Almost every teenager has that certain person they look up to as career inspiration, whether it be an actor, author, musician, artist, or journalist. For me, this person is Dana Bash, CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent. Dana has covered six election cycles, moderated numerous debates, and has talked to countless political figures throughout the years. She took the time to talk to me, a sixteen-year-old aspiring journalist about the start of her career, how it has changed throughout the years, her series, “Badass Women of Washington” and more.
AR: Was it always your intent to become an on-camera reporter?
DB: No. Definitely not. It wasn’t even always my intent to be in journalism. I grew up around it. My dad worked for ABC News for 41 years. And actually both he and my mom went to journalism school. And because of that, I was able to see all sides of the business and how exhilarating it is, and how much fun it is. But I also saw that your schedule really isn’t your own. Your schedule is based on the news, many times. So no, I definitely didn’t. Then I went to college. I came to GW [George Washington University] in DC and I realized that it actually is what I want to do. I got interested in politics, and I got interested in government. I started doing internships and got into the business and stayed in it for a long time!
AR: Were there any specific journalists that inspired you at the beginning of your career?
DB: There were a lot. Candy Crowley, who is the best writer in television news, still, and probably always will be. Judy Woodruff was a CNN anchor when I started at CNN. She definitely smashed the glass ceiling many times as an early female television reporter and then anchor. I’ve had some mentors as well. Steve Roberts, who is actually my professor and Cokie Roberts’ husband. He used to be the New York Times Reporter for years and years. Then he became a professor and I was in one of his first classes. He was really, really a great mentor and terrific journalist.
AR: Over the years, you have done such fantastic reporting. Considering the current political climate, Donald Trump’s attacks on the media, specifically CNN, and the White House banning cameras at press briefings, has your approach to obtaining and reporting information changed at all because of the administration’s attitude towards the media?
DB: I wouldn’t say it is because of their attitude towards the media. But yes, I think that things have changed. It is not because of their approach to the media, it is because of their approach to, well, sometimes it is, but mostly, it is their approach to getting all the facts out, or not getting all the facts out. Getting information out, or not getting information out. And getting their story straight. So it’s a very different environment. Being a journalist used to be reporting “he said this” and “she said this” and then you decide. And it is a lot harder these days for lots of reasons to do that. It is not what we do anymore and we shouldn’t do that anymore. Now it is more of “he said this.” Is it accurate? Then “she said this.” Is is accurate? Does it add up? And I think that is what we should be doing.
AR: I loved your series, Badass Women of Washington, and I want to talk about it with you.
DB: Oh good! That makes me so happy! I’m so glad! Okay, sorry! [laughs] Continue.
AR: In the series, you touch on sexism in the workplace. What did you learn from the women you interviewed about battling sexism and secondly, how have you dealt with sexism in your career?
DB: I was actually kind of impressed. Nobody tried to sugarcoat it. Everybody to some extent has battled a version or a form of sexism. It is what it is. The people who I interviewed who were in a generation or two ahead of me had it much different and it was much more overt. Some of the women told stories about reacting in real time. Like Catherine Cortez Masto. [She] told the story of being in a law firm as a young woman, and a man saying “You have really nice birthing hips.” Which is obviously so overt and so over the top, it’s crazy. A lot of women today, in workplaces across the spectrum, feel it a little more subtly. Whether it’s the notion that you maybe don’t have to pay women as much as men, and a whole bunch of other issues.
I think talking about it is the best thing to do so that other women and young women, like yourself, can hear about it and get tips on how to deal with it. Also so that men can hear about it and realize that some things that happen that they might not even realize feel “not okay” should be stopped.
AR: Yes I completely agree. How do you think the female friendships that you’ve made at CNN impact your career?
DB: Oh – in such a great way. Because things are different now, in that it is not like it was at the beginning of the female entrance into the journalism workforce, there are a lot of us. We really have formed a sisterhood over the years. CNN sisterhood is real. I mean, with Gloria Borger, Brianna Keilar, Elise Labott, Pamela Brown, and on and on and on. We all just have each others’ back. We have similar issues, life and work wise. At different times we have dealt with different dilemmas and challenges that come up and it is really cool to kind of have each other to play off of. It’s not only at CNN. Some of my really good friends are technically my professional competitors. Nancy Cordes at CBS and Kelly O’Donnell at NBC. We’ve gotten to know each other so well by covering the same stories over the years. Again, we have so much in common when we have to deal with the “work-life balance.” It’s really great. I’m really lucky.
AR: I love that. You have interviewed so many people over the years. Is there a specific person that you wish you to interview and never got a chance to?
DB: My god, I’m sure there are so many. Richard Nixon. He did the famous Frost interviews, but when he retired nearing the end of his life, he [lived near us] so we would pretty much see him walking his dogs. I was your age and I always regretted not figuring out a way to knock on his door and get a download from him. [I wanted] to really see what he was like in person. Obviously, he was such a historical figure and an interesting guy.
AR: What is something that you feel sets you apart from other journalists?
DB: I am little! This helps in scrums because I can crawl under people’s legs and I’ve done it before!
AR: Today lines are often blurred between factual reports and personal opinion. Is there ever a point in which you feel you must insert your own opinion?
DB: No. No. I mean, who cares about what my opinion is? My analysis based on my experience and history and observations and most importantly my reporting, that is okay. My opinion is irrelevant. That’s not what we do as journalists.
AR: Since you are my first big interview, who was your first big interview?
DB: I think my first big interview was probably when I was covering the White House. Aside from talking to Senators and Congressmen, like Ted Kennedy and well-known people in the hallways of Congress, which I did a lot. My first big sit down television interview was after the tsunami hit in Asia and President George W. Bush was in the White House. He tapped his father, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the guy who beat his father, to kind of head up an effort to raise money and awareness for tsunami recovery. They did a round robin of joint interviews of Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush and I got to do it. So I got to interview two former presidents in the White House. I was in my early thirties. It was really cool.
AR: Other than the school newspaper, where could an aspiring journalist like myself focus her attention to learn the ropes in today’s world?
DB: Gosh. In today’s world, there are so many outlets and options that people like you know more about than people like me [laughs]. Because of the internet, there are so many digital outlets. There are even digital outlets for explicitly and specifically for young people. There were kid run newspapers back in the day, but now I think it has really exploded. So I think that avenue, trying to find a place that caters to you will help. How old are you?
AR: I just turned 16.
DB: Oh. My God. I don’t even think [laughs] that it is even legal for you to work at a place that is [bigger]. But like I said, there are student run and student and young people focused news outlets. I would definitely say gravitate towards those.
Be sure to check out Dana’s fantastic new series, Badass Women of Washington.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Article originally posted in Bold Magazine.