- In January, Bill Hemmer took over Shepard Smith’s slot on Fox News and now hosts “Bill Hemmer Reports.”
- He plays an important role as the chief news anchor of the president’s favourite TV channel.
- He’s been on-air for the last 25 years, getting his start in local news in Cincinnati before moving to CNN and working his way up the ranks. In 2005, he jumped to Fox News.
- After 15 years since joining the network, he’s now leading the station’s news coverage.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Bill Hemmer chooses his words carefully.
In January 2020 he took over Fox News’ 3 p.m. hour-long news slot. He was taking over from Shepard Smith, who resigned from Fox after reporting for the station since its start in 1996.
Hemmer has been an anchor at Fox News for 15 years, but this is the first time he’s had his own show. In his career – much of it also at Fox’s rival, CNN – he’s covered atrocities like the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Haiti earthquake, and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. He’s also covered a number of presidential elections.
It’s a high-stakes gig. Fox News is the president’s favourite TV channel. And at times, there’s been tension between Fox employees on the news side of the station, like Smith, and on the opinion side, like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity – to name two of President Donald Trump’s favourite personalities. And Hemmer has been an important voice in informing Fox News’ viewers about the coronavirus, interviewing the likes of Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases.
In an interview with Insider in January, Hemmer was enthusiastic about his role but careful about talking about whether he was nervous about taking over Smith’s high-profile slot.
“Well,” he said, “I want to get it right.”
“I’ve felt for a long time that your best preparation – sorry, your best defence – in this industry is your own preparation,” he added.
He’s been preparing for quite some time. His life, he said, was full of “data points.” There was the German professor who convinced him to get out of the US and move to Luxembourg. There was watching the Iran-Contra deal unfold on CNN in 1987, as well as the impact of an early “mid-life crisis” that saw him quit his job and travel the world, sending back dispatches that later won him two Emmys.
Despite being in the public eye for 25 years, and unlike the opinion hosts he works alongside with at Fox News, he’s managed to avoid controversy.
On his Twitter, his most common tweet appears to be a simple, uncontroversial weekly reminder: “Friday, folks.” And as he told the Washington Post in 2010, “Knock wood, I think I’ve been lucky to, as my mother would say, be careful before you speak.”
Here’s what his life and career have been like so far.
On January 28, as President Donald Trump’s defence team argued in his impeachment trial, I travelled to Fox News’ New York headquarters to interview the recently promoted newsman Bill Hemmer.
Fox News sits in a unique place in America’s media landscape.
It’s the most-watched cable news network in the country, although it’s biggest personalities host opinion shows.
But Hemmer, taking over from Shepard Smith, has a job delivering straight news.
A member of the Fox News public relations team escorted me up to Hemmer’s studio. Cartoonishly large screens beamed out his name.
A few minutes later, Hemmer appeared.
He looked good at 55 – far more energetic than me. He came striding in without makeup, wielding a plastic water bottle and an iPhone.
And he was focused: Over the next 45 minutes, he rarely drank or checked his phone.
He took his time in the interview, answering carefully.
I was reminded of a 2003 New York magazine profile, which said Hemmer, after most shows, descended to his office to rewatch his show, analysing how he appeared on-air. The profile also mentioned how he used to do his own makeup, but we’ll get to that later.
Hemmer was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 14, 1964, as the third of five children in a Roman Catholic family.
He joked that he thought for the longest time that he was a Valentine’s Day baby – until, at some point, he realised that wasn’t mathematically possible.
In an old profile, his father said he hoped Hemmer would be a priest. But Hemmer’s parents mostly let them decide their own fate.
“They allowed us to step on our own pile, to figure out how to clean it up on our own,” he said. “I don’t think there were a lot of course corrections for any of us. Only when they deemed it truly necessary.”
One sibling works in public relations, one is a paralegal, one is a teacher, and one is a full-time mother.
In 1983, he graduated from the all-male Elder High School. While there, he and his friend Doug had broadcast “bad rock and roll” from a “cheap little turntable” at the top of a radio tower to the school.
They played artists like Bruce Springsteen and Molly Hatchet.
The radio station lasted about three weeks. But the dabble in broadcasting triggered something in Hemmer.
“I figured, you know what, maybe I could talk for a living,” he said.
From that point, Hemmer figured he could succeed in broadcasting if he was persistent enough.
“Even today, if you at least pick a path, if you have a direction, you will find yourself years ahead of your colleagues. So pick a path, make a decision.”
Between the ages of 16 and 20, Hemmer said he had “19 different jobs.”
He worked with his hands: in a produce department, at a garden centre, mowing lawns, trimming hedges, and sweeping floors at his high school.
“You take a job, you quit a job, you take a job, quit a job. I did everything,” he said.
He was trying to figure out a way to keep working while also playing football in high school, which meant he couldn’t stick with one job for long.
He played as a strong safety. “It’s a defensive back when you’re not quite a free safety where you’re not quite as big as a linebacker. And not quite small enough to play defensive back,” he said.
After high school, he studied broadcast journalism at Miami University and kept up the intense work ethic. He hosted an overnight jazz program on 97.6TK, one of the first alternative rock and roll stations in the US.
He wasn’t a huge fan of the music — English rock like The Smiths — but the pay was good. And by good, he said, $US3.35 an hour, working from midnight to 6 a.m.
Early on at college, when he was 19, he interned at WLWT-TV, a local television station. It was all new to him.
“I was looking to get knowledge about the industry and to try and figure out if it was possible to get a job,” he said.
He also spent a semester abroad living in Luxembourg. He was inspired to do so after taking an 8 a.m. German class in his freshman year.
He was convinced he wanted the career on his first day, when the elevator opened and he saw the control room’s blue light.
“It looked so inviting and so challenging at the same time,” he said. “Deadlines, accuracy, live performance. I saw all of that instantly and thought I want it to be, I wanted to have that knowledge.”
He decided that television, and not radio, was the path for him.
After graduating in 1987, he worked as a sports producer for WLWT Channel 5, then as a reporter for Cincinnati’s WCPO for two years. He told Insider he was earning $US9,000 a year.
Source: Cincinnati Magazine
It was during this job, in the summer of 1987, that he remembered watching CNN’s coverage of the Iran Contra hearings. “I was struck by that moment,” he said. “It left a mark on me.”
At 26, he had what he called his “mid-life crisis.”
He quit his job and travelled the world from August 1992 to June 1993, living off his savings. He researched where to go by reading, looking at photos, and watching National Geographic.
“I felt the walls in my world were going to cave in around me if I didn’t get this thing done,” he said.
Hemmer travelled to countries like China, Egypt, India, Europe, Russia, Vietnam, and New Zealand. It was a risky move, since he was walking away from his dream career without knowing if he could come back.
“I’m very much of a day to day person and a day to day thinker. I didn’t forecast the future,” he said. “The only thing I thought for sure was that I could not afford to turn the age of 30 without seeing what was out there.”
Along with getting attacked by a pack of dogs in Calcutta, he had not anticipated the education he got from travelling.
“I’m going to stress, this was 25 years ago,” he said. It was before email, ATMs, or social media. He was armed with nothing but traveller’s checks and books.
Hemmer wanted to make sure he saw some of the world’s greatest sights.
“So what is the South Island in New Zealand all about? I heard about it from all my friends. I wanted to see it myself,” he said. “What did the Great Wall of China look like? What did the Opera House in Sydney look like? What does Kathmandu smell like, and feel like, every day?”
His travels paid off.
He kept his hand in the game sending back monthly dispatches to the Cincinnati Post, as well as footage of his travels, which later became a documentary called “Bill’s Excellent Adventure,” riffing on the film “Bill and Ted’s Adventures.”
The footage won him two regional Emmys, for best host and best entertainment program. When I asked him what winning was like, he became emotional.
“It was to be recognised, I think, for something that was deeply personal,” he said.
For the next two years, he worked at the Cincinnati’s WCPO as a news reporter.
“News reporting job is essential to everybody in the business,” he said. “You have to work at a local level to understand how the city, the county, and the state works.”
He made mistakes in his early appearances on television to an audience of several million.
But his family and friends didn’t give him a hard time. When asked why not, he said, “I guess they were being nice.”
After his documentary, he got an agent, who landed him a job at CNN.
In 1995, at 30, he moved to Atlanta to work for the network.
At CNN, he started by filling in for other anchors, then worked his way up the morning schedule.
In 1995, he was on at 5:30 a.m. By 1997, it was 10 a.m. In 1996, he won another Emmy for his work covering the Olympic Centennial Park bombing.
But it was in 2000 that he made a name for himself, with his coverage of the 37-day presidential recount between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
He was on-air throughout the day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and the coverage led to him being nicknamed the “Chad Lad.”
In 2001 he went to Afghanistan while US forces hunted for Osama bin Laden. The trip was meant to be short, but he stayed for six weeks and thrived in rough conditions.
Hemmer liked to be on the ground, but as his career progressed he was spending more and more time in the office, and unable to do as much in-the-field reporting.
After several years pushing for it, he co-anchored “American Morning,” with Soledad Brian.
She told Cincinnati Magazine she was impressed at how nice he was. She said, “If people on the camera crew like you, that says a lot.”
But in 2005, CNN had a shakeup.
Management replaced him with Miles O’Brien, to increase the “chemistry” on the morning show. Hemmer was offered a job covering the White House. But, according to the Washington Post, someone close to Hemmer said he was concerned it was a demotion.
“We were in a battle,” he told Insider. “And we were losing.”
“I had been watching what Fox was doing and I had a decision to make: either stay in New York or move to Washington, DC,” he said. “I had wanted to live here for a long time and I felt New York was more in my blood than Washington.”
In the end, he moved to Fox News.
At the time, he told the Los Angeles Times that Roger Ailes and his right-hand man, Bill Shine, were among the reasons he decided to jump ship.
He said the two had a “winning track record” and “vision.”
In the years since, Ailes had become the centre of a storm of sexual harassment accusations and died in 2016, while Bill Shine moved to work on communications at the White House in Trump’s administration, and then on his 2020 presidential campaign.
He said there isn’t any confusion being Fox News’ third “Bill,” following Shine and O’Reilly. “They call me Hemmer. That’s it,” he said.
In his first week at Fox News, Hurricane Katrina hit the US.
Hemmer covered it, and went on to cover a number of on-the-ground stories, including the Boston Marathon bombing and the Fort Hood military base shooting.
The change from CNN to Fox News took him a year to adjust.
“It was more significant than I expected,” he said.
CNN relied more on personality, he said. “It took me a little bit of time to get comfortable with that show.”
He began as a daytime anchor alongside Megyn Kelly until she got her own show. He also worked alongside Martha MacCallum and Shannon Bream.
For the last 10 years, he’s co-hosted Fox News’ morning program, “America’s Newsroom.” He’s been one of Fox News’ journalists covering presidential elections since 2008.
Hemmer has now been at Fox News for 15 years. Along with his coverage of 9/11 while at CNN, the two other stories that impacted him the most were the Sandy Hook shooting and the Haiti earthquake.
“I was wholly unprepared for the emotional effect of flying into a country that has nothing to begin with and to be wrecked by mother nature in ways that felt entirely unfair to me,” he said of Haiti.
He’s had a low-profile personal life and few career controversies. “I don’t think the story is me,” he said.
What is public is that he was in a longterm relationship with model Dara Tomanovich from 2005 to 2013.
It appears to be the longest public relationship he’s been in.
In 2004, he had a run-in with Michael Moore, documented in Moore’s book “Here Comes Trouble.”
According to Moore’s telling, Hemmer confronted Moore and said: “I’ve heard people say they wish Michael Moore was dead.” Moore was incensed by the question.
But according to Hemmer, the interview was cordial, and it was only later that a camera crew followed it up with him.
But he’s mostly been controversy-free. The only time Hemmer was featured on President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed was in 2016.
Trump said he was “very nice in explaining the excitement and energy in the arena.”
Things changed for Hemmer in 2019 when Shepard Smith resigned, and he was announced as his replacement.
According to CNN, their styles differed: Hemmer didn’t aggressively fact-check or challenge misinformation the way Smith did.
But there are a number of examples where Hemmer has pushed back on Trump administration officials. One example, cited by The New York Times, was Hemmer following up when Former White House secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insulted an MSNBC host’s looks.
“It just seems like it’s entirely more personal than it needs to be,” he told Sanders.
With regards to fact-checking, Hemmer told Insider, “You can learn a lot by listening. I don’t feel it’s necessary to take a blow torch to every argument or discussion.”
In the months before Smith resigned there were public clashes between him and opinion hosts, like Tucker Carlson. Hemmer respects keeping the two sections separate.
“I think our opinion people are outstanding,” Hemmer said.
He said neither operation would tell the other how to do their job.
“That’s been my experience for 14.5 years and that’s what I would expect to continue. I don’t expect them to get involved with what I do,” he said.
Hemmer was candid for most of the interview and had good words for Smith, but kept silent about whether Smith had given him any advice.
“I wished him the best of luck and he told me that it was time,” Hemmer said of Smith.
As to the blurring of facts by Fox News opinion anchors, he said, “I am unaffected by the opinion-makers.”
In the final minutes of our interview, I took some photos of him. He asked to see them, and when he saw the reflection from the bright studio, he apologised and jogged out of the room.
He promptly returned with a makeup artist for a touch-up. “Not a ton,” he said. Just a touch-up.”
In January, Fox News launched “Bill Hemmer Reports.” It started strong, with 1.8 million viewers. In contrast, MSNBC got 1.01 million and CNN got 867,000. Despite the high ratings, he said he wouldn’t get complacent.
A week later, I returned to the studio to watch Hemmer do his show live. This time the studio was full.
Five young people were typing at the cartoonishly large screens, while 10 others were behind cameras or waiting in the wings.
The slow, measured way he spoke last time had been replaced with rapid television speak.
He and the crew rehearsed his tone, as he said “boom” over and over again. A member of the camera crew muttered, “we’ll get it right this time.”
In our first interview, Hemmer said he was most comfortable in the news lane. “That’s how I’m built. It’s how I think, it’s where I’ll stay,” he said.
On-air, he looked at ease. Between segments, he typed or spoke to his producer. At one point, as two cameras were steered towards him, he silently mouthed to the cameraman, “Am I that one, or that one?”
When he was done with his guest, he twirled his finger below the camera to wrap it up.
At the end of the first segment, after they switched guests due to a satellite issue, he said to his crew, “Good stuff, smooth stuff, all clean. Thank you.” And it occurred to me that was what Hemmer was for Fox News, too — good stuff, smooth stuff, all clean.
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