FOX News’ Senior Correspondent Eric Shawn talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about why the midterms are so important, what he believes will be the big election night story this year and some of the most critical issues facing the nation.
For Eric Shawn—who this year marks his 40th anniversary of anchoring election night coverage on cable news—the journey to broadcast journalism began with “Election 74: Manhattan,” a two-hour live program he produced and anchored while still in high school. The coverage aired on Manhattan Cable Television channel C, public access, and was noted by a New York Times TV critic in 1976. “I went out with camera crews to various headquarters and interviewed city councilmen and politicians, trying to replicate local network coverage,” Shawn recalls. “The controller of New York City, which was like the second top job in the city, sat down with us for an hour and we did political analysis and news. We used taxicabs and the subway to travel around with our equipment. That experience really ignited my passion and got me to the Democratic Convention in 1980.”
Although still based in New York, Shawn has come a long way since then. A“FOX News Channel original” who joined the network when it launched in 1996, he currently anchors the weekend program “America’s News Headquarters,” which airs on Saturdays (3-4 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. ET) and Sundays (12-1 p.m. and 3:30-4 p.m. ET). He also regularly reports from the United Nations and covers politics and terrorism.He has interviewed world leaders from President Bill Clinton, to U.N. Secretary Generals Kofi Annan and Ban Ki Moon, as well as Israeli Prime Ministers Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon. He also sat down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for an in-depth interview, and he interviewed the late Hugo Chavez, former president of Venezuela. He is the author of the book U.N. Exposed and was also a correspondent for the FOX Network News magazine, “FOX Files.”
After all these years, Shawn says he still finds election coverage and politics fascinating. “I can’t wait for Election Day. It’s like Christmas and New Year’s rolled into one. It’s about the future of our republic, our whole civic involvement and the direction of our country.”
Opportunist: When were you bitten by the journalism bug?
Eric Shawn: My mom was on the CBS soap opera ‘Search for Tomorrow’ when I was growing up, and I used to stop in to say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ and then go to CBS news. I was there so often people thought I was Chip Cronkite, Walter’s son. [Laughs] Cronkite’s passion for his work inspired me.
At 16, I made a documentary on Super 8 film that I thought ‘60 Minutes’ might be interested in. So I called and asked if they’d like to see it. They said yes, so I went to CBS and met with the No. 2 to Don Hewitt [creator of ‘60 Minutes’]. He spent 45 minutes with me, and I remember Mike Wallace and another man were having a screaming match over a story. I thought Is this how they do it? They gave me time and respect, sat patiently with me and encouraged me. In hindsight, I see they could’ve said, ‘Who are you?’ I went home that night and proudly told my dad, ‘I had a meeting with ‘60 Minutes’ today.’ I felt like I belonged there. I love reading biographies, and the constant theme of notable people is that they had an interest early on and felt encouraged by adults. I think it’s really important for young people to have a passion for whatever it is they want to do. Success will follow.
I went to college and gave myself a year to get a job in journalism, which I did, at a local newspaper, and then I transitioned into TV in the 1980s. I eventually went to the FOX affiliate in New York, where I covered the O.J. Simpson trial, presidential campaigns, conventions and other events and started doing interviews internationally. When Roger Ailes started FOX News, I joined the network.
Opportunist: What are some of the most memorable elections you have covered during your career?
Eric Shawn: Mario Cuomo’s 1982 bid for governor is one that stands out. That was the first campaign where I was an actual TV reporter, for Channel 11 in New York City. One of the most contentious was in 1989, when then-Mayor Ed Koch lost the Democratic primary to David Dinkins, who became the first African American mayor of New York. In 1992 I traveled with Bill Clinton [as he campaigned for president]. I was in Little Rock covering the election for FOX, and it was such an amazing experience to witness the transfer of power—in the most powerful job on earth—to a challenger. It was an incredible test to American democracy and an historic moment that spoke so well for the process. We were on media risers in front of the Old State House—there were several hundred people inside—and after it was announced that Clinton had won he came out and made a speech and then everybody went home. Were Bush supporters angry? Yes, of course. But there was no anger in the streets that turned into violence. It was a remarkable example of the way we do things here in America and, essentially, a great tribute to our election process.
