Sorry to take so long with this response. Busy time in DC, as you know all too well. I loved all of your questions, and appreciate your interest in AC360 and Raw Politics. I read your comments on a regular basis and truly enjoy them; nice to have a sense of what folks are thinking.
I tried to keep my answers relatively short, but not too…so I hope they suffice.
When I sent our questions off to Tom I asked if he had any pictures he'd be willing to share. He was kind enough to send along some from the early days of his career.
Tom Foreman looks a little like John Chancellor, who was my second childhood favorite TV news guy after David Brinkley. Chancellor won my heart when security forces at the 1964 Republican convention ordered the press to clear the floor and he refused to leave his post -- he was arrested and literally carried out, signing off with "This is John Chancellor, reporting from somewhere in custody" -- droll, absurd, and gallant all at once. I loved Chancellor and I'm beginning to feel the same way about Foreman -- smart, quick, and knowledgeable, with a unique (and pervasive) sense of humor -- he must be a real joy to work with, and he certainly is fun to watch.
He was probably just a baby (or not born yet) in 1964 and may not remember Chancellor, but I wonder who his favorite TV news reporters/anchors have been, and who/what inspired him to become a journalist (or did he just stumble into it?). However he came to be reporting the news on TV, I'm glad he's here -- he does an outstanding job at whatever he's handling and it's always a pleasure to see him.
Your words are flattering and much appreciated. John Chancellor was the anchor of NBC nightly news when I began in radio as a high school student. A dinner I shared with David Brinkley some years ago remains a highlight of my career. Through thirty years of reporting, I have been fortunate to work and walk among giants.
Peter Jennings taught me a great deal. Ted Koppel is still an idol, and it is always a thrill when I run into him on the street and we stop to visit. Others inspirations, especially for their exceptional writing: Jim Wooten, Doug Kiker, Charles Kuralt, Lloyd Dobbins, and Charles Murphy, to name a few.
From Carrie M:
First, I would like to thank you for your time and effort in doing this. It's a great treat for all of us news junkies! Could you talk a bit about your time with National Geographic's 'Inside Base
Camp?' What interviews stand out and what did you enjoy most about doing that show?
I love being at CNN and working on AC360 more than perhaps any other job I’ve had, but Inside Base Camp was a blast. I typically spent a few days reading massive amounts of research about each guest, digesting the information, and then I threw away my notes and walked into the studio empty-handed. I found that this put my guests as ease, and they spoke freely and spontaneously.
The interviews themselves were a pleasure. Loved talking with Doctor Ruth. She was a highly skilled sniper in the Israeli military before becoming a sex doctor. Loved talking with Seth Shostak…guy who looks for intelligent life in the universe. (insert your joke here) Mike Wallace was hugely entertaining. Jane Goodall. Ted Nugent. Several former presidents. We won an Emmy award in our first year for Best Interview, and that made us all pretty proud.
From Book Asylum:
"The Lion In The Village" and "Ambush at the River of Secrets" are two of the best hours of journalism that CNN has aired. How did you end up getting involved with these two packages and what did you take away, personally, from working on them?
Our series of documentaries on the war grew out of hot summer afternoon in my office. I was frustrated that all the daily reports of attacks and the ascending death count seemed to lack context. Everything was running together, making the public disengage. I told our president, Jon Klein, that I wanted to do something different and he said go ahead.
A wonderfully talented and creative producer, Amanda Townsend, shared my interest and enthusiasm and we started calling military families all over the country, seeking out stories that would best convey what they and their loved ones are going through.
“Ambush at the River of Secrets,” “The Lion in the Village,” and our latest hour…which will air soon, ”The Anvil of God,” are the result.
Working on these shows, meeting all these brave and decent young Americans and their families, visiting their communities and the graves where some of them now lie, has been a profoundly moving experience for both of us. So much so, that I wrote these programs almost exclusively in the hours between midnight and five a.m., so I could be alone with my thoughts and the overwhelming awe and, sometimes, sadness that their service commands.
Even though I grew up in a military family, I have developed a higher level of respect for our troops than I have ever known before, and greater faith in the outstanding qualities of our nation’s young people. Amanda and I also made some great friends in the process; military families who honor us with continued interest in the series and their kind notes and calls.
