in Nevada, before giving birth to her son, Eli, in December. After a short maternity leave, she eased back in with appearances in February on primary nights, including Super Tuesday. By March, she was anchoring full-time.
Only a few months in, CNN's Klein says Brown is already standing out on cable news, where multiple networks and shows are covering the same political stories. “Campbell brings ferocious independence,” he says. “She cuts through the clutter and the spin that people who come on cable shows try to force down your throat. She won't take the talking points for answers from anyone.”
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After watching Campbell Brown interview with Tucker I was appalled how much she is in the Tank for Obama.
Is Biden ready to step in first slot if something happens to Obama? NO! At least Palin is more ready then Obamaâ€™s team. Campbell should have equaled it out
I will not be watching CNN anymore. I use to divide it up between Fox and CNN. I prefer fair and balanced CNN is not.
M. Scott - 9/4/2008 5:52:00 PM EDT
I have watched Campbell Brown for months now, and have never been more impressed with her than I am today. I watched the interview in question and I have to say she handled it every bit as well as Edward R. Murrow, Chet Huntley or Walter Cronkite would have - as a professional journalist digging for the truth.
Kudos to her! Congratulations to CNN for hiring her in the first place. Keep up the great reporting!
Stephen Teter - 9/4/2008 1:19:00 AM EDT
I see Campbell Brown and other CNN reporters as pro Obama---Campbell's factless attacking of Sarah Palin and her drama techniques are great---she belongs on Entertainment Tonight----Definitely not a credible newscaster---Anything for Ratings---It really turns people off.
Maureen Mahon - 9/3/2008 6:29:00 PM EDT
Watched Campbell's interview with Tucker Bounds and then read her
bio. Please give us more of Campbell Brown - she's great!
J.D. Armon - 9/3/2008 2:41:00 PM EDT
Campbell Brown is the Bomb. While most MSM commentators like Wolf
Blitzer are rolling over for John McCain's abysmal choice for Vice
President, she's asking real (and non-partisan) questions. (I'm a
Republican, by the way, who had intended to vote for McCain before
his pick, but am now committed to Obama, the only candidate for
President who has integrity and judgment.)
John McCain by picking this dismal inexperienced right wing extremist
has sold out to the special interests. Shame on him, and brave to
Campbell Brown for playing it straight and refusing to let bullies have
their way with her.
A Davis - 9/3/2008 12:03:00 PM EDT
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