FOX News Correspondent Lea Gabrielle talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about interviewing President Obama, her military and journalism careers and her new show “Fox Patriot Report.”
Most journalists wait their entire career for the chance to interview a sitting U.S. president. The coveted opportunity came calling, literally, for Lea Gabrielle when she was still new to the job. “I was a military reporter for NBC in San Diego when some men whom I call graybeards—former senior military officers and enlisted men—told me the military budget cuts were going to be crushing to our economy and adversely affect our country,” she explains. “They said, ‘You’ve got to get on this,’ so I did some reporting on sequestration and military budget cuts. That was a very hard sell to producers, but I believed what our viewers and the people in the community were telling me.” As it turns out, the White House saw some of Gabrielle’s news reports and subsequently contacted the higher-ups at NBC and invited her to come to Washington to discuss the situation with President Obama. “It was incredible and really quite an honor,” she says of the experience. “It taught me a lot about my profession because the way in which the interview came about was an example of grassroots journalism. I listened to people in the community and followed up, and then I found myself sitting in the Roosevelt Room interviewing President Obama with less than a year in TV reporting. I thought, Wow this is varsity! They gave me seven minutes with the president. People who cover the White House or the president of the United States were frustrated because they weren’t getting any time with him, but I was fortunate to sit down one-on-one with him. I was still very new, but I realized this is the biggest newsmaker in the country. Every question has to count. Every word you say needs to matter because you only have so much time with the leader of the free world and an opportunity to learn something from what he has to say.”
Taking on challenges is nothing new for Gabrielle, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy who served in the U.S. Navy for 12 years. During her military career, she was an intelligence operations officer and fighter pilot with deployments during Operation Enduring Freedom. She flew the single-seat, carrier-based F/A-18 “Hornet” in combat operations and also spent time embedded with a Navy SEAL unit in Afghanistan.
Before joining FOX News Channel (FNC) in December 2013, Gabrielle spent several years with NBC in San Diego and Washington, D.C., where she worked as a digital journalist primarily for “NBC Nightly News” and “Today” and their associated websites. Gabrielle currently appears on “Shepard Smith Reporting” (3 p.m. ET on weekdays), covers general assignment stories for FNC and is featured as a national security and aviation expert for both Fox Business and FNC. “The producers try to have me cover a story every day that will bring something unique to Shepard’s viewers,” she adds.
In June, Gabrielle launched “Fox Patriot Report,” a new web series on national security issues. “Many of our viewers at FOX care about national security and want to know what’s going on,” she says, adding that a new episode is unveiled every Tuesday. “‘The Fox Patriot Report’ brings my experience and perspective to the stories I am covering.”
Opportunist: What inspired your military career?
Lea Gabrielle: I did 12 years active duty, not including the four years I spent at the U.S. Naval Academy, and what inspired me is that I come from a very patriotic family. I love my country. I think we live in the greatest country in the world, and I wanted to be somebody who provided service to it. My grandfather, father and brother were in the Navy and I came from a family that believes in service so I wanted to be part of something that was greater. I also wanted an adventure. I knew there were lots of things that I could do in the military when I was young that I couldn’t do later in life, so I felt my other interests could wait. I wanted to go out and have an adventure.
Opportunist: When you were starting out, what was it like to be a woman in a man’s world so to speak?
Lea Gabrielle: It was fun. I have a big brother and I’m a baby sister. So my entire childhood I was competing with boys to be my brother’s sidekick. [Laughs] I thought it was fun to do something nontraditional for a woman. At the same time, though, people didn’t always treat me like their sister. But I enjoyed taking a path different from what my female peers were doing.
Opportunist: Can you share a few highlights from your days as a Navy fighter pilot and also when you were embedded with a Navy SEAL unit in Afghanistan?
Lea Gabrielle: My most rewarding experience was the time when I was embedded with a Navy SEAL unit. To be able to support and be involved in operations with people at that level and of that caliber was absolutely incredible. I cannot go into specifics about any missions we were on except to say that we were outside and off base. Lots of people deployed to Afghanistan spend their time on base, but we were out on over 50 missions with a very small team. That experience helped me understand the situation and work with people in Afghanistan and see how we have improved things while there.
There is nothing quite like getting launched off an aircraft carrier or coming in and landing on one. One of my favorite days ever was when my squadron mates and I did a formation with the sun setting over Nevada. It was absolutely incredible. Planes cannot go supersonic over the United States except for one place. You have to be out at sea and pointing away from land. There was a place in Nevada—at least when I was flying—where you were allowed to go supersonic.
The greatest part was just being there to support our troops on the ground if they needed us. Flying over Afghanistan in case guys on the ground needed us was a very important mission and I am proud to have been part of that.
Opportunist: Can you tell us about some of the recent stories you are covering?
Lea Gabrielle: I was fortunate to have served in the military and be involved both at the bigger picture level as well as at the tactical level. Being able to serve at the strategic level gave me a broader perspective and I have been able to bring that to my coverage of the recent U.S.-Iran nuclear discussions and the broader picture of Iran’s involvement in the Middle East and what that means. I am also covering ISIS and the fight against it and how these different countries in the region play into the whole situation and what our relationship is with them.
Opportunist: ISIS certainly seems to be in the news much more than Al Qaeda now. Why is that?
