Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 03/29/21
Fox News @ Night anchor Shannon Bream is looking forward to tomorrow’s launch of her new book Women of the Bible Speak: The Wisdom of 16 Women and Their Lessons for Today. She’s apparently not the only one. When publishing plans were announced in February, the title quickly hit #1 on Amazon’s Movers & Shakers list.
In the book, just the second publication of FOX News Books (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), the Christian journalist/author looks at and contrasts the extraordinary journeys sixteen Biblical women whose stories, she believes, still serve as an inspiration for people today. Here’s our conversation about the book, her career at Fox News and her own challenging-but-inspirational journey.
JWK: You have spoken in the past about your strict religious upbringing. Do you see that as more of a psychological foundation for the life you’ve built or an obstacle you had to overcome?
Shannon Bream: Well, you know when you’re a kid and you think your parents are the strictest, meanest people in the world? There were no excuses for getting away with anything. I mean both my parents were very committed to getting (me) an education. My mom was very, very strong in her faith, as well. Still is. She is with us. So, I think, as a kid, sometimes you feel like it’s oppressive – and it’s a lot and there are rules and this, that and the other but the older I get the more I appreciate my parents for keeping me out of a lot of trouble. And I understand, certainly, what they were doing. I think pouring faith into me and that being such a big part of my life growing up was a huge blessing. I find, even now, I look back on…things that I learned in Sunday school and church and they are there. They’re planted. They come back when I need them. I’m really grateful for that foundation…My mom actually had a plaque that she hung in the kitchen that said “Meanest Mom in the World.” So, it’s not like she wasn’t proud of it. She embraced it.
JWK: You actually took part in a video promoting your alma mater Liberty University which, of course, is a Christian college. So, I guess your experience there was good.
SB: It really was. I would just say that I think college is such an important formative part of your life and I felt really blessed that I got to go to Liberty where (I got) a great education. I had wonderful professors. They really saw you as a human being (and) not just another kid in class or another number on their roll. I felt there were deep personal relationships. I made lifelong friendships and I found my husband there so, for me, it was a really important time of my life and I’m super grateful for it.
JWK: I guess to pay for college you entered some beauty pageants and actually won a couple of them – you were Miss Virginia and Miss Florida. From your background, that seems slightly risqué to me. What led to that decision?
SB: When I was in college at Liberty, I competed in the Miss America pageant. I had a wonderful guy – who is one of my best friends now – who was cutting my hair at that point…He said you really should do it. I thought about it. I watched it as a kid with my mom and my grandma growing up. So, I took part in that when I was in college. I did not think (that) the first year that I entered I would end up as Miss Virginia and go on to the finals of Miss America. It was kind of a rocket ship ride, honestly. But, you know, they were one-piece swimsuits and it was pretty modest. So, my family was very supportive of it. They felt like it was something that I could do (in a way to honor) my faith. The scholarship money that I made did put me through college. I didn’t come from a family with a lot of means. So, for me, it was a really great relief to graduate from school with no student debt and I’m super grateful for that. And I did think that was it. I thought this was a wonderful experience.
Five years later though I had a chance to compete in the Miss USA Pageant as Miss Florida. It was definitely a different pageant system but, again, it helped put me through law school and I learned a lot from it. It forces you to travel and meet different people and get comfortable speaking to all kinds of groups…So I feel really grateful and blessed that I got to do both of those
JWK: Getting more serious, you were 24 when you became engaged and your fiancé was diagnosed with a brain tumor. What was it like going through that? What did it teach you about life, and yourself and God?
SB: It definitely makes you grow up very quickly – to hear the words “brain tumor” for somebody that you love and have just decided you want to spend your whole life with. Both my husband and I grew up with deep faith backgrounds. Our families are certainly deeply rooted in that. So, there was so much comfort in that…We would hear from people that we didn’t even know. We would get cards or calls from people and actually written notes from people – that’s before everything was, you know, internet and social media – saying “We’ve heard about your story. We put you on our prayer list” The Body of Christ is really a very big Body and family around the world – with people you may not share the same language with or background or anything else but you share your faith and belief in Christ. It was so encouraging to us.
It was definitely a roller coaster ride. There were some very, very dark times. My husband has openly shared about that and the depression that he went through and the difficult recovery process but I think both of us grew in our spiritual walks individually and, certainly, together. It’s something that gave us a really strong foundation going into marriage.
JWK: May I ask how long you’re married now?