You never know where you’ll get assigned when you cover elections. I had a winning streak of 14 elections, starting with Mario Cuomo winning the governorship in 1982, through elections for mayor, governor and president until my record was snapped by Bob Dole in 1996. I was assigned to Dole’s election headquarters in Washington, and I was amazed that I had been.
Opportunist: What was it like to be in a room full of supporters whose candidate has lost such an important election?
Eric Shawn: As a reporter you’re nonpartisan and you don’t take sides, but you get to know people in the campaign. It was sad and disappointing for them. You feel their pain in a way, and then it’s always on to the next one.
Opportunist: Can you recall any elections that were expected to go one way but turned out quite differently?
Eric Shawn: The 1989 Koch versus Dinkins race was very close in a way and was kind of a sea change. I didn’t cover the Eric Cantor loss in the Virginia primary last June, but everyone assumed he would have a huge win and he did not.
Opportunist: Why are midterm elections so important, and which issues hold the most significance this year?
Eric Shawn: I think this year’s midterms will clarify some of the major issues and be a bellwether of where America wants to go. What we learn from Tuesday may indicate what will happen not only in terms of policies but also in the 2016 race and how it will impact Hillary and other political themes and undercurrents. Even if the Senate becomes majority Republican, we will still have a Democratic president.
I think presidential leadership, the economy, income inequality, Obamacare, taxes, ISIS and radical terrorism are the major issues we will be seeing. We had the victory by Obama for his second term and now the country is in a bit of a muddle, so I think the midterms will give an answer about whether America is satisfied and, if not, who’s next and where do we go from here? We just have to see what develops after Tuesday.
Opportunist: You did a recent segment on the Harvard study of the 18-34 vote. What did the study reveal?
Eric Shawn: Millennials drove Obama to office with hope and change but, sadly, after a number of years there is dissatisfaction and disconnect. Trust in government has plummeted among young people, and trust in the president is at 32 percent. That does not portend to something positive. The latest polls show only 23 percent of young adults will vote in the midterms. That’s a disappointing revelation when you consider young people are usually the most passionate and activist. More young Republicans than Democrats are fired up to vote, which should show a Republican surge.
Everything ebbs and flows, though, so the same poll six months after the midterms could change. Having been a young person who loved politics, I would hate to see millennials tune out because they are the future of our nation. So I hope that changes. The question is how do we get young people engaged in jobs and the economy and the political process?
Opportunist: What will be the big election night story this year?
Eric Shawn: Oh, man. The Senate races and the potential of the Senate switching hands. All polls show Republicans should grab the Senate, and some of these races will give us indications of where the country could be going and what issues will be shaken out. Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky and New Hampshire are races to watch. In New Hampshire, Scott Brown was behind and now it’s neck and neck. In Kentucky you have [Republican Mitch] McConnell and [Democrat Alison] Grimes. If McConnell wins there will be lots of commentary because the Clintons are close to Grimes. The tea leaves could reveal ‘What is the message and what does this mean until 2016?’ We may not know Georgia's final outcome until January because their runoff election is after Congress convenes.
Opportunist: Recent polls say the Florida governor’s race is tied. Do you believe former Gov. Charlie Crist will win, or will incumbent Gov. Rick Scott retain office?
Eric Shawn: I interviewed Crist in Tallahassee. With him having been a Republican who switched to Democrat, it will be interesting to see if he can oust Scott. If Crist wins Florida but Grimes loses Kentucky all the pundits will be asking why the Democrats’ message worked so well in Florida but lost traction in Kentucky.
Opportunist: Does voter fraud exist in the United States or is it just a myth?
Eric Shawn: You would think it would happen in the banana republic but it happens right here in the U.S. of A. I interviewed a public official who admitted he bought votes and said it was a normal part of life, and I interviewed voters who said they’d been selling votes their whole life. In Kentucky, for example, there was a vote-buying scheme where politicians spent $400,000 to buy the votes of more than 8,000 voters. They paid voters between $25 and $50 apiece and it was a huge federal case. In another scheme in Troy N.Y., next to Albany, they would fake absentee ballots and vote them as real votes to steal the election. The former city councilman is now in jail. There was not one word about in the New York Times even though they have a bureau 10 miles away.
Opportunist: Why do you think that is?
