Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 03/18/22

Tough times don’t last, kind people do. While Russia’s  brutal assault on the Ukraine  has the people there living in immediate fear for their lives and has heightened worldwide fears of a nuclear war, here in the U.S. a new McLaughlin and Associates poll (commissioned by Summit.org) finds a different kind of fear growing – as fully a third of Americans say they fear losing their jobs due to personal beliefs that don’t align with an unforgiving cancel culture.

If you’re like me, you may be finding the current state of affairs a tad depressing. At least I got a dose of the optimism I think we all need right now when I spoke with Adrienne Bankert. The two-time Emmy winner and former correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America recently made the unconventional decision to leave that top-rated show for the relatively off-the-radar upstart news channel NewsNation where she now hosts its first A.M. entry. Morning in America (weekdays 7:00-10:00 AM ET), which debuted last September 27th, is making an idealistic attempt to offer a nonpartisan alternative to competition that tends to (sometimes blatantly) lean left or right. As the title suggests, the show also reflects the optimistic outlook of its host who, BTW, is also the author of the  inspirational book Your Hidden Superpower: The Kindness That Makes You Unbeatable at Work and Connects You with Anyone. Our conversation follows the clip from the show below.

JWK: It must have been a big decision to move from ABC to NewsNation. I mean you were on the number-one morning show – Good Morning America – and then you go to this fledgling upstart news channel which, by the way, my sister is actually a big fan of. She thinks every other channel has an axe to grind but you guys refreshingly play it pretty much down the middle. I’ve only seen clips on YouTube because I can’t find it on our provider.

Adrienne Bankert: Did you look on NewNationNow.com and look at the channel finder and put your zip code in?

JWK: I will have to do that. Getting back to your decision to leave ABC, going to NewsNation was quite a leap.

AB: It was quite a leap. I made quite a leap to get there. I think that in our lives a lot of times people look for signs of what’s right or what’s wrong but you really do have to follow your gut. You have to have a belief stronger than statistics or a brand name – and I knew in my heart of hearts that I was meant to/destined to/called to Chicago and NewsNation. It was just something that I was extremely sure of. When people talk to me and say “You know, it’s just starting out” like that was a big risk, I think it’s not a big risk when you’re confident that you’re doing the thing that will put you in the right place at the right time with the right people.

So, I just knew it and it became a very easy decision at this time in my life and my career as well to do something that would challenge me. Being a correspondent versus being an anchor of a three-hour show is quite a step up and one that I don’t take lightly. So, a lot more responsibility and a lot more challenges – but a lot more opportunity to reach people and tell compelling stories.

JWK: There certainly a lot of news to cover. As we talk now, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has wrapped up his speech before the U.S. Congress.

AB:
Oh, yeah. We carried it live. It was the third hour of our show…We carried the entire speech and (spoke to) a couple of our correspondents and listened to a few of the lawmakers in Washington and got their take on it. It was just part and parcel of how some of the experience that I had at ABC News prepared me for things like that.

JWK: I have a lot of criticism of the news media but the coverage of this war is kind of a reminder of journalism at its most noble. You have to hand it to these war correspondent, some of whom have already been killed or injured.


AB:
It is not something that is for everybody – but there are some who feel highly called or that their purpose is to cover stories in foreign nations and it (can be) very dangerous and so I’m very grateful (to them). We have a a great foreign correspondent named Robert Sherman who was hired a few months back and is a great addition to the team. He’s in Poland now.
JWK: I want to talk about your book but first I’m curious about what it is about NewsNation and Morning in America that you think set the channel and show apart from the other choices out there.

AB:
I think the key word is intentionality…NewsNation intentionally says “We’re gonna do the news and we’re gonna do it in a way where we’re not leaning left, we’re not leaning right. We’re gonna tell the story straight. We’re gonna leave it to the viewers to decide what their opinion is about a story…We’re going to (give voice to various) perspectives because there are a lot of Americans on every side of the political spectrum who have felt like their voices are not being heard. And it’s not that we are perfect. It’s not that we’re better than anybody else – even though I would say that we’re doing an awesome job – it’s that we are intentional about doing that.
JWK: That’s kind of going back to the old ideals of journalism which, unfortunately, have been pushed aside in recent years. There’s a place for editorial opinion but in too much of the so-called news reporting going on these days you know exactly where the reporters are coming from – and what side they’re on – and you really shouldn’t.

AB:
That’s the truth – and that’s not what a lot of Americans want right now.

JWK: You do Morning in America out of Chicago whereas the other morning shows are pretty much all done out of New York, so I guess that helps connect you to different perspectives. You do a segment called A & Main.
What does the A mean?

AB:
Adrienne.
JWK: That makes sense. I watched what I believe was the first one you did (above) which was from your hometown of Sheridan, California. The population there is about 1000. How has your small town upbringing given you a perspective on how to cover the news?

AB: I was born in Los Angeles (so) I’ve always been a country mouse and a city mouse – so I can relate small town America. Again, 1000 is pretty darn small. (There were) no sidewalks…I went to a community college because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and yet I did. I just didn’t know if I believed in myself or not…I thing there are a lot of people who end up making it, so to speak, who are from smaller-town America.
JWK: From what age to what age did you live in Sheridan?

AB: Probably from four till nineteen.

JWK: How did you make your leap into television journalism?

