Gretchen Carlson, a Fox News host and former Miss America, is author of the new book Getting Real. She takes questions about the book for National Review. – KJL
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “I learned from my grandparents that you could love someone who had different ideas. What a revelation, right? I think we can forget that sometimes.” How do you work to remember? Any advice on how to do it? Maybe especially when it comes to some of the more contentious issues.
GRETCHEN CARLSON: The political scenario has gotten so divisive, not only in Washington, D.C., but across the country too. As I’ve had the good fortune to travel to both the Reagan and Nixon Libraries on my book tour, I’ve been reminded how we used to work across the aisle and get things done. No wonder Congress has a 10 to 13 percent approval rating. Life is about compromise, in relationships and at work. Reminds me of one of my favorite songs . . . ”You don’t always get what you want, / But if you try sometimes / You get what you need!”
In kindergarten when my teacher put me in the “can’t read” group, I was relentless in letting her know I could.
LOPEZ: Why is it so easy to get “demoralized by negativity” and how have you learned to rise above it?
CARLSON: I faced negative stereotypes immediately after becoming Miss America. It was like my résumé evaporated (concert violinist, valedictorian, Stanford- and Oxford-educated) and I was just a dumb blonde. I say in the book I reached the “bimbo trifecta” when I got to Fox. Blonde, former Miss America, and Fox News host. When people don’t want to debate you on the smart issues of the day, it’s just a lot easier to call you a dumb blonde from Fox. Lesson: Build your self-esteem from the inside of who you are — your soul. Stop worrying what others think or say about you.
LOPEZ: What do you mean by “being myself is the greatest gift God has given me”? Is that true freedom?
CARLSON: After turning 40 I became liberated to truly be myself and not care about my detractors — but I’ve always been one to speak my mind. In kindergarten when my teacher put me in the “can’t read” group, I was relentless in letting her know I could. She eventually changed my group assignment. Imagine how that one incident could have changed my self-esteem direction, at least with my educational path.
LOPEZ: What was so “remarkable” about your upbringing “where exceptionalism and normalcy were valued in equal measure”? How do you try to imitate that even with a very different kind of life (big city and big media and all) now?
CARLSON: My remarkable upbringing in a small town in Minnesota (the Halloween capitol of the world!) meant all of my relatives living within one mile of me, solid values from my parents, a religious foundation from my Lutheran minister grandfather, and the all-important lesson of giving back. My husband and I are trying to raise our two children in the same way. Holding true to what you believe — even in a big city — is so important.
LOPEZ: You describe the peaceful spirit of your grandmother. Where did it come from? Did you catch any of it?
CARLSON: My maternal grandmother was a great listener and my solace from my mom’s type-A personality. I would ride my bike to her house when I needed a little down time — just to relax and talk. She was a comforting presence in my life and died too soon.
LOPEZ: “As curious as I am about so many things in the world, the one thing I’ve never questioned is my faith. No matter what goal I have tried to achieve in life, I’ve always known that God is right by my side.” Never? Not once?
CARLSON: I ask questions for a living and am curious about everything by nature — but I feel great peace in not questioning my faith. Sure, during tough times or horrible events that happen in the world, it’s logical to ask, ”Why, God?” But I have found my faith the one constant I have always been able to hold onto, and I’m thankful for that.
LOPEZ: “We practiced a daily Christianity that was as practical as it was spiritual.” What’s practical faith?
CARLSON: Practical faith is the way you choose to live your life. My dad always said people would know we were Christians by the way we acted, and I’ve never forgotten that.
LOPEZ: You write about religious freedom. What are your greatest worries about the future? What’s your plea to secularists and atheists and even religious believers who have internalized the marginalization?
CARLSON: I am one of the few national news anchors to speak openly about my faith on the air. I believe in religious freedom for everyone, but that means everyone. I never believed I would be attacked for expressing my beliefs like I have been. It’s been eye-opening — although my minister-grandfather said Christianity has always thrived more with adversity.
LOPEZ: What do you remember the most about your childhood trips to the Holy Land?
CARLSON: My childhood trips to the Holy Land were life-changing and made me realize from a young age how fortunate I was to live in the United States. The trips made me appreciate differences across the world and see life from a much greater perspective. We used to bring gum and ball point pens to give away to the kids there. Some had never seen either.
I ask questions for a living and am curious about everything by nature — but I feel great peace in not questioning my faith.
LOPEZ: Did living on the Mississippi River give you an early appreciation for creation?
CARLSON: Living on the Mississippi River gave me an appreciation for how to spell Mississippi! And taught me how to bait my own hook fishing from an early age — and yes, growing up with the natural beauty of Minnesota all around me has made me appreciate all of nature.
LOPEZ: How did music give you “a depth well beyond” your years as a child?
CARLSON: Because I was a gifted young violinist I was forced to act a lot older than my chronological age. In the music world I was ten and performing with 20+-year-olds. That’s a huge maturity difference.
LOPEZ: What is your memory of loneliness as a twelve-year-old? Does it influence your life even today?
CARLSON: Loneliness was a central theme in my life growing up because my accomplishments were singular in nature — violin, academics, becoming Miss America. I have two sides to my personality (a true Gemini): a private side and an extrovert’s jovial side.
LOPEZ: How did the storytelling aspect of music you describe in the book prepare you for your future media work?
CARLSON: Storytelling has helped me to understand stories at their core and to harvest the true emotion from them. It also gave me great visualization skills to see goals and see myself working hard to achieve them first in my mind — important life lesson.
LOPEZ: You talk in the book about the nastiness on social media (and elsewhere). You admit, “I figure if I can be bullied relentlessly and feel the sting at my age, I can only imagine how it affects kids who are so vulnerable.” How can we best combat it? Beyond “Mean Tweet” segments.
CARLSON: I speak about the nastiness I get on social media in the hope it will spur a national conversation about which direction we’re taking our kids. It’s a conundrum for parents who realize technology is how kids socialize now, but also that it is how they build their self-esteem or get it knocked down. Having been a fat kid, I understand those taunts and teasing, so my book is about building up who you are from the inside and not worrying so much about the exterior.
LOPEZ: Why are humility and compassion so important for women? Aren’t they just as much so for men?
CARLSON: I always say I work for my son more than for my daughter, in the hope that when he gets into the real world he will respect his female colleagues as much as he respects his mom. It is going to take men’s perceptions of women to change the dynamic in the workplace as much as women working hard.
LOPEZ: You credit your parents with a lot. Did you see them complement one another – uniquely as mother and father – growing up? How can we help those who didn’t and don’t have that experience? It’s an important one, isn’t it?
CARLSON: I learned perseverance from my mom and compassion and humility from my dad. I believe every child is born with some sort of a gift — big or small — and it’s up to the parents — together or apart – to help cultivate that.
LOPEZ: Why do people have such a hard time getting “past their own discomfort” when it comes to losing a job or a loved one? Why are we so “uncomfortable with sadness”?
CARLSON: Getting fired was one of the hardest experiences of my life. People don’t want to call you or reach out because they don’t know what to say. It’s why I decided to focus on the pitfalls and failures in my life — to be more real.
LOPEZ: What do you want every unemployed person right now to know?
CARLSON: I feel your pain of not having a job. The shame and pain stay with you forever. Greatest advice: Take a job you may not want and work triply hard just to get back into the game.
I feel your pain of not having a job. . . . Greatest advice: Take a job you may not want and work triply hard just to get back into the game.
LOPEZ: “Playing the violin was the closest I came to touching my soul.” What do you mean by that?
CARLSON: The violin is something no one can ever take away from me.
Lopez: What do you remember most about covering 9/11?
Carlson: Covering 9/11 all day long for so many weeks — I wouldn’t let my emotions come out until I got home at night and started watching TV and seeing all the faces. That brought it all home.
Lopez: “If I ever get pregnant again, I’m not going to have any tests, because they serve no purpose except to scare the hell out of me.” What do you want women and men struggling with fertility and adverse diagnosis to know?
Carlson: I wish doctors would speak to women earlier to give them the real story about how fertility drops off dramatically in our 30s. Media and Hollywood make it seem as if you can get pregnant no matter how old you are. Simply not true.
Lopez: Why is it important for children to see their parents at church?
Carlson: Kids learn that church is a family event when everyone is together, and we like to take it a step farther and teach our kids’ classes. They enjoy it, since sometimes we have to miss events at their schools!
Lopez: What in the world today gives you hope?
Carlson: Teaching my kids to give back — one of life’s great lessons.
Lopez: What are you most grateful for?
Carlson: Grateful that my parents are still in my life.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.