Campbell Brown greets me over the phone so warmly, she could be mistaken for my best friend. “Hey!” she exclaims, with a light Southern lilt. It’s that friendly approachability, along with a passion for getting to the heart of the news and some seriously killer cheekbones, that has propelled Brown from the field, where she’s reported on the Iraq War, the Bush White House and Hurricane Katrina, into the anchor chair on her own eponymous news hour. (Campbell Brown airs weekdays at 8 p.m. on CNN.)
After taking a couple of months off following the birth of her second son, Asher, in April, Brown returned to the show in June with a renewed commitment to delivering more news and analysis, fewer soundbites, less shouting, and the sort of balanced take you’d expect from a program that was, until recently, subtitled, “No Bias, No Bull.” “We pack in as much actual news as we can, rather than just giving one perspective,” she says.
So how does she manage to tackle world issues on a daily primetime news show and raise two very young children (her older son, Eli, is just eighteen months old)? In the midst of a hectic workday, Babble caught up with the Louisiana native, who lives in New York City with her husband, Republican consultant Dan Senor, to discuss the challenges and rewards of having two under two, her mixed response to missed bedtimes, and why waking up with her baby at four a.m. is “heaven.” – Amy Reiter
Welcome back from maternity leave. Was it hard to come back?
With two, everything’s a little more challenging. My girlfriend just had a baby and was complaining of exhaustion with one child, and I was like, “Try two! You don’t even know what it means.”
So it’s been a big change, going from one to two?
Absolutely. You go from a zone defense to man-on-man. There’s never a moment when you can say, “Okay, we can relax.” Two weekends ago, my sons were both napping at the same time, which almost never happens. And my husband and I looked at each other like, “Ah! We’ve got twenty minutes to ourselves!”
And you probably spent it unloading the dishwasher.
That’s the problem. When you get those moments, you never just sit down and relax and appreciate them.
Have you restructured your work schedule to accommodate the new demands at home?
I have a really supportive work environment. My morning conference call is from home. And God bless technology for allowing me to be online and checking in at home and still be with the kids. When I come in, late morning, I’m gone for the rest of the day – I don’t get to put them to bed at night – so I try to take a little extra time to be with them in the morning. Then my husband gets his time with them in the evening, putting my older son down to bed, giving him a bottle. The mornings are my time, having breakfast and playing and watching Sesame Street; you savor those moments. You really try to carve those out and protect them. And when the baby goes down for his nap, that’s when I get on the phone or the computer and scramble.
Are you on call, too?
In the news business, you’re always on call, because events are so unpredictable.
So do you have a whole contingency strategy?
I do. Especially with two, you develop a network of friends and family and help. I had a childcare emergency not too long ago, and my mom, God love her, came to the rescue. She spent a week with me. And there’s nothing better than that. If you have family who can help you in those situations, it’s the best thing in the world, because my son, there’s no one he loves more than his grandmother.
I also have a really tight network of friends who have kids, some who work and some who stay at home. We really rely on each other. I think in New York City especially, because it’s such a big city, you really do have to rely on your community of close friends to be a network that your family might be somewhere else.
I’ve found that to be true, too. But you don’t get to put your kids to bed all week long? That’s a toughie.
Yes and no. For those who have tried to put a toddler down . . . Sometimes I look at my husband and go, “Oh, here, you put him down for his nap.” Yes, on the one hand you go, “Oh . . .” But don’t idealize how wonderful it is to put your kids to bed. Sometimes they will fight you tooth and nail.
How has Eli reacted to having a little brother?
“You hope there will be a payoff, when they become friends.” He’s almost too young to really understand. He had about two weeks of acting out, where he couldn’t figure out why he didn’t have as much attention from mommy as he used to. But he’s settled into it. He doesn’t quite know who or what Asher is. It’s just suddenly there’s this blob hanging around with us who wasn’t there before. But he’s really sweet with him. He kisses him and holds his hand and points at him and says, “Asher.”
You know, it can be tough when you’ve got two in cribs, two in diapers, two under two. You hope there will be a payoff, when they become friends. Everyone I’ve met who has a sibling that close in age has said, “Oh, we were best friends.”
Yeah, having kids so close together is probably harder for the parents than the kids.
Sleep deprivation. But once you get beyond the first year, maybe . . .
Why did you drop the “No Bias, No Bull” tagline from your show when you came back? Maternal softening?
Oh, no, no, no. It was more we felt we had sort of said everything we needed to say with regard to that. We did it for a year, because we did want to differentiate ourselves from everything else that’s on during that time, and the message was delivered. The audience knows who we are, which is a non-partisan, news-focused hour at eight o’clock.
Has your take on the news changed?
I think we’ve adjusted some of our coverage based on me taking a little break from the program, being on maternity leave and having a chance to watch as a viewer, which you don’t always get to do, because you’re so in it. I found as I was watching that I wanted more news, more information, more analysis about events and less opinion. I wanted our hour to deliver that. We pack in as much actual news as we can, rather than just giving one perspective.
Maybe everyone should take a maternity leave from time to time, come back with a new perspective. Has motherhood changed your worldview?
Absolutely. You think of everything in terms of your children. The world seems more fragile to me. I worry much more because I’m so protective. You have that mama-bear instinct, so the world seems scarier than it did when I was single, because I have these two people who are totally dependent on me.
Are there stories that you gravitate toward more now that you’re a mother and others that you feel less interested in?
My interest has always been hard news, the news that shapes our world. I’ve never really had an interest in tabloid stories. The stories I cover affect us all and the future we’re giving our kids. So it hasn’t necessarily meant a change in stories. But my kids do make me more emotional about certain things than I was before. I cry at sappy Hallmark commercials. Someone recently pitched a story about a puppy that got hurt and I was like, “You know, no. If my son saw that on TV, he’d be devastated. I don’t want to do that.”