SB: We’ve been married 25 years.
JWK: So, you went into law when you got out of college.
SB: Yeah. I majored in business as an undergrad at Liberty and then at Florida State – in the law school – I did kind of continue on in that track of employment law in business and the workplace. So, I came out and did employment and labor law for a few years and handled a lot sex harassment cases (and) race discrimination cases. I use that all the time (in my current work). Unfortunately, there’s so much of that in the news these days. It really equipped and prepared me to be able to look at these cases and be able to think about important things like due process and the fact that our legal system has a way to handle these really difficult, very important issues. So, I’m glad I had the experience because it’s certainly been something in the news quite a bit in the last few years.
JWK: What led you to decide to pursue journalism?
SB: I am a news junkie. There’s no two ways about it. I’ve always been very interested in cultural events and what’s happening and watching things unfold. I think that I always had hoped that I would do something involved with the news business but had no idea how I’d pursue it. I went into law and practiced that but the news junkie part never went away. I felt like that passion or that burning (desire) to kind of dig into the stories and find out what’s really going on never went away. In fact, it got more powerful.
So, while I was a lawyer, I did an internship at a local ABC affiliate in Tampa, Florida. From the minute I walked in, I was just in love with the whole process. I started at the very bottom, making coffee and answering phones and writing scripts eventually for the news anchors. I really just took the first job I could which was a 2:00 AM to 11:00 AM schedule and I loved every minute of it. I (felt) I was in the right place.
You know, it’s very disruptive to your life to work in the news business and work crazy hours and weekends and overnights but I loved every minute of it. I felt like this is what I have a passion for. I thought “I’m just going to do it now” – I was about to turn 30 – and there’s no time like the present. “I will get my midlife crisis over with now and see where I go from here.” Listen, it wasn’t a perfectly smooth path but I’m so grateful for every bump, every twist and turn, that led me to where I am now.
JWK: You have mentioned that you once actually got fired from a TV news job with the boss telling you that you were the worst reporter he ever saw on the air. How’d that happen and how do you recover from something like that?
SB: We all get bad news sometimes. That was a real blow because I had left my law practice to go pursue this. I’m sure I had a lot of improvements to do – and I still think that now. I think there are always ways that you can get better at your job and learn more and hone your skills.
So, it was really hard to hear those words -“You’re the world person I’ve ever seen on TV” – but it lit a fire under me…It made me decide “You’ve got to be honest with yourself about what you need to improve” and “You’ve got to be honest about whether you’re really committed to pursuing this career.” So, I’m thankful for that boss because he was probably telling the truth and it really was a sort of kick in the teeth to figure out where (to) go from (there)…It really made me be serious about my priorities and the fact that I had to be honest with myself about what I needed to work on. So, he actually did me a favor but it didn’t feel like that at the time. It was really painful and it took months till I could even get another interview for a position. From there, God opened doors and was faithful and guided me each step of the way.
JWK: How did you get to Fox News?
SB: After getting fired there, I eventually took a job in Charlotte – which is a fantastic place and was a wonderful place to work. I learned so much from my coworkers there. Then I got a call to come to NBC local in Washington, D.C. and, again, made lifelong friends and continued to learn about the business and to grow, hopefully, in my skills.
While I was at NBC here at the local affiliate in Washington, I met Brit Hume who was then the anchor of Special Report, our primary six o’clock news show. I had a conversation with him that didn’t start off so promising but ended up with him saying to me “Would you be interested in coming to work for us covering the Supreme Court?” He only wanted to interview attorneys so I felt very blessed that I was equipped and ready to go for that. That was, gosh, 14 years ago.
Because of this job at Fox, I’ve traveled all over the world and interviewed presidents and all kinds of amazing people (including) Supreme Court justices but it’s usually the everyday person that I meet who turns out to be the (most) interesting one. So, I couldn’t be more thankful for all the experiences I’ve had.
JWK: You were also at Fox during the Roger Ailes era and had to navigate that situation, particularly I’m talking about his treatment of and attitude toward women.
SB: Yeah, that was really difficult because he had been such a visionary leader – obviously in putting together cable news and Fox News. He had instincts like nobody else and was incredibly creative and talented but, like all of us as human beings, we’re all flawed and he was as well. So, going through that very publicly and the whole transition to where we are now with so much more transparency, options for employees and a different conversation going on. It was a painful process for sure because I think at Fox we feel very much like a family. So, to kind of have to go through this really painful family problem out in the open wasn’t easy but I think we’ve come to a much better place because of what we went through.