Eric Shawn: It doesn’t fit mainstream media, and people don’t believe it. I do love FOX because FOX gives us the ability to tell these stories. There are lots of false claims, so we do our research and focus on legitimate cases that are being investigated and the unusual, incredible stories that aren’t being told. A state representative in Arkansas pled guilty to giving out little bottles of vodka in exchange for votes. The ‘vodka for votes’ case came out in a federal indictment in Little Rock. One co-defendant was quoted outlining their plan to use a black limo to cross the state line into Memphis and buy a couple cases of cheap bottles of vodka and whiskey to bribe voters. In Texas there was a case involving cocaine and money in exchange for votes. In Kentucky, major cocaine and marijuana dealers admitted to buying votes to steal elections. I went to Kentucky for a week and interviewed the U.S. Attorney in Lexington. We drove down into the county where this happens. On the ground it takes a lot to make TV and at FOX we are given the ability to do this.
Opportunist: What do you enjoy most about Election Day coverage?
Eric Shawn: The analysis and interpretation by all the pundits is the most fun for me. It’s one big coffee klatsch. [Laughs] I will be anchoring from 1 to 4 o’clock in the morning, and I believe we will be very busy.
Opportunist: Is it ever difficult to maintain objectivity while covering elections, or any other issue for that matter?
Eric Shawn: You know, I’ve often thought about this. It really becomes natural when you look at news as just common sense. Here’s something they probably don’t teach in journalism school: Years ago I was in federal court with the iconic New York columnist Jimmy Breslin. Some reporters were arguing about the news and Jimmy broke in and yelled, ‘No! It’s none of our business. We are news people. If it’s true put it in the paper, then go have a drink and go home and let society sort it out.’ I thought that was a great expression for a journalist. Yes, you should be impassioned by wrongdoing. You need to, as they say, ‘Right the wrongs, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,’ but when you’re a reporter like me—as opposed to an opinion person—you let common sense and basic ethical values guide you. You don’t spin. You let the facts fall where they may. Whatever it is, put it in the paper and go have a drink. [Laughs]
Opportunist:Please tell us about your work on the FOX weekend show, ‘America's News Headquarters,’ and some of your other assignments.
Eric Shawn: It’s a thoughtful and direct ‘hard news’ program. I especially like to anchor on Sunday because many viewers who watch public affairs programs have an appetite for news and flip over to us. The weekend is a great time to have newsmakers like representatives and senators on the show. We do a lot of international affairs and John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,is a regular guest. I interviewed the late prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto,a few months before her assassination in 2007. When Nelson Mandela died we had former Mayor Dinkins on because they were close. Four years ago, I did a taped interview with President Ahmadinejad of Iran.
The issue of radical Islamic terrorism is a beat of mine, and we’ve been covering the Iranian resistance movements against the Tehran regime. We have a story coming up about the supposedly moderate President Hassan Rouhani, and we are looking at the truth about Iran because the nuclear deadline is coming up November 24. What will happen with these nuclear talks? Will they be delayed again? Critics say it gives Iran more time to reach their nuclear goals, but Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
The greatest concern is what can America do about radical Islamic terrorists and ISIS and Western passport holders who believe in jihad and are either overseas or could come here as so-called lone wolves. I believe they are already here. We saw what happened in Canada last week and in Times Square a few years ago. I’ve covered terrorism since the first radical jihadist attack in 1990 and people don’t know about it.
Opportunist: Can you fill us in?
Eric Shawn: Meir Kahane, an extremist rabbi, was shot to death [in a hotel conference room] near 48th street and Lexington Ave. in New York City. The guy who shot him followed Omar Abdul-Rahman, the ‘Blind Sheikh,’ and his Attica prison friends went on to bomb the World Trade Center three years later. Radical Islamic terrorism has been with us more than a generation. It is one of the major challenges of our time.
Opportunist: After Election Day, what’s next for you?
Eric Shawn: Go to sleep. [Laughs] Then, it’s on to the next story.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
Follow Eric Shawn on Twitter: @EricShawnonFox
FOX News - www.foxnews.com
Watch Eric Shawn On-Air
Eric Shawn on execution of Iranian citizen - http://video.foxnews.com/v/3858957391001/iran-executes-another-citizen/#sp=show-clips
Facebook and terrorism - http://video.foxnews.com/v/3859497107001/facebook-clues-for-terrorism/#sp=show-clips
Midterms and the young vote - http://video.foxnews.com/v/3858764369001/midterms-in-10-days-the-young-vote/#sp=show-clips