Anyone who watches Fox News on a regular basis (and there are millions) has seen Kirsten Powers, the attractive and charismatic liberal commentator who frequently goes head to head with hosts like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.
Prior to becoming a full-time pundit, Powers worked in Democratic politics, including serving as deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for public affairs during the Clinton administration. She also did a stint at AOL. Aside from her TV duties, Powers currently serves as a columnist for The New York Post
. In the past, Powers and I have debated politics on Fox News,
but I recently had a chance to chat with her at greater length about being a newlywed, her faith, growing up in Alaska and her now-famous fight with Fox News' Megyn Kelly.
Q: Congratulations on your recent marriage. Tell us about your new husband, and how married life has impacted your writing and punditry.
A: My husband has a "real" job -- unlike me -- he is a surgeon at Johns Hopkins and also a professor at the medical school there. In terms of how marriage has impacted my career, it's great to have your biggest fan cheering you on every day [before they were married they lived in different cities and only saw each other on weekends]. He's also exposed me to a lot in terms of Middle East politics and issues, since his parents are from Egypt and much of his family still lives there.
Q: You recently had a skirmish with Fox News' Megyn Kelly over the New Black Panther Party story. The video went viral, and I started seeing headlines like, "Megyn Kelly DESTROYS Kirsten Powers" (and vice versa). What's your take on the state of cable news punditry, and how the new media has changed things?
A: Yes, [Megyn Kelly] also apparently "owned" me too, according to the fifth graders who post the videos. New media has changed things because now everything happens so fast that if someone posts something online, there is this rush to be the first to get it on air or in print so you aren't beaten by your competition. This doesn't leave a lot of time for fact checking. As much as liberals like to claim that Fox is to blame for this, it is an industrywide issue. I try to treat every news report -- regardless of where it's coming from -- with the assumption that it's untrue or at least parts of it are untrue, until I can verify them. It's stunning how often things are just factually wrong, as any person who has ever worked on a campaign or has been caught in the press crossfire, can attest.
Q: Why do you think that video got so much attention? Was it because it involved two attractive women arguing?
I think that generally there is too much "talking points" on cable news, or on television news generally. When people deviate from the script and something authentic happens, it gets attention. I don't know how other people feel, but when any channel has two politicians on to debate each other, I change the channel. Even if I don't always agree with his conclusions, I'd rather hear George Packer from the New Yorker -- who knows Iraq inside out -- talk about the Iraq War than two senators who are going to just say predictable things and take the party line, facts be damned.
In terms of the "chick" aspect of the video, when Geraldo [Rivera] and [Bill] O'Reilly had a huge fight over immigration, it went viral, so I can't say that I think it being two women is the driving force, though I suppose for some that's some sort of twisted bonus.
Q: You've recently increased your presence in the social media world. Was that a strategic decision to "own" your online image more?
A: I wish I could say anything about my media career has been strategic [laughs.] But it's mostly been happenstance. One look at my website
-- which hasn't been updated in two years -- will bear this out. A blogger friend actually kept pushing to tweet and one day I was mad at Jim Geraghty [of National Review] for something he said on CNN and I tweeted that I thought he was sexist. [Powers and Geraghty have since made up]. So, not the most honorable impulses led to Twitter. But since then I've found it to be an interesting community and a great way to keep up to date on what my favorite reporters and writers are doing. But it's also very addictive and a huge time suck. The only reason I'm even answering these questions now is because my TweetDeck wasn't working today [laughs].
Q: As a liberal contributor to Fox News, you are frequently outnumbered by conservatives. (I have the opposite thing happen to me all the time). Is it hard to constantly be outnumbered?
A: Not really. I sort of thrive on it, actually. I grew up in an Irish family where I was expected to state and defend my positions on the issues of the day every night at dinner. My father, who was a professor, was very Socratic, which helped me hone my debate skills. People always ask me how I stay so unruffled when [Bill] O'Reilly or Sean [Hannity] comes after me, and I guess it's because it reminds me of dinnertime with my family. Would I like more time to explain my positions? Sure. But I think everyone feels that way, regardless of which network they work for.
Q: True enough. Still, do you sometimes get the feeling that no matter what you say; both liberals and conservatives will find a reason to disagree?
A: Yes. One thing that has become very clear to me over the years is that liberals and conservatives actually operate off of two completely different sets of "facts." They get their news from different places and they read books that offer completely different versions/interpretations of history. It doesn't help that both sides demonize each other to the point that you see actual hatred and contempt. I try to always be civil and treat people's views with respect, even when, frankly, I can't imagine how they have come to that conclusion. Because I'm not maligning conservative views, people always assume I am "centrist" or even about to become a conservative, which is laughable if you surveyed the positions I have taken over the years.
Q: You recently wrote about Ann Rice quitting Christianity. How has your faith informed your politics, your life, or your career?
A: Though I grew up Episcopalian, I didn't really have a serious faith until later in life. In fact, I was pretty much an atheist for most of my adult life and had zero interest in changing that. I'd say the biggest difference for me now is that I really do view everyone as God's child and that means everyone deserves grace and respect. I think in the past I might have told you I believed that but really I lived in a liberal bubble and was pretty contemptuous of people who didn't see the world the way I did. I also now see humanity as totally interconnected and am completely anti-individualism. It's sad that Americans believe that individualism is so great, because I really do believe we would be a better country if we held the concept of community as a higher value.
Q: But you are from Alaska – a state known for rugged individualism. In some ways don't you identify -- just a little bit -- with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin?
A: While I agree with Palin on almost nothing and would never vote for her, she is in many ways the quintessential Alaskan woman. There's a popular T-shirt line in that says, "Alaskan Women Kick Ass," which pretty much sums up how Alaskans view their women. Alaskans are very independent, self confident, nonconformist and anti-elitism. Traditional gender lines also aren't really honored there. Women do pretty much everything men do: they fish, hunt, camp, ride snow machines. Alaska has a history of fierce frontier women and that legacy continues. It's also not surprising to me that she is so unaffected by what people say about her. Until fairly recently, Alaska was completely isolated from the rest of the world, including the "Lower 48" and there has always been a sense that people who aren't from Alaska are kind of wussy. Alaskans believe they are special and different and "tougher" because of where they live. I see this attitude emanate from her in terms of how she just dismissed the Beltway crowd and East Coast elites. I can definitely relate to that because while I find the criticism I get sometimes tedious, it doesn't affect me emotionally in the least, probably because I was raised to believe that not conforming and saying things that people disagree with are positive traits.
Q: What would you say is the major difference between being a columnist and being a TV pundit?
A: The biggest difference is you are able to go into more detail about what you believe. Most television segments are 5-7 minutes divided between three people. If you are lucky you speak twice. A column gives you more time, though even that is quite limiting since you have to say everything in 700-800 words, which is harder than you would think. Oh and another difference is you don't have to fix your hair or put on makeup before writing a column.
Q: Kirsten Powers, thank you for chatting with me.
A: Thank you.