A Veteran TV News Anchor Pens A Prescient Novel In 'Amanda Wakes Up'

Jul 23, 2017

There are some themes in Alisyn Camerota's new novel that may sound familiar: A young upstart reporter is trying to make it at a national news network run by a ratings-obsessed media mogul. And then there's a female senator, firmly rooted in the establishment, going up against a political newcomer, fresh from Hollywood. Camerota started writing this book many years ago, but the events of 2016 make Amanda Wakes Up feel particularly prescient.

Camerota is a veteran news anchor and host of CNN's morning show New Day. Though she jokes that her agent and editor occasionally thought she was psychic, she promises she doesn't have a crystal ball.

"There are some perennial favorite themes in politics and in presidential races," she says. "I hit on them because you can predict with some certainty what will come back around."


Interview Highlights

On her main character, Amanda Gallo

Amanda Gallo is a young, idealistic journalist trying to make her way up the ladder. She starts, as so many of us do, in TV news at a small station that of course doesn't have enough money or any of the fun toys. And she's desperate to get to a network and then she does and lands her dream job of being a morning anchor. Much of the book is about what are you willing to sacrifice for success.

On Victor Fluke, the political newcomer character

Victor Fluke is a larger-than-life character. He was a television star, he was in a hit series, and by the time Amanda encounters him, he's a little washed up. He was also known for being in a series of aftershave commercials that were really popular — but he's looking for a comeback.

The seeds were planted in 2012 when I was a morning show host on Fox and that [presidential] race — it's hard to remember now because 2016 eclipses everything — but 2012 was also pretty crazy and there was a cast of colorful characters. There was Newt Gingrich, there was Rick Perry, there was Michele Bachmann, there was Mitt Romney, and there was Herman Cain — a lot of these scenes were first crafted with Herman Cain in mind. Because he was an outsider, my boss at the time Roger Ailes [the former, late head of Fox News] ... was pretty enamored of Herman Cain's life story. That he was this pizza magnate and that he had this 9-9-9 [tax overhaul] plan and he was a very compelling character.

On the Fluke character not being based on Donald Trump

I can't say that Donald Trump doesn't invade the psyche a little bit. I was around Donald Trump quite a bit during those years and I did interview him quite a bit so he also permeated some of my thought process but that wasn't who I was channeling.

On ratings-driven news

When I was hosting Fox & Friends on the weekends and then often filling in on the weekday, Donald Trump started coming on once a week. And those segments always rated, as we say. They got high ratings. They popped. And so that told the producers and all of us that there was something about him. And then they kept booking. It becomes this whole sort of cycle. ...

This is what happens in a ratings-driven news cycle. That is an interesting phenomenon in TV news. Because are you just ratings hungry? Are you booking somebody because they give you good ratings? Sometimes, but also that is your finger on the pulse of what viewers are interested in.

So, I saw that happen in real life [at Fox]. At CNN I didn't see that happen as much because by the time we were well into the primary Donald Trump had stopped coming on my show. ... My co-host and I ... had been aggressive with him in interviews. Not purposely, we just had asked tough questions. And he had decided that he would stop coming on our show somewhere in the middle of the primary.

On her time at Fox News

When I started at Fox I was really excited. I was excited I had made it to the national level. It was a new network — not many people had heard of it. It wasn't in every household yet. And Fox at that time was not yet seen as a conservative network. I didn't feel that it was a conservative network and nobody ever told me that it was a conservative network. I was hired without ever meeting the bosses — they hired me based on a resume tape.

Then over the course of a couple of years, I noticed it sort of morphing into having more of an angle. Certainly around the Bill Clinton impeachment stuff, and then certainly 9/11, it just started ... moving. Maybe that was always Roger Ailes' intention, but there were a couple of years where I was a straight news reporter and I didn't have any sense of that. ...

The atmosphere at Fox was, for the most part, positive. But obviously there were overtones. It's hard for me to put my finger on it.