JWK: You’ve also discussed in the past about, in addition to what you went through with your husband, you yourself had to deal with a painful medical condition that actually was so painful that suicide crossed your mind. Can you talk about that – and how faith helped pull you through it?
SB: Absolutely. I don’t think I would have made it through without my faith, honestly.
I developed a chronic pain condition. For a couple of years, I bounced from doctor to doctor trying to find relief and help and there were times, literally, I would just be on the floor of my bathroom. I couldn’t even put together a beautiful prayer. I would just say “God, please help me” or “Lord, please help me.” I’d just say that over and over and knowing that He hears us in our darkest, worst moments. It doesn’t have to be an eloquent, beautiful or articulate prayer. Just calling out to Him from our heart like “I need you. I can’t make it through the next five minutes without you.” I had many moments like that.
I did get to the point where living in chronic pain every day became so hopeless for me that I thought what a relief it would be to just not experience that anymore. I started to reason with myself “God knows. He sees this pain I’m living with every day, how excruciating it is. He would understand if I took my own life.” I began to have that conversation with myself but there was something about it that also shocked me a little bit. I knew it wasn’t logical. I knew it wasn’t healthy. I was able to share with my husband that I was actually going down that path. As a believer – and as just an amazing husband – he stopped and said “We’re gonna stop everything. We’re gonna find help for you. We’re gonna do what we have to do to get you better physically, spiritually, emotionally. We’re going to get there.”
To have a partner who shared my faith and for us both to be able to lean on that – as we had during his brain tumor and now it was kinda my turn – it was incredibly sustaining and helpful to be able to turn to verses or just that simple prayer, “God help me” in those moments (that) I couldn’t say anything else. It made me a much more empathetic person (and) I think much less judgmental about others (and) the struggles they’re going through because pain will bring you to your knees literally and in every other way. It will make you have compassion for other people and that’s how we should be as Christians anyway.
JWK: It was a problem with your eyes, right?
SB: Yes. The initial diagnoses was Dry Eye – which was definitely a complicating factor. What I found out by the third doctor I got to – who is fantastic and has done surgery for me and helped me in so many ways – is that I have a genetic cornea condition that there is no cure for. You can treat it – and the surgery was a huge help for me – but, like so many physical ailments out there, there aren’t cures for everything and we have to find ways to live with them and work through them. So, this third doctor was the one I prayed for. My husband and I prayed that night when I leveled with him about how dark things had gotten for me “Just please help us. If You’re not gonna heal me, I accept that and I know that can be Your will but please just lead me to a doctor who can help.” And that’s this doctor and he’s been a life-changer for me.
JWK: So, today the condition is not as acute as it was and you’re doing well?
SB: Absolutely. It is manageable. It’s not that I don’t ever have times of pain but they are so rare now where they were a daily/nightly occurrence for me before. I know that I can make it through and I know that this doctor is the best at this and (has) given me great relief. There are therapies that I use to treat and manage it. So, the pain is very rare and I could not be more grateful.
JWK: So, tell me about your new book Women of the Bible Speak: The Wisdom of 16 Women and Their Lessons for Today.
SB: It’s such a labor of love. I loved doing this book. I learned so much doing this book. I mean having grown up in church, in a Christian school and Christian university, I knew these stories. I’d heard them before but to really be able to take time and – with some theological experts I leaned on and asked a million questions because I don’t speak Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic – to be able and go and ask questions about these women, the times they lived in and the customs and what the words really meant in the original language.
I learned so much and was just incredibly encouraged and inspired and challenged. So, if you’re not a person of faith and you pick up this book, I think you’ll be fascinated by the stories. And, if you are someone who has studied these stories before like me, I think there’s still so much more to learn.
JWK: Besides interesting and dramatic stories and a sense of the times these women lived in, what else do you hope readers take from your book?
SB: I hope that they’ll see that the Bible isn’t just a dusty old rule book of dos and don’ts but it’s filled with stories of people who are living through problems that are very much what we live through in 2021. (We meet) women who have experienced betrayal or loss, infertility, they become widows. I mean all of that is considered with these women. I think about Queen Esther who was an orphan. She would have been the lowest in society to end up being the Queen of Persia and to be in a place to save her entire nation, all of the Jewish people. God was working in every circumstance. Every twist and turn of that story is just divine intervention.