AB: I attended the University of Southern California. I give due credit to my early days as a teenager (working at) a McDonald’s drive-though. “May I take your order?” (taught me) to have a clear voice so that when people heard me they understood what I was saying…I ended up majoring in communication and hosting TV shows at the University of Southern California. It was after I graduated that I attended a job fair and they hired me to work in Sacramento. I ended up going back to the same market that I grew up watching. Sheridan is just outside of Sacramento. That’s the 20th largest market in the country still, I believe. That was my first news market. I was a children’s television host in LA for a little bit after college – but that’s how I got in. I was a traffic anchor of a morning news program. I told them (I wanted to be) a news anchor. So, they trained me and I became one of the main anchors of the morning show. So, I’ve been doing mornings for a long time.

JWK: You’re also an author. Your book is called Your Hidden Superpower: The Kindness That Makes You Unbeatable at Work and Connects You with Anyone. What led you to write it, what is it about and what do you hope it accomplishes?

AB: It’s really about how kindness serves me in my career. I have a guru in my life. He’s been a sage. He’s been a business coach. He’s just an amazing man and he’s really invested in me. He said “You need to write a book on kindness.” And I thought “I’m not kind enough to write a book on kindness. You should write a book on kindness!” He was like “Nope, you’re the one that can do it.”

So, I sat down and I thought about all the times that kindness has served me. I got my job in LA as a freelance reporter and anchor because a woman who had known me my entire career told the general manager “I never heard her say a bad word about anybody.” I didn’t get it based on my resume. I thought about the people who were kind to me and opened doors for me in this business that I didn’t deserve on paper – but they believed in me. And I thought about the people who were difficult to work with. I thought if other people could see that kindness wasn’t simply being nice but is actually something that benefits us in a myriad of ways then I’d serve the purpose of this book. I’m really proud of it. I released it during the pandemic in 2020.

A lot of people work in industries – not just television but all industries – where they’re challenged by people. I think more so than ever we are challenged – our temper is challenged, our emotions are challenged by the pressure that everybody is under…Being kind has been, for me, a way to remedy the effects of that anger and that frustration.

JWK: Speaking of the pandemic, that seemed to me to be an event that could have caused to rise to the occasion and come together in unity against a common enemy. Unfortunately, it seems to me that too often the media would divide us into factions, highlight the “gotcha” moments and create excuses to cancel people out who didn’t hold the so-called correct opinions right out of the conversation. What are your thoughts on how well the media models kindness?

AB: I think modeling kindness is just the tip of the iceberg. I think that kindness ultimately reveals to us and to others who we really are. When you’re yourself that eliminates Cancel Culture. That eliminates competitiveness and envy. That eliminates insecurity and lack of worthiness. You just start to believe more in yourself.

When you believe more in yourself, you don’t have to ask “gotcha” questions. I don’t think that “gotcha” questions are the (way) to a good interview. I think it’s somebody’s (way to create) shock value…but that’s not the way I do it. I’m not here to criticize anybody else’s techniques. It’s just that I think we’re all a lot smarter now that things like YouTube and Google exist. People can tell when you’re asking something – or making a joke – in a way that is unkind. We have to be more aware that we can’t afford to show the world anything less than our best because we’re being more harshly critiqued than ever before. I don’t want to walk around on eggshells.

To me this book was an excellent chance for me to investigate (kindness works in) my own life and to see how it works in other people’s lives. The most confident people I’ve known are the kindest people I’ve known.

JWK: So, you seem to be saying that kindness is good in and of itself – but, beyond that, you tend to me more successful when you’re kind.

AB: You are more successful when you’re kind. I’ve met some of the most influential, impactful people, the most famous people, the most wealthy people in the world and they are some of the kindest, most authentic people. A lot of people can be blinded by success – where you meet somebody and you’re just fanboying and fangirling out and you don’t see the real person because they’re so glittery, so tall, so famous and so impressive or whatever. But, at the end of the day, they’re just another person who puts their pants on one leg at a time (and are saying) “Let me just be myself. Let me be free to be me today.” They’re really (often) the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met.

JWK:
I’ve met a lot of famous people too and I agree with you. Most of them are really nice – though maybe not everybody.

AB:
There are always exceptions.

JWK: So, what’s next for you? How do you see Morning in America evolving and do you have any more books in your future?


AB:
I’m working on a second book right now. At the same time, launching the show has really taken up a lot of energy – in a good way. My hope is that more and more people will see Morning in America.
JWK: Have you seen growth in the ratings?

AB:
Oh, yeah. I mean we literally started building a show from nothing. We had no morning programming. Talk about something where you had to believe in something bigger than yourself. Literally, our evening lineup just kept expanding but our show was the first to appear on our (schedule where) paid programming (previously aired). It’s an organic build – and that’s where you know you’re really invested. You’re really building up viewers…one person organically at a time. There’s no way to fake it.
JWK: What kind of feedback have you gotten?

AB:
They say “Omigosh! I’d given up news until I saw your show…I was not gonna watch any more but now I am.” That’s the prevailing expression from emails, phone calls, text messages and tweets. People are like “Wow! I didn’t think it was possible for there to be a show where I didn’t feel like they were telling you what to think.”
JWK: Where do you see yourself in ten for fifteen years? Where would you like to go in your career?

AB:
I believe this show is gonna explode. I really do. I believe NewsNation is doing something that the world is craving. So, I’m all for their success and I’m really hopeful. I plan on working on a number of projects because I’m multifaceted as a person. In a perfect world, I will help create programming. I’ll (also) be able to write some screenplays because I just think that – whether it’s film or television – the world is craving optimism. They’re craving hope. In addition to (that), I have five books inside of me that still need to be written. We have the chance (through) content creation to help tell the story of humanity and possibly help, in a sense, create the world we want to live in and we want our children to live in.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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