On why she didn't report sexual harassment while she still worked at Fox — she has since come out publicly as one of the women who was harassed by Ailes

I wish I had, I wish I had. That's the lesson now, in the aftermath of all this. So many of the women and I have spoken now, since then, and said, my God, why didn't we reach out to each other? I know why we didn't: It's that everything happened alone, in a room. And I think that one of the things that Roger did was sort of silo everybody. And at the time, I didn't reach out to anyone for help because ... I was embarrassed. It's humiliating to have to tell these stories. It feels ... vulnerable and revealing. And also, Roger was the king. There was no court of higher authority. There was no one else to go to. I just knew that telling an underling would be futile.

On whether things are different now for young women

In terms of sexual harassment, I want to believe that it's changing, though recent media stories would suggest otherwise. But I have to believe that it's changing because we are talking about it. And I believe that talking removes the taboo. ... I feel that conversation starting to happen and I hope that means that things are changing, even if slowly.

On what she tells young women who want to get into the news industry

I tell them that it's thrilling. And if they have the bug, and if this is in their blood and in their veins, that by all means they should do it. If you get a visceral rush, as I do, from the news — from telling people the news, from telling people stories, from breaking news — then it's just the best business you could ever be in.

It's exciting; I've traveled to all sorts of countries, I've been on the front lines of things, I've watched history in the making. It's an important business and I'm glad when people are enthusiastic about it.

Samantha Balaban and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited the audio of this interview. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A young upstart reporter at a national news network, a political newcomer fresh from Hollywood, his opponent - a female senator firmly rooted in the establishment, a ratings-obsessed media mogul - does any of this sound familiar to you yet? Amazingly, Alisyn Camerota, a veteran news anchor and host of CNN's morning show "New Day," started writing her new novel years ago. And now the book "Amanda Wakes Up" seems like a crystal ball. Alisyn Camerota joins me from our studios in New York. Welcome to the program.

ALISYN CAMEROTA: Thank you, Lulu. Great to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So are you psychic? (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, there were many times, many times in the writing of this that my agent editor and I thought I was. But I think, what it turns out, is that there are some perennial favorite themes in politics and in presidential races. And I hit on them because you can predict with some certainty what will come back around.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But I want to make sure that people understand this isn't a book about 2016 and the sort of endless slog of presidential politics. This is a really fun and funny book. And it's like a coming of age novel in a way. So tell us about the main character, Amanda Gallo.

CAMEROTA: Amanda Gallo is a young, idealistic journalist trying to make her way, you know, up the ladder. And she starts, as so many of us do in TV news, in - at a small station that, of course, doesn't have enough money or any of the fun toys. And she's desperate to get to a network. And then she does. And she lands her dream job of being a morning anchor. And much of the book is sort of about what you're willing to sacrifice for success.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Amanda, at the beginning of her new job, gets an exclusive interview with the outsider in the presidential race. His name is Victor Fluke. Describe Victor Fluke for us.

CAMEROTA: Well, Victor Fluke is a sort of a larger-than-life character. He was a television star. He was in a hit series. And by the time Amanda encounters him, he's a little washed up. He was also known for being in a series of aftershave commercials that were really popular. But he's looking for a comeback.

And, you know, the seeds of this, quite frankly, were planted in 2012 when I was a morning show host on Fox. And that race - you know, it's hard to remember now because 2016 eclipses everything. But 2012 was also pretty crazy. And there was a whole cast of colorful characters. There was Newt Gingrich. There was Rick Perry. There was Michele Bachmann. There was Mitt Romney. And there was Herman Cain. And a lot of these scenes were first crafted with Herman Cain in mind because he was an outsider. My boss at the time, Roger Ailes, was sort of enamored of his life story.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The former late head of Fox News.

CAMEROTA: That's right. And so he was pretty enamored of Herman Cain's life story - that he was this, you know, pizza magnate and that he had this 9-9-9 plan. And he was very kind of compelling character.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So not necessarily the current president?

CAMEROTA: Well, no. But, I mean, I can't say that, you know, Donald Trump doesn't invade the psyche a little bit. I was around Donald Trump quite a bit during those years. And I did interview him quite a bit. So he also permeated some of my thought process. But that wasn't who I was channeling.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So much of this book, you are talking about the kind of difficulties in the modern media environment and the modern political environment that you face - having to sort of navigate exactly what you say, how you talk to people, who you talk to. And the main character in this book, obviously, forms this relationship with Victor fluke. They're constantly having Victor Fluke on. And it becomes part of the show's success. And they're accused of having, you know, made his presidential career. Obviously, that seems like it has a lot of resonance to today.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. Again, when I was hosting "Fox And Friends" on the weekends, and then often filling in on the weekday, Donald Trump started coming on once a week. And those segments always rated, as we say. They got high ratings. They popped. And so that told the producers and all of us that there was something about him. And then they kept booking him. You know, it becomes this whole sort of cycle where somebody comes on, and they rate. You book them again. They rate more. You book them again.

You know, this is sort of what happens in a ratings-driven news cycle. That is an interesting phenomenon in TV news because are you just ratings hungry? Are you booking somebody because they give you good ratings? Sometimes. But also, that is your finger on the pulse of what viewers are interested in. So I saw that happen, you know, in real life.

At CNN, I didn't see that happen as much because by the time we were well into the primary, Donald Trump had stopped coming on my show - my show "New Day" in the morning. My co-host and I, Chris Cuomo, had been, you know, aggressive with him in interviews - not purposely. We just had asked tough questions. And he had decided that he would stop coming on our show somewhere in the middle of the primary.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to take you back to Fox. And what was it like when you started there?

CAMEROTA: When I started at Fox, I was really excited. I was excited that I had made it to the national level. It was a new network. Not many people had heard of it. It wasn't in every household yet. And Fox at that time was not yet seen as a conservative network. And I didn't feel that it was a conservative network. And nobody ever told me that it was a conservative network. I was hired without ever meeting the bosses. They hired me based on a resume tape.

And then over the course of a couple of years, I noticed it sort of morphing into having more of an angle, certainly, around the Bill Clinton impeachment stuff and then, certainly, 9/11. It just started, I thought, moving. Maybe that was always Roger Ailes' intention. But there were a couple of years where I was a straight news reporter. And I didn't have any sense of that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was the atmosphere like?

CAMEROTA: Well, the atmosphere - look, the atmosphere of Fox was, for the most part, positive. But obviously, there were overtones. It's hard for me to put my finger on it. I mean, there were times that were great. And there were times that were sort of unpleasant around Roger and what he wanted. And I mean, in the editorial sense and, of course, the stories that have come out about the sexual harassment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You came out publicly and said that you were one of the women who was sexually harassed by Roger Ailes. May I ask you why you didn't make a complaint while you worked there?

CAMEROTA: I wish I had, you know? I wish I had. That's the lesson now in the aftermath of all this. And so many of the women and I have spoken now since then and said, my God, why didn't we reach out to each other? I know why we didn't. And it's that everything happened alone, you know, in a room. And I think that Roger is - one of the things that Roger did was sort of silo everybody.

And at the time, I didn't reach out to anyone for help because, A, I was embarrassed. It's humiliating to have to tell these stories. It feels sort of just kind of vulnerable and revealing and also because Roger was the king. There was no court of higher authority. There was no one else to go to. So I just knew that telling someone - an underling would be futile.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think it's going to be different for younger women?

CAMEROTA: Well, look, in terms of sexual harassment, I want to believe that it's changing. Though, recent media stories would suggest otherwise. But I have to believe that it's changing because we are talking about it. And I believe that talking removes the taboo. And that's part of why I talk about it. And so I feel that conversation starting to happen. And I hope that that means that things are changing even if slowly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you tell young women who want to get into the media business?

CAMEROTA: I tell them that it's thrilling. That it's thrilling. And if they have the bug and if this is in their blood and in their veins, then by all means they should do it. If you get a visceral rush, as I do, from the news, from telling people the news, from telling people stories, from breaking news, then it's just the best business you could ever be in. It's exciting. I've traveled to all sorts of countries. I've been on the frontlines of things. I've watched history in the making. It's an important business. And I'm glad when people are enthusiastic about it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alisyn Camerota's book is called "Amanda Wakes Up." She's the host of "New Day" on CNN. That was really fun (laughter). Thank you.

CAMEROTA: A pleasure, Lulu. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.