Anchor Alisyn Camerota Is CNN's Fox News Whisperer

CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of CNN

The 'New Day' co-anchor spent 16 years working for the ratings leader, which has informed her commentary during the Trump presidency.

Alisyn Camerota doesn't work at Fox News anymore, but she can't seem to avoid talking about it.

Camerota is the rare former Fox News host to have joined a rival cable news network, putting her in an ideal — yet uncomfortable — position to offer her honest analysis about a topic of frequent discussion on cable news: the right-leaning network's close relationship with President Donald Trump, who takes advice from the opinion hosts, insults the news anchors and hires from the pool of contributors.

Camerota, who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter last week after co-hosting her three-hour-long show, said she's concerned about hurting the feelings of people she likes who still work at the network. (Shepard Smith and Brian Kilmeade were among the Fox News cohort who attended a party for her new book in 2017.)

"I am conflicted because I do not want to insult my friends," she told THR. "I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. I don't like being in this mortal combat position."

But few hosts on cable news are better equipped to explain to viewers how the network works. "Because Trump relies on Fox and visa versa, and policy is often driven by Fox, her experience and analysis of that relationship is critical to understanding the Trump presidency," said CNN contributor Joe Lockhart.

Camerota's mantra for understanding Trump himself? "Don't overthink it."

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Do you enjoy talking about Fox News and the network's connection to the presidency on a regular basis?

No, I don't enjoy talking about it. I am very conflicted about talking about it. I wish I didn't have to talk about it. I still have a lot of friends at Fox. I am very close to some people at Fox. I still socialize with people from Fox. So I don't like talking about how they run their operation, but the times that I talk about it, it's when the hypocrisy is so astonishing that I can't t help but to talk about it. I remember what the talking points were there, what the mandate was there, I remember the issues that we went crazy with. That drove our news cycle for days, weeks. Now, I can't believe that they've forgotten that. There are times where I just can't believe the reversal on the air that they have done. ... 

They went berserk when Barack Obama would use executive action. Now, they don't care. The idea of sitting down with dictators, the idea that Barack Obama said he might consider that — they went crazy, went berserk with that. So all I'm looking for is a little, like, position consistency. ... Their 180-degree turn has been astonishing for me. Sometimes it is just hard for me to imagine what Roger Ailes would say about all of that. ...

I'm not trying to go rogue. I'm not trying to insult them. I'm trying to point out there is a major discrepancy between what the mission statement, as I understood it, was and what they're now saying.

Do you like any of the opinion hosts personally? Do you have friendships with any of them?

Yeah, of course. Of course. Of course! I mean that's the problem, that's why I always feel so conflicted about this — is because personally, they were warm and still are, but I don't think that that excuses what you say with your megaphone.

Some former Fox News employees will point out on air that hosts like Tucker Carlson have been personally friendly to them.

Totally. Of course. Therein lies the struggle for all of us. Which is: which one is the real person? The people who are railing against and saying all sorts of toxic stuff on the air? Or the people in the green room who are really nice and ask about your kids?

When you were at Fox, was there a big gap between what you believed and what you said on air?

When I was there, I wrestled with this all the time. I struggled with it all the time. Trying to keep my job while trying to also preserve my own ethics and moral compass and I struggled with it so much that I wrote a book about it. Amanda Wakes Up was born out of the knowledge that their imbalance was neither fair nor balanced, and my frustrations boiled over into my having to write about it. Because I didn't really have anywhere I could go to vent all of my frustrations about it because Roger was judge and jury, and so I just had to process some of it and it spilled out onto the page. So, I have been feeling — the hypocrisy of fair and balanced, I've been wrestling with for a long time.

Did you ever imagine that Fox News would be such a daily topic of conversations during the Trump presidency?

I feel like I watched the Trump phenomenon be created at Fox. Fox & Friends gave him a standing slot every week and I watched him go from bon vivant real estate mogul to political pundit. And I watched that metamorphosis and I watched how the viewers responded and because they rated, then Roger wanted him on more and Fox & Friends wanted him on more. So I saw it happening, I saw it through my eyes. I knew there was that symbiotic relationship.

Some current Fox News opinion stars didn't always like Trump, which he remembers and occasionally points out.

I think that a lot of people at Fox, whether or not they were truly conservatives or truly right wingers, always knew where their bread was buttered. And now the whole loaf is just so buttered up with Trump love. Obviously, it's just a decision that people have made to be all in.

