TAMRON HALL: MSNBC Newscaster Gives News To The Nation
by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
There was good, bad and ugly to be reported during the recently-concluded presidential election, and MSNBC host Tamron Hall was one of the breakout media stars of the campaign season. Her midday program, NewsNation, emerged in 2012 as one of the best sources of information for a public with an unprecedented thirst for political news. Coupled with a tough-but-fair interviewing style, her refreshingly unbiased and balanced delivery of the day’s headlines made Hall’s show must-see TV for political junkies and casual viewers alike. Las Vegas Black Image recently went behind the news desk for a revealing conversation with the acclaimed journalist.
How did you get into broadcasting?
This is the only thing I have ever wanted to do. It wasn’t a conscious choice for me. It was just what I was meant to do. When I was a kid growing up in Luling, Texas, in a very modest home — which means poor — the population was extremely small, and in the African American community the average income was about $12,000 a year, with a lot of black families living on far less than that. My family eventually moved to Fort Worth, and they always considered me entertaining and funny. The family would get together for holidays, and my cousins and I would have little mini-talent shows where I would always be the emcee. We would have a “Soul Train” line, and I would always interview the winner. There was also a more serious side to it. I loved talking to older people about life, and asked so many questions. Before long, I was conducting interviews without even realizing it. When other children would be playing, I would be talking to some ladies in their late 70s and 80s on the block where we lived. I was very curious about everything, and would ask so many questions that it would sometimes result in the strangest conversations with these ladies. I might see a chicken across the street, and I would ask, “What do you think that chicken is thinking?” I would ask these elders about their lives, and what they were like as younger women. I always liked talking to people and interviewing them, and would naturally share what I discovered.
What African-Americans on television influenced your career?
In the 1980s, there was an African-American woman named Iola Johnson on a local ABC affiliate station. She was the first African-American anchor I had ever seen, and my life changed after seeing her report the news. It was like seeing royalty on television when I watched her. She was beyond elegant and regal, and from that day on, I remember my father telling me, “You are going to be the next Iola Johnson.” She was doing something that I just instantly knew was for me, and she was on television in Dallas for a very long time. She pre-dated Oprah, and was the person who gave me the visual of what I was going to do.
When you are interviewing people on NewsNation and there are instances of disrespect for either yourself or the black community, do you have a special formula for managing those conversations?
It is a case-by-case basis for me. I am unapologetically African-American, and proud of my community. But I am also the unapologetic daughter of a master sergeant in the Army, and a proud American. If I feel any group — women, Latino, or Asian — is being offended with disparaging words from a guest, who is going beyond a stated opinion to a darker side, it is my responsibility to challenge that person. I don’t go into an interview with a plan of taking a guest down. That is not my job. My job as a journalist is to let every voice be heard, and to challenge those opinions or those thoughts. These days you can challenge facts, because people seem to massage them for their own benefit. As it relates to this past presidential election, I believe we should encourage people to tell us where they stand so that the voters and citizens can make informed choices. I don’t believe in suppression of any voice. Even if it is offensive to me, let the person say where they stand and let the voter decide if they want that person to represent them.
I think the black agenda is the American agenda. Everyone wants their children to have the best life. I am not a parent, but I am a child of parents who wanted a life for me that wasn’t available for them. They wanted a dream for me of having a comfortable life and to be happy. The black agenda is the American Dream, which is no different than the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It might sound idealistic, but I have never seen the black agenda as anything else than what any other group would want for the next generation.
How have you dealt with challenges in your career?
My philosophy is to try my best not to acknowledge challenges, because everyone has them. If I spend time figuring out how to manage challenges, I am not keeping my eyes on the prize. People ask me all the time about “challenges.” I can’t … focus on that. I have so many goals, and instead of giving any energy to the challenge, I want to talk about the plan. Sometimes we anticipate challenges first — and there are challenges in everything we do. I recently interviewed a young veteran who lost both his arms and legs in the Iraq War. I related to his courage and determination, and never did he talk about not having his arms and legs. He talked about snowboarding and living his life. This is how everyone should live their lives: not giving so much attention to their challenges, but just doing it. I want to live my life and have others do the same, and not dwell on the challenges in life, but to focus on the path.
How do television news programs select the stories to be covered? For example, why is so much attention given to war in the Middle East, as opposed to the war on women and others in Africa?
Yes, we put our shows together but we don’t dictate the news to people. Meaning, we don’t have an agenda. We are certainly heavy in covering politics, that’s who we are at MSNBC. But we don’t have an agenda to push one story or one country over the other. We cover what we believe are the stories our audience is most interested in, and we also lately turn to technology to see the news stories that are trending, given what people choose to click on daily — or even by the minute.
What surprised you most about the 2012 presidential election?
The polls surprised me, and also how both sides were confident to the very end. The reaction to the election has been much more interesting for me than the election itself. Now, you have the Republicans acknowledging that they must recognize the demographics of America. It is interesting to see the GOP admit that they have to change the way they have to go after voters … and how the GOP must be inclusive instead of exclusive.
What is your personal opinion about President Obama and Mitt Romney?
I don’t have a personal opinion about either of them, because that is not my job. And that is not what I am here to do.
What is something about yourself that we might not be aware of?
Oh my God! I am currently learning to cook. That is my new hobby, and in the last year I have attempted to increase my culinary skills. I grew up in a house where my mother didn’t cook. My father did all the cooking for us my entire life. I have only seen men who could cook, as opposed to seeing women in the kitchen. Cooking is my way of relieving stress. I also love dogs. I have loved dogs my entire life. I love all animals. When I moved to New York, I had two dogs and a bird — and my friends would call me Ace Ventura Pet Detective, because I had so many pets. I also enjoy spending time with my nieces and nephew. I don’t have children, but I think of them as my own kids.