From Sheryn Royce:
Tom, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Being the political junkie I am, I can't tell you how much I enjoy your Raw Politics segments! I'm always curious as to what events in history fascinate members of the media. If you had the ability to travel back in time, which event would you most want to cover and why?
Hard question. I am always reading history-related books. Right now, it’s a new biography of Houdini, and an account of the great Dust Bowl of the 1930’s.
One event? Not far back: World War One…saber battles, mounted cavalry charges, aerial bombardments…interesting stuff.
That said, however, I am just as intrigued by small things: I would love to have seen a gas lit stage show or a vaudeville review; gone to work for the day with a man during the Industrial Revolution; or witnessed a bit of the Civil War.
This one is my favorite, because of the caption Tom included "Nicaragua, 1990 (shortly after this picture was taken, I spent 6 years hosting a talk show under the pseudonym 'Sally Jessy Raphael')."
A lot of people in this country, young and old, have become disheartened about politics and won't go out to vote because they think the outcome will be the same. What would you say to these people to get them reenergized, thinking about the issues, and that their vote does count?
Frankly, getting people energized about the political process is what Raw Politics is about. I believe if we can point out the absurdities, underline the truths, and help people get the information they actually need to make a smart decision…despite all the noise and dust that a campaign season kicks up…a lot of folks might feel like they can make a difference. Why should people vote? Because, trust me, Washington is not going to fix itself.
From Purple Tie:
Love your style of reporting!
It's time for one of those obligatory questions that all interviewees get at one time or another but I'll mix mine up a bit.
If you could invite 5 people to a dinner party who would they be? Pick one from each category. (By the way, I hope I'm invited!)
80's rock star/band-
Presidential Candidate that didn't win-
Pop Culture Icon-
Of course you would be invited. Wouldn’t be a party without you.
2) Thomas Dewey (you’ve got to think he’d be good for a laugh)
4) Harper Lee
5) Tonya Harding (got to have someone to keep Dewey in line)
A Viewer in Virginia:
I'd like to where do you get your sense of humor from, and where did you go to college?
My Dad is a very funny guy. I also used to put a tape recorder next to the TV to record comedians on the Tonight Show when I was in junior high school, then I would rip off their routines. I actually had a couple of teachers who would ask me to stand up and do bits when they had extra minutes at the end of class.
College: Troy University in Alabama.
Tom in Albania
Please tell us a little about the off camera Tom Foreman. Your family, hobbies, favorite authors, favorite episodic television, things in your life that you are the most proud of, etc.
I have a fabulous and understanding wife, Linda, who has spent twenty-one years as the most helpful, supportive, wise and caring spouse anyone could hope for; not a small trick in the national news business, which is famously hard on families. We have two wonderful daughters who want to be an astronaut and a veterinarian, and both have the chops to pull it off. One dog, named Nola, for our old home in New Orleans. A rabbit. A fish. Two birds.
My daughters and I run together every day, rain or shine, hot or cold. We all play instruments. Piano is the favorite for the girls, and I prefer the guitar. I used to play in a rock band, The Crabs, and we once opened for The Grass Roots.
I paint and draw, and have sold a few paintings but have never really worked at it.
Authors? Can’t begin to name them all. Dostoevsky, Dickens, Steinbeck, Twain. Lots of classics, but plenty of modern authors, too.
Television? Loved Sopranos, West Wing, Chappelle’s Show, Gilligan’s Island.
You didn’t ask for movies, but I was once a movie critic, so: The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Miller’s Crossing, Matewan, My Life as a Dog, Lost in Translation, Blue Velvet, Goodfellas, Tin Cup, The Big Lebowski, and pretty much anything by Woody Allen.
My wife hates it when The Hustler, in particular, comes on cable, because even though we have it on DVD, I’ll almost always stop whatever I’m doing to start watching and raving about it. Along with the book by the same title, it is one of the greatest character studies of our age.
What's the most important lesson you've learned in this tough business?
Out of all the stories you've covered which one has been the most emotional, and why?
Not an easy choice. The war documentaries this past year have been incredibly moving. Columbine was hard, because it was near my own home in Colorado and my girls used to dance on the Columbine stage. I covered the 1985 earthquake in El Salvador, and was quite touched by an all night effort to find survivors in one collapsed building. I think that affected me particularly, because my wife and I had just returned from our honeymoon when I got the call to go.
Here’s a general thought, though: When I started in this business, I was so busy trying to just do the job right, I had very little time to worry about emotions. Over the years, as I’ve grown better at it, I’ve become much more aware of the human tragedies unfolding before me, and sometimes that can make for very sad days.
Thanks from all the visual learners in the world for being Mr. Google Maps. Does the fascination with mapping come from a stint in the Boy Scouts or military service? Also while on the topic of your segments on 360, are you encouraged to be snarky or is that just your natural delivery?
I’m pretty much naturally snarky, especially when it comes to people who are all puffed up about themselves, so you can imagine how much fun Washington is. The maps? Not sure. Maybe I’ve just been lost a lot.
There has been a lot of talk lately about states moving the dates of their primaries forward. Do you think this will or could affect the outcome of the election itself? Does it contribute to a feeling that some states are more important in an election than others? (In a democracy, shouldn't all states, all votes be equal?)
Yes, yes, and sort of. The primary push could absolutely affect who emerges as the frontrunners, and whichever states ends up leading that charge will have a disproportionate influence. As to your last point: all votes should be equal, but that does not make all states equal. California, which I think has a billion residents now, certainly has more political muscle than Rhode Island, which has about 180.
Kidding aside, the bottom line is, even with the Electoral College, the biggest states have enormous punch in any national election, and nothing is going to change that in the near future.
There was a time when candidates' ads would tell you why that person was the best one for the job. Nowadays it seems that most ads just attack the opposition. Given the long campaign for president this time around, I dread the time when those attack ads start in again. I would like to know if you think this trend in advertising is likely to continue and if you think there is anything we as voters can do about it, when all the candidates seem to be engaged in this negative campaigning.
Brace yourself. Attack ads have become such staples for both parties that you can expect to be slammed by them in this election. Voters could change the practice by simply not voting for any candidate who engages in such things, but that’s not going to happen. On the other hand, if you dislike an ad, you can always call the campaign behind it and give them an earful.
From Lavendar Blue:
Tom - Do you have any hidden talents or tricks and where do you buy your ties?
I started a magic show when I was twelve and performed for about ten years…malls, schools, civic clubs, fairs…had thirty-two doves, floating ladies, ventriloquism, fire-eating. Lot of fun, but oddly, not such a good strategy for getting dates.
My ties come from everywhere. My wife and I are always on the look out for fine specimens, and we do not practice catch and release. We like it, we buy it.
I'm a big fan of "Raw Politics" and you and Candy Crowley do an excellent job, but what is the goal with the comedic twist on the segment and the latest developments with candidates and government? I think the sarcasm is funny, so do you think of the quirks as you read the latest stories and is that what is put on the air?
I want people to pay attention. If they’ll listen for the jokes, but pick up the information, that’s good. And frankly, how can you not laugh at much of what happens in politics? You’ve pretty much nailed my method. I read the news…notice the natural humor…and then just cut loose.
From Alice Sung:
I love your take on Raw Politics, great puns and one liners. Did you write your own script for the segment? Where did you find all those buttons, dolls and other props for the show? Do you keep them afterward? Finally which job you enjoy more, political analyst or interviewing politicians. Thank you to making Raw Politics fun.
I write all of Raw Politics, but must give props to a couple of my producers, Katie Ross and Jim Spellman. They’ve come up with some screamingly good lines. (Not all of which I can use, by the way) We find the props around town; on the internet; sometimes people just send them. I usually throw them on a shelf in my office until I give them away to passing co-workers or guests. I like interviewing politicians, but only when they drop the talking points, and just tell me what they think.
From Annie Kate:
Tom explains things so well - with words, diagrams, maps, etc. - that the viewer actually understands at the end of his report the facts as well as the nuances of what he is reporting on and he always ends on a funny note - what kind of background does he have that enables him to do this especially when he has such a short time slot to report on a lot of stuff and he has to keep it succinct.