I hope that people will see also that there are women in the book who make mistakes. They make bad decisions but God redeems (them). He can make the best of our bad decisions – where we get off track in life or we feel like we’ve really messed something up, a relationship or getting of His will or out of His plan. Multiple women in this book will show you that He is always waiting there for us with forgiveness. He can make good out of our mistakes. So, I hope it will be encouraging no matter what people are experiencing. There is hope, there is help, there is strength and there’s a way forward through faith.
JWK: Is there a particular woman in the book who inspires you?
SB: Gosh, it’s so hard because I learned so much from every one of them. I talk about Deborah a lot because she was the one female judge we know about who led the Nation of Israel. She was somebody that was considered very wise, spiritually and with legal questions. People would come to her and sit there and get her counsel on resolving their disputes. She was a voice of wisdom and of courage and God came to her and said “I want you to go into battle against the Canaanites” (who) were far more advanced and more well-equipped with chariots and all kinds of things the Israelites didn’t have but she didn’t hesitate. She didn’t try to reason with God. She actually followed through and the story of Deborah in this book (details) the incredible odds they were up against. Her own general who lead the Israelites’ army, when she went to him and said “Hey, God’s telling us to do this,” he was like “Wait a minute!” Because he’s probably thinking like somebody who’s looking at the reality of the situation but he said “Okay, I’ll go – if you go with me.” And she said “I will.”…It’s just a story of courage and of wisdom and (of) somebody who was well-respected and led at a time when the odds were overwhelmingly against her. She trusted God and He was faithful in that (bringing) victory for the people of Israel.
JWK: On April 5th (next Monday), your show Fox News @ Night is moving from 11:00 PM (ET) to Midnight (ET), after Greg Gutfeld’s humorous take on the news. I saw him on The Five suggest a Women of the Bible calendar. What’s your thinking on that?
SB: I don’t think that’s going to be a part of our project but that shows you the quick wit and humor of Greg who I think is going to be so much fun at night. With all the heavy news of the day that we have, his take on it (is) a lot of fun and he brings a different voice to it. So, I think that’s going to be a new thing for people to enjoy when they maybe need a break at 11:00 o’clock at night. And then we’ll finish out with breaking news and live news at midnight. I’m very much a night owl, so those are the hours that I’m awake and ready to go. I’m excited about it.
I have a wonderful team on Fox News @ Night. So, much of what we do is late-breaking news. Special Report is our last formal news program at 6:00 PM Eastern. So, we’ll cap it off at midnight with whatever has happened through the night. We’ll focus heavily too on the west coast where our audience will be 9:00 PM. When our show launched, I heard from so many folks we visited out in California who said “We love that there’s still live news for us.” 8:00 o’clock is early. 9:00 o’clock is still early. So, we’re excited to be able to provide that final recap of live news before folks turn in for the night.
JWK: You also have your Livin’ the Bream podcast.
JWK: So, you’ve also spoken about – including in this conversation – how much you love speaking with people. How important is it to love what you do?
SB: I think it’s a gift, really, to love what you do. I just am so interested in people because I know everybody has a story. We all do. Sometimes you can know somebody for years before you find out amazing things from their past and their history. So, I like to dig and find out what people have gone through – where they’ve had successes or trials in their own lives.
Every night at the end of the show, we try to feature a Good Night/Good News character – somebody who has done something positive or stepped up in an emergency or when they saw a need. I just think there’s so many of those people all over the world. There is a lot of heavy news every day but there are good people and good stories and people and communities that are working together to support each other through Covid, through financial challenges, through health challenges. So, I love being able to find those stories and tell them. I do feel very blessed that I love what I do. I think if you have a sort of a curiosity about the world that…there’s always more to the story than at first blush. I like digging in and finding out the truth of the matter and getting that to people. That’s our job.
JWK: Not to be presumptuous but what I think would really work for you – particularly coming out of the humor of Greg Gutfeld – is a format like Larry King Live or the old Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder which followed Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. You know, longer-form interviews with interesting people from various arenas. I think you’d be great in that format and it would really work in the time slot.
SB: You know you’re not the only one to have suggested that. That’s what I love about the podcast. To have a twenty-minute conversation with someone I think is interesting. You have more time to kind of get to the meat of the story or to their story, whatever it is. So, we’re going to do some fun new things at midnight. We’re excited about some new things we’re gonna launch.