An interview with CNN's Brooke Baldwin
To say I was intimidated by my interview with CNN’s Brooke Baldwin would be an understatement. If you’ve watched Ms. Baldwin during her two hour time slot (1-3 pm cst) you have seen her do all kinds of stories; stories of heartache, stories of everyday people doing amazing things, and stories about politics. You have even seen her go to bat and do the right thing when doing interviews or reporting on stories for the LGBT community.
I have my bucket list of people that I would like to interview. On this list are actors, comedians, politicians, artists, world leaders, and because of my background, broadcast journalists. Brooke Baldwin is also on that list so to get the approval to have the interview was huge. So huge in fact, that I called my mom for a pep talk. The fact that the interview occurred after a huge show was a major, unforeseen coincidence.
Henry Anatole Grunwald is quoted as saying, “Journalism can never be silent: That is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.” Ms. Baldwin did a segment on her show entitled, ‘The Loneliest Club’. This isn’t some exclusive club we all want to be a part of yet, at any moment, we can become a member. Ms. Baldwin interviewed forty survivors of gun violence. You heard their stories, you saw their tears, and you felt their pain. When I got this interview, I was excited because I viewed it as a late birthday present for myself until I watched a broken father discuss how his son went to the movies for his birthday and was shot and killed. An excited moment became sobering in an instant. Gun violence affects us all. I, myself, had a gun put to my head and the trigger pulled. The only reason I’m here today is because by the grace of God the gun jammed. Watching Ms. Baldwin conduct the interviews with these survivors caused a flood of emotion to come over me. I found myself reliving that night twelve years ago and I found myself in tears. Beyond the pain, beyond the questions, beyond the “club,” there was Ms. Baldwin asking questions that everyone wants answered.
She was able to get these incredible survivors to bare their souls and to not be ashamed to shed tears. I had no idea how Ms. Baldwin stayed as composed as she did, but I soon found out as we discussed this in my interview with her. “I am emotionally spent. It was one of those things. I walked away last night and I sort of held it together for the most part. I hopped the train to New York and I got in before midnight. I just walked in and saw my dog. I got on the floor and just let go, ‘cause it’s what you have to do. We’re all human.” Ms. Baldwin stated she, “Walked in before the group. I was emotionally gathering my strength to be able to do them justice. I walked into this room and you see them and all of them have been touched by gun violence. I started to say hello and introduce myself and I couldn’t even get through that. I’m a professional. This isn’t about me, it’s about them. But you’re going to have those moments where your emotions come out.”
With Ms. Baldwin, those emotions have made it on air a few times. “I’ve been a little teary on live TV one or two times. When I came home last night, I was remembering covering Sandy Hook and coming home to my apartment, just sitting on my sofa, alone. I didn’t even turn the lights on. I was watching the sunset out of my window and I just kept thinking about those first-graders and how they would never see a sunset again and I just let it go. You have to let it go and weep for these people because we’re all human.” Recently, she started her show off with a personal message to the newsroom and colleagues of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. As a former master control operator in a newsroom this was a story that hit close to home. Ms. Baldwin’s opening statement was one felt by all of us in journalism. It made her more relatable and more trustworthy. “It’s the biggest compliment. I just tell people, I’m just being me. I’m just being my authentic self. And that day hit really close to home. My first job as a cub reporter was in Charlottesville, VA, two hours up the road from Roanoke. I did morning live shots. I was really tight with my photographers. That could’ve been me. And as I was struggling with the whole story that day and how close to home it hit, I told my executive producer, there is no way I can tell about this story for two hours without saying something right off the top. And so I went into the rundown and wrote a little something from the heart that I hope resonated with people but it was like I couldn’t talk about it without saying my piece. And just telling that newsroom and those families that we stand with them. And we do.”
For someone who wasn’t planning on being in journalism, Ms. Baldwin has proven to be perfect for the job. “I think there were rumblings that a journalism career would be great for me, but it hit me like a ton of bricks when I was at Carolina (she’s a University of North Carolina graduate) walking through the journalism school and I was interning at CNN that summer, and it all just sort of came together in this “aha” moment. And I just felt it in my bones. Just the way you feel when something is right. I didn’t even know at the time if I would be a reporter or anchor or producer or what but I just knew that was a direction I wanted to take and I went all in.” Fans of Ms. Baldwin and her show are glad she did decide to go all in. Her ability to bounce from one story to the next and do breaking news as it happens is uncanny. “I work with an executive producer who has the same brain as me and we love to just throw the rundown out and go with breaking news and ad lib and roll with it.” I wanted to know if there were any stories that Ms. Baldwin wishes she didn’t have to remain unbiased. “I think on certain stories you can show an opinion when you’re on the side of right. Like right now when you’re watching all the refugees streaming out of Syria and you’re looking at the rest of the world thinking what can we do to help? Speaking about child abuse cases or domestic abuse cases…something has to be done.”
Ms. Baldwin became known in the LGBT community by reporting on stories in our community without being condescending or implying that our community was in the wrong for whatever reason. Instead, Ms. Baldwin was fair. She heard both sides of the story and reported on each side’s stance. She interviewed National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexual’s, David Pickup regarding gay conversion therapy. She interviewed Tony Perkins, of Family Research Council, regarding same-sex marriage, taking him to task by asking that now infamous question, “Why do homosexuals bother you so much?” Most recently, she reported on the Kim Davis saga that is playing out in our own backyard. Ms. Baldwin reported fairly and with a great deal of respect and class. “I always try to be fair. I think with the Caitlin Jenner story a lot of people are talking about the transgender issues people just need to hear. I think once you hear someone’s story, open your heart.”
With all Ms. Baldwin has accomplished I wanted to know what challenged her. “I think today is a perfect example. Yesterday I woke up in D.C., did two hours of news for my show covering the back and forth of whatever politics du jour and everything else which is so important and then went straight to spending an entire evening sitting with people affected by gun violence. The whole interview came out of interviews I did in the wake of Roanoke and people paying attention… These folks are inviting us to Washington, this is gonna be a huge production, but we need to do it. It’s challenging but you can’t say no to that kind of thing and I hope looking ahead, challenge wise, any kind of interview that forces you to stretch – forty people at once, especially something so sensitive, is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and it was a little daunting and then it went phenomenally-I think just stretching myself in those ways looking ahead.”
Ms. Baldwin has proven herself as a seasoned reporter and anchor. She asks the tough question when it is warranted. She can be sensitive to situations and get people who don’t want to talk, to talk. She comes across on her show as someone who has integrity, a lot of heart, passion for her job, and empathy for others. John Grogan has said, “In the English language, it all comes down to this: Twenty-six letters, when combined correctly, can create magic.” Ms. Baldwin and her broadcast team have managed to create that magic in a way that touches lives on a daily basis. I, for one, will stay tuned.