An Eye for News, and a Laser FocusUnder Rhodes' watch, Fox News has moved far forward 9/21/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern
Like most people in the news business, David Rhodes recalls the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as a blur. As director of newsgathering for Fox News Channel, he and his colleagues pulled a string of all-nighters to cover the deadliest attacks on American soil. But in the haze of the event, one thing was clear to Rhodes: He needed to live closer to work.
At the time, he was living in Brooklyn Heights, not exactly a long commute from Fox News headquarters in midtown Manhattan. But with the city utterly paralyzed in the wake of the attacks, it meant agonizing time away from the office.
By April 2003, when the Bush administration was sending ground troops into Baghdad, Rhodes was living on 49th Street and 1st Avenue, close enough to the office to pop home for a quick nap during 20-hour-plus workdays.
“I remember waking up, holding my breath and turning on the TV,” says Rhodes, who was directing the network's coverage of the invasion. “We had live pictures of the ground assault. That was a huge accomplishment for us; just to be able to show what was going on there.”
Rhodes, 33, has been at Fox News since the channel's inception. He started as a production assistant in August 1996. The channel went on the air in October of that year. By 2000, he was the assignment manager facilitating the network's coverage of the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns. In September 2006, he was promoted to VP of news, responsible for all newsgathering and editorial content on Fox News. He reports to executive VP John Moody.
Mature beyond his years (“He's a 60-year-old in a 30-year-old's body,” says anchor Shepard Smith), Rhodes has always approached his work with laser focus.
Sharri Berg, senior VP of news operations for Fox News, recalls her first impression of Rhodes as a 20-something freelancer on the overnight desk.
“I remember thinking, God, it's not going to take long for him to move off of overnights and into a staff job,” she says.
“And I remember the assignment manager at the time saying to me after a couple of weeks: 'So this David, he's good, right? I should hire him for a staff job?' And I said, 'Uh, yeah.' I mean, it was a given that he would move up.”
Rhodes grew up in Manhattan, but family connections to Texas (his father grew up in Baytown, outside of Houston) led him to Rice University, where he earned a B.A. in economics and political science in 1996. He met his wife, Emma, currently a sales executive at MTV Networks, when she was working at the Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C. They started dating when she relocated to New York to get her M.B.A. at Columbia. The couple has a 1-year-old son, Ethan.
Rhodes' interest in news and politics started early. His father was a Justice Department lawyer in Washington before going into private practice in Manhattan.
“He encouraged my brother and me to please not become lawyers,” he laughs.
(Rhodes' brother, Ben Rhodes, is a speechwriter and a contributor to the 9/11 tome Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, co-authored by Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton.)
“I wanted desperately to do news and television news,” he says.
A job at Houston City Hall during his junior and senior year of college gave his resume a news hook, but he didn't exactly have much—or rather, any—TV experience. The fact that Fox News was a startup channel may have helped.
“I won't flatter myself,” Rhodes says. “I think they were just trying to get warm bodies in here.”
Rhodes thrived in those heady early days of Fox News, where the tight-knit staff spent long hours and considerable energy launching the channel in the face of stiff competition and a vociferous chorus of naysayers.
“Everybody I think has good memories of that time,” he says, “because while there was a great deal of pressure and there were a lot of really long days, it really felt new and exciting. The people who were working here were and are inspirational. And I was just learning a lot.”
To his colleagues, Rhodes arrived at Fox News with an innate understanding of the news business and an encyclopedic mind for details. Smith recalls getting lost in Kentucky 10 years ago on a crime story—long before the days of MapQuest, Google Earth and GPS navigation systems in rental cars.
“We were on a two-lane highway, an ice-cream sundae had dropped in my producer's lap and we were lost out of our minds,” Smith says.
So they called Rhodes, who was then sitting on the assignment desk.
“He had the map [of Kentucky] memorized,” he says. “David Rhodes knows all the major roadways in America. He has them memorized. He's a genius. He got us out of there. He was then and forever Map Man to me.”
Rhodes' navigational facility is indicative of his approach to the news business.
As far back as 10 years ago, adds Smith, “he was waiting, waiting to be the man in charge of editorial for the place. Everyone knew it was coming. He could understand all angles of a story.
“He's an incredibly grounded guy,” adds Smith. “Part of him is from the middle of America, in Texas, and part of him is from up here, where all the power players are. He just naturally understands that world.”