There is an ongoing debate about whether Trump needs Fox more or if Fox needs Trump more. Do you have a position on that?

I think Trump needs Fox more. He needs that platform. Fox existed before Donald Trump and they can go back to being Fox with Donald Trump. Without Donald Trump they will go back to hating the issues of eminent domain and hating the deficit and hating cozying on up to dictators and hating what President Trump said at Helsinki. They'll go back to that immediately if Donald Trump isn't around anymore. This is a strange aberration where they have forgotten those bedrock principles that they used to believe in.

Do you think the president is being strategic, or trying to keep Fox honest, when he snipes at the network on Twitter?

I don't think it is strategy. I think that it is truly just a visceral reaction. I think this has been charted. He sees something where somebody from the DNC is on, or a Democrat is on, and he is confused because they have been such cheerleaders for Trump that he is confused — at this point he's confused when they give a Democrat air time. So I don't think it's strategy. I think that he just picks up Twitter and is like, 'What is happening here?'

He has, in other words — the president has given up thinking that they're a news outlet. The president has given up thinking that there is any semblance of balance. He believes they are his channel. You heard in one of the tweets the way he described it, like "not working for us anymore." ... He thinks that they are a reliable cheerleader, and when they deviate it confuses him. 

Do you worry that your commentary about Fox News will come off as competitive griping, considering the head-to-head dynamic between Fox and CNN? (CNN president Jeff Zucker has called Fox "state television," while opinion hosts like Carlson and Sean Hannity frequently attack the network.)

I am conflicted because I don't want to insult my friends. I don't want to insult my friends. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. I really don't want to. I don't like being in this mortal combat position. ... So the idea that now we're mortal enemies, I don't like it, I'm not comfortable with it. Again, I wish I didn't know about what I knew about how Fox operates. It would make it easier for me to be silent about these things, but when it just becomes so glaringly hypocritical it's very hard, as a journalist, to just sew my mouth shut and pretend I don't know what I have.

How would you compare working at CNN to working at Fox News, particularly on the opinion side?

It's just night and day. On every level, it is dramatically different. I never, ever have had Jeff Zucker tell me what I need to say. Never. And with Roger that was a weekly occurrence. And if I say something that Jeff thinks is wrong or doesn't agree with, we can hash it out, we can debate it. He recognizes that I might have a different take on something, which was not OK with Roger. And, by the way, in terms of journalistic standards, there are some. CNN is built on them. CNN is built on the mechanics of journalism. At Fox, nobody ever asked me for a second source. Nobody ever mentioned it. 

Did you have a positive working relationship with now-Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott when you worked there?

Sure, yeah, of course. Of course. She's a lovely person. She's a lovely person. She was always warm and supportive of me. 

How do you think the president feels about you?

When I have heard from him — I believe that he always did like me personally and I believe he secretly harbors still a personal affection for me and until I hear otherwise ... despite the fact that he called me a disaster on Twitter. I think that was a passing moment of peeve. I think that the president still likes me. And, by the way, he should still like me. Because I am, I think, extremely fair. I am extremely fair to him. I really go out of my way everyday to make sure what I'm saying does reflect fairness.

Do you think you understand him?

I do. I do feel like I understand him. I feel like I understand him from being around him at Fox and because I see so many similarities between him and Roger Ailes. They are cut from the same cloth on so many issues and so many things they say and so many world views and because I came to understand Roger, I do feel like I understand that archetype. 

Has anything surprised you about the Trump presidency?

I have been surprised by the degree to which President Trump has used Fox as his temporary employment agency. That is more than I thought was going to happen. If you go down the lineup, I will forget some of them, but so many people who I worked with on the air are seemingly his first go-to for any void in his cabinet or in his staff. ... It didn't occur to me. But if I were still at Fox, I would be secretary of state. 

Have you acclimated to the pace of the Trump-era news cycle?

I spend some portion of every day lying supine on a sofa or on my bed staring out the window at the branches of a tree gently wafting in the wind. I mean, I have to find a way to get centered and regroup and get back to something zen. Everyday. Because it is crazy-making. 

Have the president's rhetorical attacks on the press — including a strong focus on your network — reinforced your desire to work in cable news?

Yeah. I am very grateful. I'm very conscious every morning that I have a platform and that I can do with this platform what I want. And I am very conscious of trying to, as best I can, lower the temperature; as best I can, trying to be fair; as best I can, trying to be reasonable. And as best I can, trying to give people some hope and human spirit of humanity as they head out their door in the morning. I really take that role seriously.