Thursday, September 13, 2018

Wednesdays at Michael's by Diane Clehane

Lunch with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota

Diane Clehane and Alisyn Camerota
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I was very excited about my lunch this week with Alisyn Camerota, the anchor of CNN's must-watch morning show, New Day. I first met Alisyn when her first novel, Amanda Wakes Up, which received lots of good notices, was published last summer. It’s a terrifically fun read about an idealistic cable news anchor thrown into the deep end during a crazy presidential race. The book drew raves from National Public Radio and Glamour Magazine called it one of the best books of the summer. With the book now out in paperback and the daily onslaught of head-spinning political news, I thought it was a good time for a catch-up. We certainly had plenty to talk about.

“It was a really gratifying experience,” said Alisyn when I asked her how writing – and then promoting – the book has been for her. “It has opened a million doors for me with speaking engagements.” Since then, she’s spoken at the Forbes Women Summit and the intriguingly titled Women’s Campaign School at Yale. “They teach women how to run for office and they’ve never been busier,” said Alisyn. “Since the [presidential] election they’ve had so many women asking, ‘What can we do about turning our anger, frustration, and despair into something productive?”

There is no such thing as a slow news day anymore, noted Alisyn. “I have recently likened it to a hamster wheel on fire. There is a circular feeling to it. Every day there’s a new norm broken by a tweet or a statement to cover – but it’s on fire.” That is certainly the case in this particular news cycle, she said. “Between the Woodward book and the anonymous op-ed, we’ve heard some of this [before], but it’s never been compiled like this – page after page.”

The added fuel of Trump’s ire toward the press has added a new dimension to the coverage. “The ‘enemy of the people’ stuff is really unfortunate.” Especially, when the president pointedly directs his comments to journalists present at his events sometimes calling them out by name and often by referring to them as “those people,” said Alisyn. “People pay attention to what their leaders say. It’s not a joke.”

To that end, she has been testing the waters with regular voter panels for CNN that take “The Pulse of the People.” Aliysn has been moderating these panels since last year. “We’re not MSNBC and we’re not Fox, I like to check out what’s on the minds of viewers, and then I try to channel them for the rest of the year.” The most recent voter panel is scheduled to air next week, and Alisyn gave me a preview of the results. She recently sat down with six women from swing states of various political affiliations who voted for Trump. The findings may or may not surprise you. Three of the women, said Alisyn, are “disappointed” by the president’s behavior and said they were “embarrassed by their vote.” Here’s the kicker – they are planning to vote Republican in the midterms because they “like the lower taxes, like the policies and like the rolling back of regulation.”

I asked Alisyn what her takeaway from the poll was. “I think Democrats banking on a blue wave should temper their excitement,” she said. “People vote with their pocketbooks, not with their feelings.” Then she added, “If we learned anything from 2016, it’s that it’s very hard to read the tea leaves.”

Alisyn has also been at the forefront of the year’s other big story as both an activist and a journalist. As a leading voice of the #MeToo movement, she has helped give women a platform to tell their stories in a number of primetime specials, including “Tipping Point: Sexual Harassment in America” and "The Hunting Ground: Sexual Assault on Campus."

She is also on the advisory board of Press Forward, which is affiliated with Time’s Up, whose mission is to change the culture in newsrooms. The allegations against and subsequent firings of Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and Roger Ailes were a wake-up call for everyone in the news business. “All these men capitalized on the power differential,” said Alisyn. “There was this idea that the business would not survive without them, but in fact, it has been thriving.”

Alisyn recalled how it would have been “laughable” for her to go to HR with her story of being sexually harassed by Ailes during her time at Fox News. Ailes resigned under pressure in July 2016 after another longtime anchor, Gretchen Carlson, sued him and the Murdochs retained an outside law firm to investigate the allegations.

Now it’s – pun intended – a new day for the news business. The Press Forward board is working to ensure things change for the better at every level from anchors to interns. “We talk about what has to be done to make newsrooms safe for everyone.” The Press Forward board boasts an impressive roster of journalists including Alisyn’s CNN colleague Jake Tapper, PBS’ Judy Woodruff, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and Ted Koppel all lending their support and collective voices to the initiative.

When we talked about the recent allegations made against Les Moonves, Alisyn told me she didn’t know him but was struck by the fact that his accusers tell what has become an all too familiar tale. “The strain of assault that seeps into these stories is remarkable,” she said. Of course, the now-ousted head of CBS is just the latest in a long list of high profile people accused of sexual assault, harassment, and rape. According to Vox, as of May of this year, more than 200 celebrities, politicians and CEOs have been the subject of sexual harassment or assault allegations. Because of the tsunami of stories told by women about Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and Moonves among many others said Alisyn, “We learned when there’s a groundswell of women, we believe them. The silver lining to this maybe it’s not ‘he said, she said’ anymore.”

Celebrities like Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie and Ashley Judd who came forward with their stories of sexual abuse and harassment have said Alisyn, “tipped the scales” for women. “It peels away some of the shame for some women. We’re part of the same club. I couldn’t [come forward at the time], but Angelina Jolie couldn’t either.

As a member of Press Forward, Alisyn hopes the group becomes a model for other industries who can organize similarly. “We are figuring out what has to happen in television news and hopefully it can be used it as a blueprint [for other industries].”

By the time our coffee arrived, I had realized we still hadn’t talked about Alisyn’s plans for more books given the success of her first one. “There’s one story I’ve always wanted to tell,” she said smiling into her cappuccino. “I’m writing a memoir of my wild teenage years. It’s a coming of age story. People will be surprised by what I reveal and see me in a different light.” Why not another novel? “Fiction can’t compete with real life. I can’t make up anything more interesting, so I thought, let’s just go there.”



Seen and Heard Around the Room

Jay Kriegel and pals on Table One ... Mickey Ateyeh and jewelry designer Kendra Pariseault on Table Two. Kendra was sporting a delicate design of hers that caught my eye – a glittering necklace that spelled out the name of her son, ‘Otto’ in diamonds. Swanky … Bookseller Glenn Horowitz on Table Three … Uber agent Esther Newberg with a copy of Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear Inside the Trump White House perched upright on Table Four for all the room to see … Blink, and you missed them: BJ Coleman and actress Vivica A. Fox who stayed just long enough to nibble on Michael’s legendary crab cakes … CBS Television Studios president David Stapf on Six … New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia back at his usual Table Eight perch with Alex Hitz and Brooke Hayward.

And there’s more...

The headline from Table 12: PR maestro Stu Zakim, who has been very busy on cable news weighing in on his experiences back in the day when he worked for AMI CEO and former Trump ally David Pecker, told me he and fellow spinmeisters Drew Kerr and Peter Himler hosted The Wall Street Journal’s scribe Ben Mullin to chew over the latest news in media … Alisyn and I stopped by Table 14 to chat with another high powered PR man and in-demand political analyst Robert Zimmerman on our way out. Robert, who is always the best-dressed man in any room, couldn’t say enough good things about Alisyn’s “fact-based” coverage of the news coming out of the White House … Nearby on Table 18, Discovery Communication’s Group President Henry Schleiff was lunching with Kerry Kennedy, who clearly didn’t want to be noticed since she had a pink baseball cap pulled down over her eyes. What gives? … Tom Goodman, yet another PR guru on Table 25 … So glad I got the chance to catch up with Liz Wood, who was up from Washington, DC and was lunching solo at the bar.

We’ll be off next week. See you on the 26th!


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