Four weeks ago, reporter Candy Crowley took over CNN’s Sunday political show State of the Union from anchor John King, who will be moving to a weekday show to take over Lou Dobbs’s spot. We spoke to Crowley about her new role, and about being a woman on a day of the week, and in a field, dominated by sputtering white men.
So, what are your goals with the new show? What do you hope to do?
I don’t think the core of the Sunday genre changes. I think you want to have people on to either explain last week, or to look into next week. Still, one of the things that [CNN president] Jon Klein told me when I got the job was, “I don’t want Candy Crowley to do John King’s show. I want Candy Crowley to do Candy Crowley’s show.” And I wish that I could delineate for you what that is. For instance — and this is a small thing — last week we got a smaller table. And it made for a more intimate discussion, which I liked. I have topics that I’ve written out that I think would be nice to cover, but I don’t have specific questions, because I like to listen to the answers and just see where it’s going.
Sometimes it does seem like a big table makes people take turns talking.
It feels very much like I throw a jump ball, and they play the game. And some people can handle that, but just for me, I need to be able to look people in the eye and be close to them.
You are a woman on a day of the week, and in a position, where there aren’t many women. Did you think about that when you took this job?
I didn’t. When Jon offered me the job I just thought, “What a good journalistic opportunity. This is gonna be really fun.” And then it got announced three days later on the Sunday show. And I didn’t really think about the whole female part of it until I started getting all these e-mails. I got this one great e-mail from a young woman, who worked in a small TV station somewhere, saying: “I worked here and I watched you for so long. All of my friends here are so excited to have a woman. I’m going to watch every Sunday, because I think it’s so terrific and so about time. Also, it’s time for more leopard prints on Sunday.” And I just cracked up.
Are women subjected to different standards? You’ve talked about your appearance before, and whether or not that matters. Do you think that viewers look at women differently than men in this position?
I’m sure they do. I think sometimes it’s helpful, and I think sometimes it’s not helpful, depending on the viewer. I don’t think anyone ever wrote John and said, “That’s a really ugly tie and never wear it again.” But I fully expect someone, and it will probably be my mother, will write me and say: “Don’t ever wear that again.” Maybe there are more hills to climb. But you know, I’ve been a girl all my life, I’ll deal.
Talk to me about what you see as CNN’s focus on reporting. You’re a reporter. John King is a reporter. How is that important to you?
To me, it’s wildly important. I have over the years I’ve been at CNN had people approach me about going other places. And in the end, CNN was doing news. That’s what I signed up for. I wanted to find stuff out and tell people about it. I am, believe it or not, a fairly private person. I happen to think what I think about things doesn’t really matter. I mean, it matters to me and probably my kids. But I think very often what gets lost is [that] this isn’t about you. I think at CNN we make every effort to say: “This is about news, this is about what’s important. This isn’t about what we think, it’s about giving you the information so that you can think.”
Do you think there’s a place for that moving forward, especially in the context of the massive success of a network like Fox News?
I do. I’d be scared if I didn’t. People need to have a place that they trust. Honestly, in a lot of ways, I think the Internet [has heightened that], despite the fact that it so diffused information and made it so that people can easily get the information that they’d prefer to believe. But I think that to many people, because there’s so much out there, they’re dying to know where they could go to trust what they’re getting.
I liked the way you pursued Secretary Clinton over exactly what she thought of Hamid Karzai. How do you juggle the need for sound bites and television efficiency with the desire to nail down politicians whose job it is to be evasive and always say the right thing?
Who is going to blink first? I tell you, I’m still working on that. I’m not by nature an interrupter; it may be my Midwest background. But there comes a time when someone goes on and on, that you have to say: “Yes, but let me just ” I try to do it in a way that I’m comfortable with it. It’s hard. I think with Secretary Clinton I asked that Hamid Karzai question two times, but then I came back and said: “Do you want to put that question on the table right now?”
It was three times you asked.
Look, the viewer is smart enough to understand that the person is not answering the question. But I still think it’s important to lay it out there and go, “Okay, so you’re not going to answer.” Which is perfectly their right! I get why she doesn’t want to say, “No, we really don’t trust Hamid Karzai.”
Is there any subject or political issue that you cover that you’re comfortable expressing your opinion over?
Not really. But I will also tell you, I have no burning desire to do it. No journalist is a blank slate. We’re all products of how we grew up, all that kind of stuff. I can honestly tell you that the more I cover policy, the grayer I’ve become in what I believe. It’s that “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” thing. I did a joint interview with Lugar and Leahy a while back. They’re best friends, we’re talking about a liberal from Vermont, a conservative from Indiana, and the stories they have to tell about how they work together on things. They’ve been to each other’s states because they were on the Agriculture Committee together and they wanted to show one another their ag problems. I think it’s kind of that same principal applied to being a reporter.
Is that easier, you think, in the Senate because there fewer of them and they are there for longer? Is it harder in Congress?
I think that there are people who definitely bond across party lines, as they say. It is far more difficult in the House. I wish I had the figures with me, but some enormous number of districts have been so redistricted over the last 20-30 years that they are either solidly Democratic or solidly Republican. So there is no percentage in a Democrat from a solidly Democratic district, or a Republican from a solidly Republican district, to talk to each other. They don’t have to compromise. They are easily reelected because they take the whole boot.