Lea Gabrielle: We are hearing so much about ISIS and how it is taking land and growing as a state or certainly trying to because it has been very effective in putting out propaganda to make us feel more threatened and to recruit lone wolves. But the intel community says AQAP, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, poses the greatest threat to our national security because they have a charter to attack Western countries. ISIS’s objective is to establish an Islamic State, so it is more focused on that region. ISIS and Al Qaeda are the same in some ways and different in some ways.
Opportunist: How did you make the transition from military service to journalism?
Lea Gabrielle: After 9/11 I wanted to understand where we were in terms of national security, what brought us to that point and where the military was headed in the future. I studied current events and written reports to understand the war I was fighting in. Journalism is really tomorrow’s history written today and, unfortunately, I felt that sometimes the reporting I was seeing wasn’t getting it right. The military plays such a big role in our country that we as journalists need to understand the military. Part of the reason our country works so well is freedom of the press. We have the responsibility to inform our public.
Opportunist: We understand you covered the lifting of the ban on women in combat. How do you feel about that issue?
Lea Gabrielle: Obviously part of the reason I wanted to fly F/A-18s was because I wanted to be at the very tip of the spear. I knew if I wanted to serve in that capacity, fighter aircraft was the way to do it as a woman. Flying an airplane takes a certain amount of strength. The question that always needs to be asked is ‘will this decision make our military stronger and better?’ There are some roles where the answer might be yes and others where the answer might be no. That’s what our military is doing right now—trying to assess which roles women can realistically serve in. The important question everyone needs to be open to is ‘does this make our military stronger?’ If not, the answer should be no.
Opportunist: You also interviewed the first female governor in Afghanistan, Dr. Habiba Sarobi. Can you tell us about that experience?
Lea Gabrielle: As a woman who had deployed on the ground in Afghanistan, working with all male sources who had never worked with a female intelligence officer before, I really developed a deep understanding of what it’s like to be a woman in a country where people do see you differently. She was quite an amazing person who had done a lot in her life and was very progressive, not just for women but also in wanting to promote her province and make it a better place. She was passionate about education for women and had worked secretly as a teacher for girls in Afghanistan and in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. She made personal risks to try to promote education for women in a place where women at the time didn’t have those opportunities. It was really neat to meet a woman of her caliber. She was trying to promote Bamyan Province and would talk about its crystal blue lakes and wanted to bring tourism to develop some sort of economy in a place that was very poor.
Opportunist: Do you believe the United States is ready for a female president?
Lea Gabrielle: My answer is that I really do believe our country is at a point where people will vote for whom they believe is the best candidate for president, aside from gender.
Opportunist: Who is the most inspiring individual you have ever interviewed?
Lea Gabrielle: That would be a young man named Collin Raaz. He is a Marine Corps veteran and a very strong, patriotic and handsome man who served as a scout sniper team leader. I believe he was on his third deployment in Afghanistan when he lost both legs above the knee to an IED [improvised explosive device]. I was doing a story on a wonderful program in San Diego that helps veterans when I met Collin. He was moving into temporary housing after recovering in the hospital and learning to walk on prosthetic legs. Collin represents not just his story but all veterans who have internal or external injuries, those who suffer with PTSD or trauma, brain injury or loss of limbs. Within a year or maybe two after losing both legs Collin was already out snowboarding again! I know how to snowboard, so I know how hard it is. To be willing to throw himself back into it so soon after losing his legs took courage. He’s just an amazing person who looks at life and doesn’t see obstacles. Since then he has started his own business.
Opportunist: That’s amazing. It isn’t often you hear stories like that.
Lea Gabrielle: Oh my goodness, there are so many others. Collin was maybe one of the first who really hit home with me. I have met so many veterans with amazing stories of how they overcame challenges—people in combat roles especially, because their job is to overcome. Those who served in that world know how to take challenges as they come and look at them as something to attack and go after.
At the same time there are lots of obstacles and very different challenges that veterans face. One thing is the time that other people have already had in whatever career you land in after you are discharged. Veterans have to work harder and faster to get there because their peers have had that time that us vets don’t have.
Collin told me, sarcastically, ‘You know, it’s amazing Lea … [local businesses] aren’t typically hiring scout snipers. They just aren’t looking for somebody who is really good at shooting a gun.”
As a vet myself, if there’s one piece of advice I’d give it would be to figure out what it is from your own life and experience and who you are that will add value to whatever their business is. You cannot expect anyone else to figure that out. That’s a challenge for many veterans because they are very humble people.
Opportunist: What advice would you give a young person entering the workforce today?
Lea Gabrielle: I would say don’t worry about how the world sees you. Develop the image of who you want to be as your own self-image and know that nobody is going to pave the way for you. Whatever it is that you want, figure out a way to create your own path because whatever path most people are using is probably overused and worn and you’re going to be standing in line.
Opportunist: What else do you hope to achieve in your career or life in general?
Lea Gabrielle: I really believe in what I am doing as a journalist. Journalists play such an important role in our country and in what makes us such an awesome country. I look at it as a service. People have their busy lives and I feel that Americans deserve to have the truth and the right information so they can make their decisions about what they want to have in this country. I want to be known as a trusted source of information. In my personal life I think I would say that I want to build a family that is a team. That’s one of my personal goals in life.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist 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 between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
Follow Lea Gabrielle on Twitter: @LeaFOXNews
“Fox Patriot Report” Video Clips: