Since Bret Baier took over hosting the Fox News Channel show Special Report in 2009, it has become one of the most-watched cable news programs. The Washington-based former chief White House correspondent and part-time Neapolitan is leading his network’s election coverage, including anchoring on election night next month. NI talked with Baier about his zeal for politics, his devotion to family (especially five-year-old son Paul, who was born with a congenital heart disease) and the Naples he loves.
How did you discover Naples?
My in-laws, Paul and Barbie Hills, had a place in Naples for a long time. When I was courting my wife, we went down there one winter for a weekend, and that’s how we first fell in love with it. And then my mom, Pat Baier, moved from Atlanta to Naples, and lives there full time. She lives in the Vineyards, and works for the American Cancer Society. … We said, this is one-stop shopping as far as seeing the grandparents.
How often do you get to spend time here?
Not as much as I want to. It’s a busy year with the election. We try to sneak long weekends when we can. We planned to spend a little time during the summer, which we love. We aspire after the election to spend more time in the winter there.
If you have a free day in Naples, where are we likely to find you?
I’m a golfer. My father-in-law belongs to Old Collier, so we play there quite a bit. But I spend the most time with my five- and two-year-old at the beach. Early at night, we like to go out to dinner; with a little ice cream afterwards, it’s a perfect day.
Hope you get a chance to visit the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples.
We’ve already been there! My in-laws actually were donors to the children’s museum, and they did the garden up top, so we were part of the early people to check it out. We spent several hours in there. The kids loved it.
How has your experience with Paul’s condition affected you?
It’s changed me dramatically. It makes me realize not to sweat the small stuff, to think big picture, and to value those days—every day—that I can be with my kids and have a great day on the beach in Naples. We’ve come to appreciate time. We have some hurdles ahead, but his prognosis is fantastic and he’s growing like a weed.
Would you ever do a fundraiser in Naples for the Children’s National Medical Center, where Paul has had his surgeries?
We’ve already done one. I gave a speech as part of the Naples Town Hall Speaker Series, and there was an auction part of it that raised money for Children’s National Medical Center. I think we raised $57,000, just that one event. I’d love to do more things like that. There are great people in Naples who are philanthropic, and they can’t get a better cause than keeping kids healthy.
Are you involved with the American Cancer Society, since your mom works with ACS?
I helped my mom out on a couple of different events. I hooked the group up with Jennifer Griffin, who’s our national security correspondent, who survived triple-negative breast cancer. She went to Naples and spoke at the ACS Bucket List Bash. So there was a Fox connection a couple of times. I went for an event a couple of years ago.
How do you keep your political views from coloring your news interviews?
Everybody comes to the table with their own thoughts on things. But in the news side of the business I really try to keep any personal feelings about political leanings out of it. The best questions are the ones that challenge both sides. I took over for my mentor Brit Hume, in January 2009. We’ve really strived on my show and other shows on the news side of Fox to be fair. So it’s not a challenge for me, it’s what my business is, the news side of the house and asking tough questions.
Have you ever been awestruck?
Sometimes you have to pinch yourself when you’re interviewing presidents, not by the person but by the office. When I covered the White House for three and a half years, and when I’ve done interviews with presidents since then, you do take a moment to look around inside the White House and say, this is history, it’s not only this day’s news. But it could be the week’s news, it could be the month’s news, what comes out of the 30 or 20 minutes you sit down with the leader of the free world. So I don’t know if awestruck is the right word, but it’s a profound respect for that office.
Who has been your toughest interview?
The toughest interviews are the ones, and usually they are politicians, who don’t answer the question you’re asking. It happens a lot, I think a lot more than people sitting at home would like. My mentor was Brit Hume as I mentioned, but I also really liked the late Tim Russert, he was a friend. I liked his style. What I learned most is that it’s about listening, not about talking. Sometimes I think reporters in Washington get caught up in their list of questions and what’s next as opposed to listening to the answer and pressing on that answer to get an answer. … The best interviews are the ones where you advance the ball beyond the talking points, and that’s what I aspire to do all the time.
Who would you most like to interview?
Pope Benedict; he is the number one interview for me. We’re working on it. We’re trying to make that happen. I think, especially in this environment, when not only the political aspect of the Catholic Church, but in the overall concern about the cultural future of society, I think the pope would be just such an interesting interview. He hasn’t done one, and we’re trying to be the first [in the American media].
How do you view the upcoming election’s importance to the nation?
A lot of people say, on both sides of the aisle, this is the most consequential election in our lifetime, and you hear that a lot. I think one of the reasons they say that is because there are stark differences about the way forward on both sides. The choices on a number of different issues could not be more different. I think it’s a choice election in that the path you choose this time will set the course for the country. And that’s why both sides say it’s so important. I tend to agree with that. Most of the time those phrases are used just to fire up the base, but I do agree that there are big differences, and I think we’ll see that play out as we see both campaigns lay out their strategies.
What do you think about the lack of cooperation on each side? How did it happen and is there a way out?
I think the country is very divided. When I travel around country, the most common thing I hear is throw them all out, both sides out, because they’re not getting things done. And how to get things done—the old way in Washington was establish relationships even though you are on ideological opposite sides. Like Alan Simpson, a Republican from Wyoming, and Ted Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, were best of friends, and made concessions and got things done. That has left, largely, Washington. Maybe there will be a resurgence, but there will have to be a shakeup before that happens.
How do you feel about leading Fox’s election night coverage?
I’m humbled by my big boss Roger Ailes’ confidence. And I could not be more excited about being in this position. I always dreamed about being an anchor of a political show in a time when people were paying attention to politics. I think this is going to be the case this year; I really see people carefully watching what’s going on. I think what happens over the next few months will be historic, one way or another.
If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask?
“What’s the toughest thing about your job?” The toughest thing about my job is that there is so much that happens day to day around the world that actually could influence people’s lives significantly, that fitting it all into one hour in a news show is very difficult. So the decisions we make editorially every day, literally every day, even in the dog days of summer, could fill two hours easily, maybe more, based on the big things that are happening. I tell my staff it’s like drinking from a fire hose. That’s the toughest thing day to day, but again, it’s a pleasure to be where I am.
Anything else you’d like us to know about you?
We look forward to spending more time in Naples. We could not be happier; the people of Naples are just wonderful. Every place I go, there are a lot of Fox watchers in Naples, which is nice. I get stopped in the grocery store, at the Whole Foods or something, and I like that. The message would be don’t be afraid to come up and say hi, because I’m not a guy that doesn’t like it. I actually like talking to people.
*Photography courtesy of Fox News.