Profile: Bombs in Boston, Golf in Naples
Life is plenty of hustle and competition for Baier as he pursues his passion for journalism and yen for his favorite sport.
Bret Baier likes to say that covering news in Washington, D.C., is like drinking from a fire hose. His job is to turn that rush of information into more of a water fountain-sized stream that TV viewers can easily quaff.
“Not to confuse the water analogies, but it’s a fluid situation every day,” Baier says from his office at the FOX News studios in Washington, where his show Special Report goes live each weeknight at 6. “We are constantly examining what should be on the show up until 5:50 or so.
“And we could easily do two hours a day. Not that Shepard Smith would like that too much. But it’s a challenge to tell people everything we want to tell them in an hour when you are dealing with so much stuff.”
Although his underlying goal is to get good ratings—and he’s been besting the competition for going on five years straight now—it’s how he’s doing it, he says, that makes it all work.
“We are always self-analyzing,” he says. “We are always trying to pull outside the Beltway, to do stories that other people are interested in outside of D.C. And we are doing stories you aren’t hearing about on other networks.”
As an example he notes the coverage of the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor accused of killing seven infants and a woman in his clinic. At the time of our conversation, the story wasn’t making much in the way of headlines outside of the Philadelphia area and on FOX News. But it suddenly gained steam before being pushed aside for coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.
The case had all the makings of a classic cable news hit and Baier’s team quickly picked it up. But other media outlets shied away from coverage at first, leading many people to raise the issue of media bias—both for liberals on the side of those not wanting to touch something that would paint abortion in a negative light and for conservatives on the side of FOX for hitting the story hard.
The bias charge is something Baier tries his best to tune out. Certainly he’s aware of the claims that FOX has a right-facing agenda. But he’ll be quick to point to his hard-hitting interview with Mitt Romney during the presidential primary season that in many ways caused the campaign to severely reevaluate itself.
More than anything, he says he’s really not paying attention.
“I do my show from 6 to 7,” he says. “I work hard all day to put it together. We have some of the best reporters with great reputations. I don’t really think a lot about what the talking heads are saying. And at the end of the day, at 7:01 we have something that I think shows the quality of what we do.”
But he does acknowledge the talking heads and the 24-hour news cycle do play a role in his job. “They make it really hard to govern,” he says. “It makes decision-making tough. You just talk of making a decision and already the talking heads are on the air talking about why you should or shouldn’t do it.”
Looking at Baier now, it would be easy to imagine that he had been born into the anchor’s chair. But it takes a lot of work to make things come off smoothly. And that’s actually Baier’s strong suit. Long before he was beaming live to millions of cable-watching living rooms each evening, he was bouncing around local affiliates trying to catch on as a reporter.
Few people consider gigs in Beaufort, S.C., and Rockford, Ill., glamour posts. They certainly aren’t TV jobs that afford you second homes in Naples, where Baier and the family come as often as possible to visit his parents and in-laws, who both stay in the area at least part time.
Heck, even his first few years with FOX were far from impressive. Sure, his title sounded great—Atlanta bureau chief.
“But the Atlanta bureau was my apartment, a cell phone and a fax machine,” he says. “Still, there were a lot of great stories to cover in the South.”
Baier’s first big break came during the Bush-Gore recount in Florida, where he was camped out in Tallahassee with a cameraman and a Ryder truck reporting on the biggest story in the world at the same time FOX was making its jump to No. 1 in the ratings.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001. As reports started coming out of New York, Baier got in his car and started heading in that direction. When the plane hit the Pentagon, he was diverted there. Two weeks later, he was the network’s national security correspondent and was later covering the White House. But the goal was always Special Report. “That’s the show I was always pitching stories to,” Baier says. “That’s where I wanted to be.”
And after filling in as Friday anchor for a few years, when Britt Hume—the show’s founding anchor—decided to step back from full-time work, Baier had positioned himself as the only man FOX could possibly put in the job.
Since then, life has changed. He’s gotten married and had kids. One of his children, Paul, was born with five congenital heart defects that have required more trips to the operating table than Baier would like to remember. It’s made him an outspoken advocate for children’s health research.
And it’s made him a better anchor.
“It teaches you what’s really important,” he says. “That’s family and life. It’s made me focus on the bigger things and to try to move above the bickering. It really took me to another level.
“I’ve sat in those waiting rooms next to other families. I know the toughness. And I know how important of an issue health care is. I was seeing it for real.”
After the election in November, Baier’s wife, Amy, had hoped things would slow down a bit. That the family would get to take a little more time in Naples to play on the beach and for Bret to spend more time on the golf links.
An avid golfer from a young age, Baier admitted during our interview to being as glued to the coverage of The Masters as he was to anything else. “I’ve got a little app running in the corner of my screen with the leaderboard,” he says.
But as much as he’d love to be in Georgia watching in person, there was a gun control battle on Capital Hill to follow and a possible nuclear standoff in North Korea.
“You hope to take a breath,” he says. “But it never ends.”