Problematic Women: Fox News Host Shannon Bream on ‘Finding the Bright Side’
Lauren Evans / Kelsey Bolar /
Shannon Bream, host of “Fox News @ Night” and author of the new book “Finding the Bright Side: The Art of Chasing What Matters,” joins us to talk about her time at Fox News. Bream discusses Roger Ailes’ sexual harassment scandal, her decision not to have children, her experience with chronic pain, and whether or not she identifies as a feminist. Read the interview, posted below, or listen to the podcast.
We also discuss on the podcast:
—Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., announced a $1 trillion plan this week to wipe out student loan debt.
—Author and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll is alleging that President Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in a dressing room over 20 years ago. Trump has denied the allegations.
—”Foodie Calls” (a play off of a “booty call”) are now a thing. Women are setting up a date for the purpose of getting a free meal.
—Kelsey is expecting! We crown baby girl Bolar as the Problematic Woman of the Week, and talk about how Kelsey is handling her first pregnancy. Also, we discuss why she and her husband decided not to do a gender reveal cake (and no, it has nothing to do with this New York Times article).
Kelsey Bolar: We’re back, joined by Shannon Bream, host of “Fox News @ Night,” which you can find weekdays at 11 p.m.
Shannon is also the network’s chief legal correspondent, a regular host for “Special Report” and “Fox News Sunday,” and most importantly, the author of the new book “Finding the Bright Side: The Art of Chasing What Matters.”
Shannon, welcome to “Problematic Women.” We are so honored to have you. And I have to say, as an editor of the morning email called “BRIGHT,” I love the name of your new book.
Shannon Bream: Thank you so much, Kelsey. It’s great to be with you.
Bolar: I wanted to start off by getting the abbreviated version of how you got to be where you are. It’s a dream job for many young women.
We have a lot of young listeners of this podcast, and I think you cover a lot of this in your book, but a lot of them are curious how you found your way in this career path.
Bream: It was pretty nontraditional, which I always like to share with people because I think sometimes people feel like, “Oh no, if I don’t get the right major, I’m locked in forever, or if I don’t go to school right away, or if I make a different choice then … ”
I share my story to say, “You don’t have to go a traditional path to anything.” I certainly didn’t.
Don’t feel like you’re making a wrong move if you have to commit to one of these things like a major or minor or anything else. Life will take you in all kinds of unexpected directions and it certainly did with me.
I was a business major, then went to law school, and I practiced a few years. I never had lost this itch, though, for current events and for being sort of a news junkie and pursuing that kind of thing.
I, at almost 30 years old, became an intern at a local TV station in Tampa where I was practicing law. I’d do that during the day and then any nights or weekends or overnights I could work, I would go intern at the station.
That’s where I got my first job and transitioned out of being a full-time lawyer into being a full-time … I wasn’t really a reporter there. I was sort of a producer who once in awhile, if no one else was available, they’d let me go out and do some on-air stuff.
And because of some people there who were really kind to kind of teach me on the job, that’s where I got my start, but I also got fired from that first TV job for being “the worst person ever seen on television” and was told I would never, ever make it in this business.
I share all that because I want people to know that whatever roadblock you hit, it may seem really devastating at the time, or if you take a different path than you had planned, it’s OK.
It all works out in the end if you keep pursuing what you’re passionate about, what you think that you are made to do. …
You’ll hear no a lot, but just get to the one person who says, “All right, I see this. I’m going to give you a chance,” or you make that opportunity for yourself maybe as an entrepreneur or whatever your path is. Just don’t be discouraged.
Bolar: It’s great that you have a law degree. This is something I get asked when I’m mentoring young women, “Should I go to law school?” Especially those interested in a media career.
They look at women like you and think there’s something unique about having that law degree. Of course, this is a huge time and financial commitment, so do you think that’s worth it?
Bream: You know what? I was unsure what I wanted to do coming out of college. I think a lot of people, it feels a little overwhelming to think about, “OK, I’m a grown-up now. I have to pay rent and figure out what to do with my life.”
I’d really always thought about grad school. It was something my parents encouraged me to do.
My mom had her master’s and my dad … half jokingly said to me, “You’re going to law school or medical school, so pick one.”
He wanted me to have a great education and be able to make my own choices and have some financial stability on my own, whether I ended up getting married or not or whatever I wanted to pursue.
I was fascinated always with politics and I could see how it intertwined with the law. I thought, “You know what? I’m going to go to law school. I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do with it, but I think there’s a lot of value here in learning to see different arguments, how to research, how to write, how to speak.”
I think it’s a great investment if you are tenacious and willing to put up with a couple of tough years because it sets you up for so many different things and you don’t have to use it in a traditional way. I’m certainly not doing that.
I think it’s a good investment. If you’re not going to put yourself into enormous debt over it, I think it’s good use of your time.
Bolar: Your book is about finding the bright side through often difficult times. One of those difficult times for you was not just figuratively dark, but literally dark.
You talk about dealing with a chronic eye illness, which I read about very briefly on social media when you shared something right before launching your new show.
