Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Bill Hemmer
Co-host of "America's Newsroom" on Fox News Channel, Bill Hemmer started his broadcast career as a sportscaster before being plucked from local markets to work as an anchor on various CNN programs, including "American Morning." In his 10 years there he covered presidential elections, 9/11, natural disasters, wars and changes in popes. This week on Fox he will be covering the battle over health care reform. Single, good-looking and 42, he continues to indulge his love of traveling and storytelling.
Being a news anchor on one of the three main networks used to be the pinnacle of success in the broadcast world.
I think it has [changed] in the sense that media has changed and the way people get their information. Cable news has become an enormous player in that game. I know a lot of people in the cable news business who wield quite the heavy stick when it comes to influence. The media landscape has shifted. It's made cable a very important player. You used to find that primarily the people who watched cable news were in either Washington, D.C., or New York City, and with the growth of the Fox News Channel that has clearly changed.
So when you first started out, was your goal to be Tom Brokaw?
[Laughing.] My goal? Way long ago I would have been happy to be a disc jockey at a rock 'n' roll station. But times change and people evolve. My ambition has always been the news angle. Personally, look, I think opinion news in the cable world is enormously influential, and it's been hugely successful for a lot of people. Based on their viewership, the evidence is clear. But that's not my game. I'd rather moderate the debate than lead it. [Laughing.] I don't think I'm very good at opinion news. I think I'd much rather be shipped off to Iran to report or Saudi Arabia or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or to Haiti to cover the earthquake.
Everyone sees things through his or her own filter. Have you worked at being objective?
I think you try, Patricia, but we are still human beings and we are not robots. I've often argued that newsrooms are probably the best democracies we have in this country because you can bring your arguments to the table as to how or why to cover a certain story. Somewhere in that mix we figure out what's important and why we should do a story.
Would you describe yourself as competitive?
Yeah [laughing], I would say. Whether it's a board game or it's trying to get a story, yeah, I think it's a common denominator with just about everybody I work with.
Growing up in a big family didn't hurt.
Yeah, big family, Cincinnati, Ohio, five kids. Mom and Dad both turned 70 this past year, and they are coming up on 50 years of marriage together, so I am lucky.
Speaking of marriage, are you dating?
I can tell you, Patricia, it will happen some day.
Well, are you in a serious relationship?
At the moment, not so much.
Do you think being a good-looking guy helped move your career along?
I think it's all my brain. Listen, it's television, right? So there's that aspect to it. I also think if you can't carry the day with your own arguments or make sense with breaking news ... I think those breaking news situations, that's where the audience really gets to know the individual. They are watching not just for news and information but because they have some sort of relationship with you through that box. They want to know how you are going to react in situations that are challenging.
Are you in a state of hypervigilance when you come back from reporting in a war zone or disaster area?
Great question because I think most of us are born with pretty thick skin to do what we do. Haiti was a very good example. In general when you come home, it's 48 hours and then you are back in your regular orbit. For me coming out of Port au Prince recently really stuck with me. It took me a good week before I was what I consider back in my orbit, normal again. I think it was the gravity of the experience and seeing things that were so raw and so wide open in every sense of the word in the aftermath of that earthquake.
Was the switch from CNN to Fox just a basic career move, or were other things involved?
There were a lot of things involved. CNN wanted me to move to Washington, and I'd been in New York two or three years. I love New York City. This place is in my soul. I love the people here. I love that spirit. I love that attitude. So at the time, frankly, Washington was not in my blood. Perhaps that could change at some point, but I wasn't willing to go. I made the decision to depart after 10 years. Then Roger Ailes, who is our founder and CEO [at Fox]. I got really lucky.
So you left CNN without a job at Fox?
I left without a job. I kind of pulled that move years ago, too. I was a young sports reporter, and my ambition in life was to backpack around the world. I was 26, 27. Patricia, I felt if I did not do that, by the time I turned 30 I was going to have this midlife crisis. So that's when I had mine. I lived in Europe during college, so this was not a European tour. It was more of a Third World tour. It was China, Vietnam and Indonesia, Nepal, India, and parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. So I chucked it and I took a chance. It was a gamble that paid off enormously for me, just in terms of my own knowledge and understanding of the world.
You are known as a devout Catholic. Did you ever question your faith after being exposed to so many others?
I think in part I probably question organized religion more so than my own personal faith. The old city of Jerusalem ... there are so many parts of that town that are worth exploring. I think all 6 billion of us for a short period of time should have a trip to the old city of Jerusalem. I think it would enhance our understanding of the world.
First Published March 22, 2010 12:00 am