In the 1990s, Laura Ingraham was an exception to the rule, a conservative allowed into the rarefied air of network news. She was a Sunday night commentator on CBS Evening News -- matched on the left by Sen. Bill Bradley -- and then a host of a live morning show on MSNBC. In her brand spanking new book Power to the People, just out yesterday, Laura dishes on what it was like in the lion's den:
From Day One, I was a fish out of water in the television news business. I didn’t come from their world and I didn’t buy into their worldview. They knew it and I knew it. As a conservative lawyer who had worked for the Reagan administration and clerked on the Supreme Court for Clarence Thomas, I didn’t fit the CBS mold of the earnest, idealistic, liberal, "citizen-of-the-world" type attracted to the news business. I might as well have dropped in from a blinking spaceship from Saturn. One of the closet conservatives at the network told me that most of the producers and on-air talent thought the top brass’s decision to hire me was a "pathetic sell-out to the Right."
My mother used to tell me that she worried about me working at CBS. "Who will be your friend there? Who will look out for you?" she asked protectively. Her instincts were right as usual. But I was just a rookie and kept thinking ‘Any day now Paula Zahn is going to speak to me!" (In the New York bureau, I was told not to enter the make-up room until she was out of the chair.)
In 1997 I turned in a script I had written for a piece I filmed on abortion for the Sunday CBS News. "You can’t use the term pro-life," a producer said to me after reading my draft.
"Why?" I asked, incredulously.
"Because it’s CBS policy – ‘anti-abortion rights activists’ is what we use," she said flatly.
"Why?" I asked again.
Irritated that she had to provide an explanation, she snapped: "Because we do not want to appear like we’re taking sides. We don’t use ‘pro-choice’ either. For them we use ‘abortion rights activists.’"
This job was definitely not going to work out.
While I was still negotiating with CBS, a new cable network named MSNBC contacted me about becoming one of their on-air ‘friends.’ The deal was that I would appear on MSNBC three days per week and write columns for msnbc.com. It wasn’t much money, but I thought it sounded fun and different. So soon I found myself working for two different television networks simultaneously.
Compared to my CBS experience, my time as a political analyst and on-air host at MSNBC was idyllic, but still rocky. When we launched the cable network’s first live television show out of Washington in August 1998, MSNBC execs told us we wouldn’t have teleprompters for months. This was the new, cutting-edge high-tech news outlet and they couldn’t get their act together enough to get teleprompters? So my producer Lia Macko and I improvised with an easel and a big white pad of paper. Every day Lia would write the show topics on the pad with a big magic marker and flip the pages segment to segment. Guests thought it was a gag. A few months later we got prompters. I still have the pad.
The episode was a sign of things to come, a sign that the "new media" was maybe not so "new" after all....Sure enough, my producer and I ran into resistance from NBC executives on everything from whether we could book the cast of Gilligan’s Island to whether we could cover the Juanita Broaddrick rape allegations against Bill Clinton. (NBC’s own Lisa Myers did the story and we still had to fight tooth and nail to air the piece on the show.)....
I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to two news executives – Jon Klein of CBS News (now president of CNN) and Steve Capus of MSNBC (now president of NBC News). If both of them hadn’t fired me, I wouldn’t be hosting a radio show heard by millions today. I left television for a true ‘new media’ experience. And I love it.
PS: Looking back at Laura's career at CBS, I found this priceless tidbit in Brent Baker's Cyber Alert, outlining how angry the liberals were when CBS hired moderate GOPer Susan Molinari to co-anchor their new Saturday Early Show in 1997:
"The GOP News from CBS," read the headline over a May 29 New York Times editorial which argued: "With the hiring of Representative Susan Molinari to move directly from Congress to the anchor desk, CBS has reduced the wall [between news and politics] to dust. In fact, having already hired Laura Ingraham, CBS News now employs more famous Republican women than the Republican National Committee does."