I’ve read an awful lot over the years, and I’ve come to be a great admirer of stories. Consequently, I think of every subject in terms of a story: beginning, middle, end. I think that helps me and our viewers understand what is happening.
What irks you most about the federal government and the way it is run and why?
The federal government is huge and complex and can’t be painted with a single brush. Lots of good people work in it, both in elected, appointed, and merit jobs. However, in a general sense, what troubles me most is the extent to which some in government clearly believe the voters are here to serve them, not the other way around.
Tom in Kosovo
Do you believe there will ever be a time when we do not have to have a show called "This week at war" or will it always be around just with a new name?
War has been a constant in the world, and presumably always will be. That said, America has enjoyed wonderfully peaceful periods where armed conflict has seemed distant and of little concern. We will have such times again, and I’ll happily cancel my own show.
I'm a huge fan of yours. I think you do great work and I LOVE your Raw Politics segments. They are the best ones on AC360!! I have written in and told Anderson that several times. Here is my question:
Do you get to choose which story you want to do or is it assigned to you? And once you have the story how long do you have to work on it before it airs?
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. It is greatly appreciated!!
I choose most of the subjects for Raw Politics, and I propose some of the other stories I cover. Most often, however, our show producers in New York ask me to look into specific subjects in the news.
Most of my stories are developed in a day. Sometimes we have a few days to work on them…sometimes only a few hours.
Tom, you are such a versatile reporter. I really enjoy how you inject your sharp sense of humor into the day's Raw Politics as well as your heart-felt documentaries memorializing our fallen heroes of the Iraq War. I would like to know how difficult it is to have covered a cold case like the Jon Benet Ramsey murder. We always talk about how difficult it is for a family in these cases to live without a conviction or some type of resolution. I was wondering how frustrating something like that is for you, the reporter?
I’m not particularly frustrated by such stories, because I’m naturally patient. I accept that some cases may take many years to solve, and some may remain open forever. Maybe this is part of it, too: I have seen how absolutely awful it can be for families to never have an answer about the loss of a loved one, and consequently I have never felt right worrying about my own feelings in that context.
The press seem to be a very powerful influence on politics. The media seem to focus so much on the "top tier" candidates that most people don't know much about the "bottom tier" candidates. Do you believe the average person seeks out balanced information about all the candidates to make up their mind at this point in the campaign? Does the press focus on who the public think are the front runners (polls) or does extended coverage of certain people make them front runners?
The top tier candidates do get a tremendous amount of attention, the media does play a role in determining who is anointed that way, and that is categorically unfair to bottom tier players.
But all of those points may be necessary evils. Voters are trying to lead their lives…do the shopping, go to work, take care of the kids…few have the time to engage in a detailed study of all eighteen candidates. In truth, a great many voters don’t really know much about the positions of the person they ultimately choose. They vote on a general, positive feeling about the candidate, or a strongly negative feeling about the opponent.
I think we can and should do a better job of exposing people to the ideas of the second tier players. I’m not convinced that many of them will then rise to the first tier…after all, campaign fundraising plays a big part in making that happen no matter how good your ideas may be…but they can force the top players to address important issues they may prefer to avoid.
From Ruby Slippers:
Esquire Magazine has a regular feature called "Funny Joke From A Beautiful Woman"...I'm shamelessly borrowing their concept for ATA's "Funny Joke From An Intelligent Newsman". Go ahead, Tom: make me laugh!
Two communists are at a nudist camp.
One says, “I say, have you read Marx?”
The other one says, “Yes! I think it’s the wicker chairs.”
A minister, a rabbi and a priest walk into a bar and the bartender says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”
A suite of jokes from my younger daughter:
How do you get an elephant into a refrigerator?
Open it up, put him in.
How do you get a giraffe into a refrigerator?
Take out the elephant, put him in.
The lion calls a meeting of all the animals in the jungle. Which one is not there?
The giraffe. He’s in the refrigerator.
You come to a river filled with hungry crocodiles. How do you get across?
Wait until they go to the meeting.
Tom in Kosovo
Our deepest thanks to Tom Foreman for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer our questions.