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Early in her career, Harris Faulkner was known as “disaster girl” for her innate moxie as a breaking news reporter. Her work at a string of local stations in Greenville, N.C., Minneapolis-Saint Paul and Kansas City netted her several Emmy Awards and in 2005, a brief tenure on a national show — the now-defunct infotainment program “A Current Affair,” which was produced 20th Century Fox.
“I was supposed to do celebrity-driven stuff,” she recalls. “But I wasn’t really sure if I was going to be good at chasing Christian Slater around.”
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But then 18-year-old Natalee Holloway disappeared during a trip to Aruba. Faulkner was among the earliest correspondents on the story of the missing Alabama teen. “I was in Aruba for a month,” she says.
It was there that she met Sean Hannity, who had traveled to the island to report on the case for Fox News Channel. By then, Faulkner had racked up exclusives with island locals and the Holloway family, and Hannity had her on his show. “A Current Affair” was canceled later that year, but Harris had her foot in the door at Fox News. She started as a freelance breaking news anchor at night and then began filling in for anchor Shepard Smith during the day.
Fifteen years later, and as Fox News Channel marks its 25th anniversary on Oct. 7, Faulkner is anchoring two daytime news programs: “The Faulkner Focus” and “Outnumbered,” and has emerged as one of the network’s stars. She has covered the 2016 and 2020 political conventions, the COVID-19 crisis, policing in America and the racial justice demonstrations spurred by the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
Faulkner worked remotely for 16 months; Fox News set up a studio in her New Jersey home, which she shares with her husband Tony Berlin — whom she met when they both worked in Minneapolis — and their daughters Bella, 14 and Danika, 12. She hosted several town halls throughout the pandemic, including “Harris Faulkner: The Shot” in February, and another in March, alongside colleague Bill Hemmer, with President Trump and his coronavirus task force, that 4.4 million people tuned into.
In 2017, when she began hosting “Outnumbered Overtime,” Faulkner was the only Black woman in cable with her own show. And while she acknowledges the network’s difficult years, beginning with the 2016 ouster of founding chairman Roger Ailes, she says the network under the leadership of chief executive officer Suzanne Scott is a very different place.
“We’ve had some challenges,” she says. “But we have a very strong woman leading us now. We have a real partnership with our boss. When Suzanne invites you to sit down and share ideas, she’s actually listening.”
Faulkner, 55, talks to WWD about lessons she’s taken from the pandemic, climbing the career ladder and how she feels about some of the incendiary rhetoric from Fox News Channel’s primetime hosts.
WWD: What was it like to anchor two TV shows for more than a year from your home?
Harris Faulkner: I could see the [infection rates] going in a place that I wasn’t comfortable with. We had a number of cases in our building, and it was time for me to go someplace else. And I said, “Look, I don’t know what that looks like.” And Fox just said, “Well, we have a plan,” which I always love. And then they executed that plan. I did my two shows live. I shot two primetime specials. We did a [virtual] presidential Town Hall. They pulled this big gigantic truck into my driveway and we broadcast. We [covered] the funeral of the great civil rights Congressman John Lewis; all of that coverage was done from my home. That’s amazing. And I felt such a connection to the audience, because I could say to people, we really are in this together. And when you broadcast from your own space, and your children hear you do that, suddenly everybody got what mom does every day. It was such a heart-flowering, eye-opening experience for me. And Fox has done all it can. It’s now up to us to make sure that we’ve done all we can. I’m fully vaccinated. I will get a booster. My children are vaccinated.
WWD: Can you talk about your involvement with the vaccine PSAs that have been running on Fox News Channel? Obviously you’re vaccinated…
H.F.: I’m also Black. And just to be frank, we made up north of 60 percent of the victims who were either severely harmed by the coronavirus or killed. I don’t prophesize to anybody. But I do want to make sure that people feel like they can get the right information, and they’ll make decisions for themselves. The government may sometimes help with that, and sometimes I think they can be confusing. We’ve had [nearly 200 million] people take the shot. When one president comes up with one thing, and the next president comes up with a way to get it out, I just wish they could work together and take the politics out of it. So, I was happy to take a part in the in the PSA because I’m part of the apparatus that’s gotten good information out there. I want people to know that I wouldn’t ask of anyone else something that I wouldn’t do myself. But we can be walking examples of what gives us a fighting chance.
WWD: You have worked in a lot of smaller markets in the so-called flyover states. How has working in those markets impacted your coverage, particularly of politics?
H.F.: Well, I always have known that great Americans live everywhere. My father was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. I’ve lived in places all across this great country. And growing up military has taught me that people determine what they believe and how they live based on their experiences. And your zip code doesn’t tell you how to think. We’ve already seen in Arizona [where Faulkner and her husband have a home]; they’re getting a little bit more purple. As I cover politics, the pandemic has probably shaped me as much as growing up military. But all of it has had a positive influence. People can shape their views based on how they live. But let’s just talk, not fight with each other and, and we’ll be fine.
WWD: You’ve had a steady rise at Fox News. How have you navigated the organization?
H.F.: I actually love talking about this, because I think that when women start to negotiate and navigate their workspaces, sometimes they start at a place of deficit. I’ve always known my value in the marketplace. I don’t get into any business to lose, certainly not to lose money. I’m very open about that. Sixteen years ago, when I started here, I had just gotten married. And I wanted a place that would let me live the life that I wanted to live. I was going to be a late-bloomer mom, I was almost 40, we really wanted to start a family. I’ve always been willing to leave where I sit. The one thing that I would say to women — not just in my industry, but in any industry that’s competitive and still predominantly run by men, although that’s changing — is know your own value. And know what your own values are. I went to a place that allowed me to grow in ways that were important to me. I specifically chose a place that could embrace the fact that I’m strong in my faith. And when I needed to take time off with the birth of each of my children, I never worried that I wasn’t going to be welcomed back. And I’ve known women in the business who didn’t have children for that reason. So I’ve loved my journey here. Has it been with challenges? Absolutely. But I was the first Black female in primetime on this network.
WWD: And you did a lot of reporting about the murder of George Floyd, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests of summer of 2020. You’re also in an interracial marriage, your kids are biracial. What has it been like for you to cover that story for Fox News? And how has the societal pivot to conversations and action around racial justice affected you personally?
H.F.: Oh, that is such a thoughtful question. And I thank you for that. Because it sounds like you’re coming from a place where you might understand what it means to be standing in the gap. That’s where I was, I was standing in the gap. And it wasn’t just racial, and it wasn’t just faith-based — my husband is white and Jewish. But it is a place where you have to navigate both ends of the spectrum, with equal curiosity. And that’s how I approached it.
Of course, my heart broke. And it wasn’t eight minutes and 46 seconds, it was nine minutes, nine seconds. There were days that it hurt to be working in an industry that couldn’t be solution-finding in that moment, it could only be question-asking. And there were times when my children would come to me after Breonna Taylor and others had died and say, “Why does this keep happening?” We were watching the U.S. Open last year, when Naomi Osaka was wearing her masks with the names of [seven victims of fatal police brutality printed on them], and my kids would ask, “Do police hate us?”
I come with the facts. I’ve made it my point to do primetime specials on policing in America, to try to understand how we get to a point like that. How do we have a police force that won’t be honest about the people on the force that are evil? And that shouldn’t even be about race. That should be, why do you have Derek Chauvin on your police force? Now, why do I feel so confident that I can say that? It just so happens that I covered some of the same neighborhoods in Minneapolis that he covered. So our paths have crossed in the past. My husband was an investigative reporter in [Minneapolis]. So when the story broke I said to my husband, “Do you remember that cop, I think he had a bad history?” So why are they letting somebody like that stay on the force? Notice that the prosecutor didn’t even drop the word race to get the conviction, because there was so much there to work with in terms of the facts. And that’s how I approach everything. It doesn’t mean that I don’t see race in a story. But what it does mean is that’s not all I see.
WWD: Is it harder to cover this topic with nuance when there are some primetime hosts on Fox News who have diminished the Black Lives Matter movement?
H.F.: I think it’s fair to ask a question about news versus editorial, as you’re doing. It’s not hard for me to cover because I’m always going to cover the facts. If you’re asking am I distracted at times by performative television? I am human. I’m distracted by it when [MSNBC host] Joy Reid says that the only reason people care about [murder victim] Gabby Petito is because she’s white. I’m distracted by it because I know that Joy can be better than that. Why do you have to make it about race, you already know that divides us? Why can’t we go someplace together and report the facts? And there’s no denying that there are a lot of people missing. So it’s challenging in the sense that I can’t let the shiny object of division and hate distract me from the job I have to do, which is to get everybody to pay attention to the information that they need to know. And did we need social justice in many different ways in our society? Of course. But selective outrage is dangerous if it says “no” to certain people’s pain. And if you say you want to report and be fair, and that you care about that sort of thing, then you have to do it at all times. But I’m not going to brush it aside. When Tucker Carlson has said that he thinks that diversity doesn’t help us win, I take that personally. But I also know that his argument for that, that I have seen, is not anything that has to do with me. My mom’s family is from Haiti, and you can’t see my potential from where you’re sitting. But I also think that he has some really compelling questions at times about other things. And by the way, Tucker is a snappy dresser. He’s got a terrific sense of humor and a beautiful family. Sean Hannity is a friend. When my dad passed on Christmas Day in 2020, these are the people that I heard from. But we’re never going to agree on everything.
WWD: How do you deal with online trolls and haters, and just the general ugliness on social media?
H.F.: I’m on Twitter, I love live-tweeting football games and live news events. But if I’m on and I start to see the makings of a dumpster fire, I back all the way out. And I may back out for a few days. And sometimes that’s necessary. I like picture-driven platforms. But no one in my household is doing TikTok; it’s a dangerous toxic place for really young girls at times. We now allow people who are faceless and characterless to come for us. So what’s positive in that space? Well, I do love that when disaster happens, it is the great connector. When places were being flooded in my home state of New Jersey, when people were trapped inside their buildings in New York City, when the water was up to the ceiling of subway stations, we were suddenly next-door neighbors. I think we have to control our own destiny with it. And when it gets really nasty, I back away.
WWD: Can you say anything about the 2016 settlement with Hasbro, because I don’t understand why they would make a hamster toy and give it the name Harris Faulkner?
H.F.: I can’t talk in detail about it. But what I have said in public before is that [on the package] the words “choking hazard” were actually larger than the toy itself. And that’s a problem. That’s all I can say about that.
WWD: What is your clothing philosophy, are there certain fashion brands that work better on TV?
H.F.: Right now I’m wearing a lavender pantsuit from Hugo Boss with three-quarter-length pencil legs. Hugo Boss does a lot of really rich colors. And they stay crisp on the air because of the materials. So while I don’t wear Hugo Boss in my personal life, I love it on the air. I don’t wear a lot of prints on the air. But sometimes I do feel like I can have a little bit of fun. But I’m always really conscious of being appropriate in the moment. You never know when big news is going to break. Sometimes in the summer when you get those hot days, I look at certain networks and they’re in tank tops. So I do want to present like I know what the heck is going on. But one day recently, I had on this green dress. I just loved it. It’s what I call a frozen shoulder, it was not just a cold shoulder. We had some breaking news [from Afghanistan]. And I heard from women on social media. And they were right. And I wasn’t comfortable either. Because I always think if my kids tune in right now, will they think that mommy is aspirational or embarrassing? And that day, I don’t know if my Bella and Danika would have been that proud of me. I don’t make that mistake often. But I am honest about it.
WWD: Have you ever been fired from a job?
H.F.: Yes, but in the television business, you’re not fired, you’re just not renewed. At KSTP in Minneapolis [in 2004], they were really trying to figure out ways to save a ton of cash and do more with less. So they let a bunch of people go in one fell swoop including an entire anchor team, everybody. So I can’t say it was about me personally. But of course, I took it hard. I’d only been married for a couple of months. But it was an amazing experience for me, because I had spent my whole career at that point in local news, and I had not envisioned how I was going to segue to a national network. So I took the [severance] and the health insurance and I started doing yoga a lot. I decided to really find out who I wanted to be next. And I would never have done that had I fought to stay in a place that had decided that it really wanted to pay people a bit less. I had great experience at KSTP. So I really couldn’t even work up mad. I was disappointed. But I couldn’t go any further than that. I won so many Emmys in that market. I worked with people who made me better. So it wasn’t just time for them to let me go it was time for me to let them go.
WWD: How would the people who work on your team describe you?
H.F.: She loves bacon on raisin toast with tons of butter. They would also tell you that I don’t give up. That I don’t have quick meetings. It’s important to me to turn my purpose and gifts into something useful for other people, they would tell you that. They would say I don’t shout and yell and cuss when I get upset. But you can never mistake that I’m not pleased with something.