Do you miss the career freedom you had before kids, being able to take assignments in far-off lands and dangerous places?
No. I mean, I loved that as a journalist. I feel like I’ve truly had that experience – from Baghdad to the Middle East to Hurricane Katrina to traveling with former President Bush when I was a White House Correspondent – so I don’t feel like I’ve missed out. But at the same time, when there’s a big story, you want to be part of it. “I think a mother’s brain works differently.” I’m so fortunate in being at CNN because the resources here are unparalleled. So no matter what the story, be it the elections in Iran or what’s happening on the streets there now, I feel like we can cover these stories even though I’m in the anchor chair and not out there in the field.
Is it difficult to shift focus back and forth from the big issues of the world to the quotidian concerns of childcare?
Not so much. I think a mother’s brain works differently. We can be refilling the sippy cup while doing our conference call at the same time. You learn to compartmentalize. You learn to multitask. It’s how you survive. You learn little tricks, and sometimes it feels like you’re managing perfectly and sometimes it all falls apart. But at the end of the day, you wouldn’t give up either. Nothing’s more important than your family, and when you have a job like I have, a job that I love that’s so rewarding, you do whatever you can to make it all work.
Are there things you’ve learned as a mother that you use on TV, and vice versa?
You definitely learn patience. Style-wise, I think when I was a younger correspondent, certainly at the White House, I was maybe more aggressive about my approach to stories or to questioning guests, and since I’ve gotten older, and this may have something to do with motherhood, I’m less interested in the combative aspect of that and much more interested in trying to find common ground where possible. That’s in fact become part of our show. We’re extending more of our panels and interviews to let people make their case without being cut off and without it becoming a shout-fest and to try to dig a bit deeper than the soundbite of the day. It’s not always black and white. It’s not right and left. There’s a lot of gray and a lot of diversity of opinion. And I want to hear that.
You and your husband are from very different backgrounds. How does that come into play as you raise your kids?
I think different perspectives enrich the experience as a family. But you have to be a team. It’s the only way you can make it work.
Before you got married, you converted to Judaism. How do you feel about raising your children in a different religion than you grew up in?
I grew up Catholic, but my immediate family was not really religious. I wanted to give my children religion. I wanted them to have that grounding, and I wanted help in terms of teaching my children morality. I didn’t want to have to figure this out on my own. It’s too big and too important. I think the Jewish traditions are beautiful. I’m very lucky in that it was a decision that both of our families supported. We are learning as a family and devising our traditions because, as you say, our backgrounds are so diverse. I grew up in Louisiana. My husband grew up in the Northeast. So you have to be flexible and open to hearing other perspectives. It’s a learning process not only for my kids but also for me. And it’s one that so far I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every minute of.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews these culture-clash moments – I’m thinking of when you brought your husband for Thanksgiving for the first time to your grandmother’s house and she had nothing but shellfish and pork on the menu. Is that still happening?
Not only have I been educated, but so has my family. Believe me, they no longer offer Dan shellfish and pork for every meal, but they’re from Louisiana, so shellfish was our diet. Our families are so good-spirited and very curious to learn about the different worlds. For the last few Thanksgivings both my family and his family have come to our place and they’ve become close friends. Not too long ago his cousins went to visit my family unbeknownst to us. These are his Jewish cousins from Toronto going to see my Catholic cousins from Louisiana. It’s so wonderful that they have developed these friendships that aren’t just about Dan and me.
Your husband is a Republican consultant and “no bias” is really important for you in your work. How do the politics play out at home?
There’s so much diversity of opinion around our dinner table it’s not even funny. I have always approached the issues as a journalist. It’s my nature. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. And it’s never really been an issue. And my husband is not as involved in a partisan way as he was. He’s now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“I just treasure that time, at four a.m.” He’s been working on a book about Israel. He’s not as involved in the political world. It just doesn’t dominate our lives. In all honestly, when you have children, they tend to become the focus of conversation more than anything else.
What’s been the very best part of being a mother for you, and what have you found to be the greatest challenges?
The best thing about being a mother are those moments that are just you one-on-one with your little ones. Eli, my toddler, was pitching a fit the other day because I wouldn’t give him a snack food, some brownie or something that he saw in the pantry. He was throwing himself on the floor, screaming, yelling, and I was just – ugh! – at my wit’s end. I finally plopped down on the couch and took a deep breath. And he just stopped crying, came over, put his arms around me, and gave me a kiss on the cheek and a big hug – for no reason, after pitching this horrible, horrible fit. And I thought, God, this is heaven.
My newborn, Asher, wakes up usually around 4:15 a.m., and my husband is like, “Oh, that’s so awful that you’re still getting up at 4:15 with the baby.” He doesn’t really understand that that is my most precious twenty minutes, because it’s just our moment together. It’s quiet. No one else is awake. And it is heaven. The older one does get jealous, so it’s really the only time that I can give complete and total attention to Asher. And I just treasure that time, at four a.m. Those little moments are what’s wonderful about motherhood.
Wow, you may be the only person in the history of motherhood who has waxed poetic about the 4:15 a.m. wakeup call.
I’m lucky that he’s only getting up once a night. If it were twice a night, I probably wouldn’t be waxing poetic about it.
What have you learned since becoming a mother that you wish someone had told you at the outset?
Have a sense of humor. Because no matter how organized you are, no matter how much you plan, no matter how much you think you’ve got it all figured out, it’s never going to go like you want it to go all the time. Often things are going to blow up in your face and your kids are going to look at you and say, “Really? You think I’m going to do what you want me to do?” You’ve just got to have a sense of humor about it. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy.