Fox Business Network’s Washington correspondent Rich Edson talks with the Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his career, his dream to run a marathon and his days as a “Saturday Night Live” intern.
“During my five-and-a-half years with Fox Business Network, there have been enough significant moments in history to span a lifetime,” says Rich Edson, who joined the network when it first began broadcasting in October 2007. “I am incredibly lucky to be a journalist at a time when there is so much to cover and so many incredible moments to be part of.”
He has reported on the financial crisis, two presidential elections, health care law, the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scandal, the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, to name a few. “It has been nonstop, one story to the next, which I enjoy,” he exclaims. “I don’t like slow days, so this has been very good. There is a lot for us to cover. Of course, these are not the good, happy economic times that we’d like to see but as a reporter it’s a fascinating time to be in the business. I am very blessed and very lucky. I majored in history and feel I am now watching it unfold. That really gives me a rush. On New Year’s Eve, for example, we were live on air at midnight reporting that the U.S. Senate was about to vote on a fiscal cliff package that eventually passed. I didn’t need to be out celebrating at some bar that night because it was pretty cool to be live on air and discuss pending legislation. I get a real kick out of that stuff.”
Opportunist: Were you proud to be among the first journalists to report on the financial crisis?
Edson: It’s remarkable now, especially when you see the movie ‘Too Big To Fail’ being played out onscreen and you realize you covered every part of it and remember scrambling into the office on a Sunday and knowing that the U.S. Treasury Secretary was going to make an announcement. Those are major moments in our lifetime.
As for the debt ceiling, it was a time in financial markets when we really didn’t know what was going to happen. We had one party saying it should be raised with no drama and the other party saying it had reached the tipping point and refusing to negotiate it. We have had the threat of government shutdown before but nothing had passed this point before. Nobody really knows how this is going to play out, which makes it all the more difficult to try and figure out an outcome. My colleagues and I sit around in our spare time and discuss what will happen if this side does this and the other side does that, but it’s very difficult to see what the outcome is going to be. This is very exciting to cover but also somewhat frustrating.
Opportunist: Can you share some highlights from your coverage of the recent presidential election?
Edson: Being on the road was actually a lot of fun. I say that, though, not having embedded with a campaign. I was able to go out for a few days—hitting four locations each day—and then come back. I am sure that would elicit a response from some of the producers and reporters from all over the world who do not see their homes for six months to a year. I covered the Obama campaign right up until Election Day, and I also had the opportunity to sit down with GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan for a few moments. You get to see how very different each party approaches the campaign. The Obama and Romney campaigns were almost like two different worlds.
Opportunist: What was the overall attitude toward journalists on the campaign trail?
Edson: There was always a sense that people were there to defend their campaign and presidential and vice presidential picks. So much of what is put out these days or any other time in history are these talking points and shortened arguments. It has almost turned into this subjective war—on each side—about whose half-written or half-stated argument is actually true. So, I think both sides are hyper sensitive especially in the campaign phase. How quickly things can catch fire on social media like twitter, for example, so you have to be very sensitive to the things that you report. Also, many of them are incredibly professional and know what your job is and that you’re there to report an honest account of what is happening. It’s hard to say if one side was friendly or another wasn’t. They are individuals and it depends on the person, especially since so many people working on the campaigns were people who worked on Capitol Hill.
Opportunist: Did you ever struggle to keep your political opinions to yourself?
Edson: No. I think you can remove yourself from it. You are aware of what you believe, obviously, but it’s not your job or responsibility to give people a lecture on your views. Your job as a journalist is to look at a situation and report it to your viewers to ensure they are as well versed on what is going on in Washington and on the campaign trail as they can be.
Opportunist: Who inspired you to get where you are today?
Edson: My professors at Rutgers and Columbia School of Journalism and colleagues along the way. My mother and my grandparents raised me and invested so much in me that I always had this sense of not wanting to let them down. I felt it was my responsibility to give something really cool a shot—not that that they would like me any less if I decided to do something different. They just wanted to see me do what I wanted to do and never settle. I had a wonderful experience growing up about 10 miles from Manhattan. My family never really moved away from the New York area, but they really wanted to see me go out and explore. I knew when I pursued this career that I would have to do that.
Opportunist: Who is the most impressive person you’ve met?
Edson: This town is full of impressive people. Actually, I’d have to say Peter Barnes, FBN’s senior Washington correspondent. There are just the two of us down here. The knowledge and work ethic he brings is not only impressive but something to aspire to. I have never really worked with anyone quite like him. He is not only knowledgeable but also a very genuine and kind person. There is a lot to respect about Peter. I am very lucky to work with him.
Opportunist: What was the most difficult news story of your career?
Edson: I would have to say that the most difficult stories are probably at the local news level because you cover more murders and deaths and situations like teenagers dying in car accidents. There were a few times in Savannah where I covered awful stories like that. Everybody came to work on those days but wished they were someplace else.
Opportunist: When you joined Fox, was it difficult to build your network of sources and leads?
Edson: This is a job for outgoing people. You’ve got to be able to begin conversations and call people and invite them for coffee. You have to meet that first person who can introduce you to the other people and you have to figure out who can help you and who probably can’t or won’t. You are competing with people who have been there for decades, but over the last six years I have done a pretty decent job of branching out. The longer I am here the more I realize D.C. is a pretty small town. People know each other.
Opportunist: Describe your typical day.
Edson: I am one of those people who, the minute the alarm goes off, looks at their Blackberry. [Laughs] I check it to see what kind of stories have happened overnight and which ones we are covering. I read the newspaper before breakfast. Then, I walk to work.
Opportunist: So you actually take advantage of living in a walkable city like D.C.?
Edson: Yes, I am very lucky. It only takes me about 30 minutes and I usually arrive between 7:30 and 8 a.m. By 9 o’clock I am already doing the background for a story I am working on. Then I will call people on Capitol Hill or elsewhere to see if I am missing something that is worth covering, and I spend the rest of the day either writing live shots or going to White House or Congressional office buildings. I hang out there for a while in case something happens. If anything comes up, you’ve got to turn on a dime and change your coverage immediately. You may go from having one hit request in a day to working throughout the evening and afternoon hitting something major that has happened. I usually walk home after work and then go for a run or to the gym. The last thing I do before I go to bed is look at my Blackberry.
Opportunist: Is it true that you’re preparing for a marathon?
Edson: Yes. I got yelled at by the [National] Park Service just last night for running up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. [Laughs] I enjoy running for the mental therapy and being alone with my thoughts more than anything else. I might do six or seven miles when I get home from work, and on the weekends I have begun to stretch my distances out even further. I typically run over the Memorial Bridge to the GW Parkway and try to get in 10 miles. There is a half-marathon in late-February or March that I want to run, and then I will try to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. That should give me plenty of time to train. I do get apprehensive at times when I am doing seven or eight miles and I feel done and I think to myself Oh no, I have to do this plus 18 miles?
Opportunist: We heard you have another, less serious side to your personality. How did you earn the distinction of ‘D.C.’s Funniest Journalist?’
Edson: I entered a contest at a stand-up comedy show in 2010, where I told some historical jokes and did a few voices. I do those pretty well. I always enjoyed being on stage. I was in plays in college and high school, and I got involved with a group of people who wrote sketch comedy and we would put on shows and some of us did improv together.
Opportunist: You were also a “Saturday Night Live” intern? How did you land that opportunity?
Edson: One of my college professors asked me where I wanted to do an internship and I joked that I wanted to be on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Turns out, he knew someone who knew someone. Through lots of phone calls and faxing my résumé weekly, I got in.
It was pretty unbelievable to be there. It involved a lot of intern type work, but it was a lot of fun. If the stars of the show or the guest host wanted food or a pack of cigarettes, they would send me out to get it. And on Saturdays we worked from noon to whenever we got home after the cast party.
Opportunist: Who were the main cast members at the time?
Edson: Will Ferrell, who had just shot the movie ‘Old School,’ and I believe it was his last hurrah. Rachel Dratch. Horatio Sanz. Jimmy Fallon. They were down to earth, normal folks. One day I was in the cafeteria and Will Ferrell came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I don’t recognize you. My name is Will.’ That was such a simple gesture and yet here I am, 12 years later, telling the story of when this famous guy that I liked to watch in movies came up and said hello to me. [Laughs]
Opportunist: Do you ever wish you could have joined the show?
Edson: I am not saying that internship made me think I didn’t, but with my interest in history and government and politics I think I found a pretty good career. I still love the thought of writing and performing sketch comedy and cracking a joke when appropriate and being witty when you can—that stuff is fantastic—but I like being here in D.C.
Opportunist: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Edson: Oh man. Years ago, I never pictured myself doing what I am doing now. I always felt a job like this would be the dream job I would have at 40 or 50 and I got it at 26. TV is a strange industry; it takes you to some of the most amazing places that you never thought you would go. I have no idea, which is a little scary and exciting at the same time.
Opportunist: Do you believe America will re-emerge as an economic power?
Edson: You know, we hear and see so much from people with very different opinions about this. America has been through a very rough period. There are lots of negative indications about our debt burden and debt trajectory and about other countries emerging at a faster rate than we are. With all the negative news it’s easy to be down on where we are headed. But we still have a lot here and there are still many things about our country that other countries would kill for. It’s very easy to almost forget what we have—and I don’t mean on just a national level. As individuals we tend to take things for granted and forget about all the wonderful things we have in our lives. America still has much to be proud of and, hopefully, the positive will outweigh the negative in the future.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area.
Watch Rich Edson’s on air-segment about the debt ceiling. http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/2098608958001