I had no idea how painful and how prolonged this issue was for you. Can you share a bit about that with our listeners and how faith played a role in getting you through that?
Bream: Yeah, that was one of two of probably the hardest things for me to write about in the book because we all go through trials and things, whether it’s losing someone, losing a job, getting a diagnosis like I did, where you’re basically told there is no cure for this. We all go through valleys.
I thought it was important to share it, but it was hard to go back to it and sort of relive it. But I thought there’s purpose and being vulnerable and kind of hoping to encourage other people who maybe when they pick this book up or someone shares it with them, that they get encouragement from [it] if they’re in a dark space at the time.
I thought it was important to share that because it was a couple of years of really excruciating chronic pain of not being able to get a diagnosis.
I want to encourage people, even if you have a doctor who sort of brushes you off or tells you, “You’re crazy,” or as the doctor told me, “You’re too emotional.”
Yeah, I was living in chronic pain and exhaustion for a couple of years. Yeah, I probably was a little bit emotional. But you have to keep advocating for yourself and don’t give up.
Doctors are fantastic, wonderful human beings who have dedicated a lot of their lives to education and to helping other people, but they don’t have every single answer. Sometimes you just have to keep pushing.
For me, there were times when I got to such a dark place that I really wanted to give up. I remember thinking if I just went to sleep and didn’t wake up, it would be such a relief.
I just had gotten to such a tough place with this chronic pain and no hope because I couldn’t find a diagnosis.
I prayed many times, “God, please heal me from this, but if you’re not going to,” I finally prayed, “please just get me to a good medical professional who can at least help me through this.”
I ended up at the doctor I have now who’s fantastic and was able to diagnose me very quickly and get me on a treatment plan, but he’s also the doctor who had to tell me, “There’s no cure for you. This is genetic.”
It’s been a series of praying for strength, that the Lord will get me through each next hurdle. He really has.
I talk about in the books that I’m not somebody who feels like I audibly hear the voice of God.
But at my really lowest moment when I was praying just for health and for relief to make it one more day through this, feeling like he said to me not “I’m going to heal you,” or “I’m going to take this away,” or “[I’m going to] answer the prayer the way you think,” but “I am going to walk with you through this. I’ll be with you.”
That’s been enough. That, and this wonderful doctor he sent me to, have really given me my life back and I’m really grateful.
Bolar: That’s incredible. There’s a lot of reasons to read your book, but this section is particularly one of them.
As someone who watches you go on TV day after day, I just had no idea the physical and emotional pain that you have dealt with and I look up to you all the more for that. I imagine everybody who is picking up this book feels the same way.
Let’s get to something a little more awkward about the book. You talk about navigating these awkward and sometimes inappropriate conversations with colleagues in the workplace.
For you, it was former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. I’m sure most people have heard about these allegations and what happened over at Fox News by now. We don’t need to rehash all that.
But we wanted to ask, do you feel that women are disadvantaged in the workplace and what is your advice for handling these uncomfortable and often very complex conversations?
Bream: Yeah, it’s very tricky. … I used to be a sexual harassment lawyer and so I was very well versed in what my rights were and that kind of thing, but I’ve seen cases where men are subjected to harassment as well. I think the numbers are certainly more with women in that case.
But I think sometimes we have to make very delicate choices. For a lot of women, sometimes people will say, “Well, why don’t you just quit your job and find a different one?”
For a lot of women, that’s just not reality. If they have a good job, they want to hold onto it. If they’re the sole support for their family or a single mom or just a woman who’s making it on her own, it is, as you say, complex is a good word.
I do talk about my relationship with Roger in the book, again, as part of just being transparent. Like most people, he had wonderful things about him and he had negative things about him like we all do.
I saw him be incredibly generous. I saw him reach out to people who were in really tough spots and be very loyal and very helpful. He was a TV genius. He was a programming genius.
There were many good sides to him, but I did have uncomfortable situations and conversations with him that I write about it in the book, to be honest and to also share the fact that I had to draw a line in the sand for myself.
I think many women will have to make that decision in their workplace over time, finding themselves in these situations, but I think there’s so much more sunlight on it now that.
Certainly at Fox, we’ve had an enormous push for people to know exactly how to go to HR, how to report things anonymously, how to use either a toll-free line or person or multiple outlets.
In that way it’s brought about a lot of positive change, but I do think for women sometimes you make the assessment, do I want to report this? Is it going to go straight back to this person? Can I trust HR?
Those are questions that go through your mind in making an assessment about whether making this report is going to wind up being a negative thing for me, or can I extricate myself from the situation with a little bit of humor, keep my red line in the sand?
If somebody crosses it, that’s a different situation, but if it’s just navigating an uncomfortable meeting, trying to be savvy about doing that, hold onto your job, but also holding onto your respect, I think it can be very complicated. I think that’s a good way to describe it.
Bolar: Yes, and it’s nice to be able to have these nuance conversations to be straight with women and say, “There’s not a clear black and white solution to this.”
But the fact that we are bringing sunlight to it and talking about it and changing some of the ways that HR functions in different companies and corporations, and even Congress, is a good thing. We appreciate you being a part of that conversation.
Bream: Yeah, and I think we’ve seen in the last probably four or five years so many important conversations be launched on this that I think it’s important to continue them. …
I worry, and I think there’s always a pendulum when stories and issues are pushed to the forefront that you don’t want such an overcorrection.
I’ll have a colleague or friend say to me, a male colleague, like, “I love what you’re wearing. Oh, is that OK if I say that, or are you offended if I open the door or let you go first?” Or those kinds of things.
I’m like, “No, let’s be careful that we don’t make every single man in our life feel like they have to be on red alert 24/7.”
I think that the pendulum will swing back a little bit, but it’s certainly opened up a lot of conversations we needed to have.
You also opened up about how, unlike a lot of women, you’ve never felt the calling to be a mother.
I’m sure so many women feel the same way, but we don’t talk about that much. It seems like there’s not much of a “safe space” for them to have that conversation.
Why did you decide to share this publicly and what can you say about your decision and how you came to terms with that?
Bream: I think it’s one of the most common questions that I get. It’s something, even if you just meet somebody for the first time, you start talking and trying to find some common ground and like, “Oh, do you have a family? Do you have kids?” I think it’s just a natural question for people to ask.
Whenever I say no, I’m never sure what people think, if they think, “Oh, they tried to have kids, had physical problems,” or “They hate kids and think kids are terrible.”
So I never was really sure where to take that conversation with people, and because I’m asked so much and I’ve kind of fumbled around with an explanation, I thought, “I’ll put it in the book.”
I’ll just give people an explanation about the fact that I have dear friends and relatives and people who I’ve known since childhood, “I can’t wait to be a mom. That’s my calling. I love babies. I can’t wait. I want to build a family and that’s what I want to do.”
I never had those feelings and I kept thinking, “Will they kick in at some point? Maybe once I get married, maybe once all my friends started having kids.”
There was a lot of pressure from my family at times, “Where are our grandkids? Where are they?” …
I thought I need to articulate for people that I think parenthood is probably the most demanding, the most rewarding job, the role in life that you’ll ever play.
Every mom I know, whether they’re working in the home or working outside the home, they’re super women to me. I do not know how they do everything they do on limited sleep and with multiple demands on them.
I just thought … if you’re going to have children, you’d have to do it because you really have a yearning and a longing for that, because it’s going to require all of your emotion and investment and time, if you really want to be there for your children in the best ways possible.
I thought, if I’m doing it, if I’m having kids for any other reason or for any other people or because I feel pressure societally or from family or anything else, I don’t think that’s the right reason to do it.
I thought if I don’t have this maternal urge that kicks in at some point … I feel like my career in a way has been sort of a baby for me. It’s required a lot of time and effort. It’s a 24/7 job, but I love it and I’m passionate about it and driven about it. I think that’s how many of my sisters out there feel about motherhood.
I just wanted people to feel like there are different choices. That we can respect each other with going different paths as women. You don’t have to choose any one path. You follow your own heart, your own plan, and it doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s.
So, because I don’t meet a lot of women talking about it in that context, I thought I’d go ahead and share it.
Bolar: I’m sure many women appreciate your honesty. We sure do.
Wrapping up this interview, we cannot let you go without asking about your views on feminism and what female empowerment means to you.
We ask almost every guest this, so we want to know, do you identify as a feminist or do you reject that label? And whether you reject it or embrace it, what is the best way to support and empower women in whatever life path they choose to take?
Bream: I’m not a big label person so I’ve never really said I am a feminist or I’m not, because I think, for people, they have very different subjective understandings or their own interpretation of what that means.
I would say, though, that I’m all about making sure that women have choices and that we respect that.
I feel like a lot of my mom friends who are stay-at-home moms, they often feel like … they’re pushed aside. When somebody says to them at a dinner or a party, “Oh, what do you do?” “I’m a full-time mom.” The people just sort of tune out with them.
I’m like, gosh, to me that is the most laudable, hardest job in the world and something that we should respect women about if that’s the choice they make. If they want to be in work full time, if they want to try to manage those things together, we should be supportive of them.
I think if you’re really going to be about women that you should be cheering for your sisters regardless of political party, religious background, class, anything else. I think that we should be supportive of each other …
I wouldn’t want to live any place else in the world when it comes to the rights of women as far as voting and owning property and making your own choices, I don’t think there’s any place that can rival the U.S.
I’m all about supporting women in whatever choice they want to make for how they spend their lives.
Bolar: Well, Shannon, thank you so much for joining the show. I’m going to leave our listeners with a little teaser because I don’t have time to get into it with you, but you have the cutest engagement story that I had never heard before.
Bolar: That is a reason why everybody needs to go out and pick up a copy of your new book “Finding the Bright Side: The Art of Chasing What Matters.” Thank you so, so much for joining us.
Bream: Great to be with you, Kelsey. Thanks so much.