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Soledad O'Brien: 'I Think Journalism Is A Bit Of A Calling And You Have to Really Want It'

Stella M. Chávez
Veteran journalist Soledad O'Brien was in Dallas recently to speak at the Planned Parenthood Annual Dallas Awards Luncheon and sat down to talk with KERA.

Cable news watchers know Soledad O’Brien from her time at CNN. These days she produces and anchors her own political magazine show, and she’s also become a vocal critic of other media outlets. 

During a recent trip to Dallas, she sat down with KERA.


Elizabeth Warren recently dropped out of the presidential race and many women were very saddened by that, disappointed or even angry.

There were a lot of women who were not Elizabeth Warren supporters as a candidate who, I think, were angry and saddened by it.

She had an interesting quote when someone asked her what role the fact that she was a woman played in the race, “Well, if I say that sexism was an issue, I’m a whiner, and if I say that sexism’s not an issue, a bajillion women are going to be like, 'Is she crazy?'"

What will it take to see a female president? Has the right candidate not come along?

We’re clearly not there yet and I think these things are always a combination of, is it the right candidate, right time, right voter base.

I focus a lot on the media and what I can say, is that if you just look at the words the media uses when they talk about women, likability is a really great one. I think as long as people are being judged on their likeability, and it’s almost always women being judged on likeability, … I think that’s really problematic.

After leaving CNN, your profile has grown even more. You’re not afraid to call people out, especially journalists, for something they said or how a story was framed. How did you get to that point where you felt comfortable giving media constructive criticism?

I think the media right now needs constructive criticism, and I think because of the positions I’ve held, I can add value by giving people some insight into how it really works.

I think we see so much hypocrisy, and I think one of the reasons people are very distrustful of institutions is that they’re letting them down.

What I criticize reporters for is not that they have an opinion, but that they don’t use the platform [Twitter] to speak accurately about the thing that they’re talking about.

The coronavirus is not cured. [If] someone says [it’s cured], it’s a lie.

That’s not just me saying that, the CDC and about a zillion health world organizations would agree.

It has nothing to do with opinions; it has to do with your report so that people don’t believe just reading the headline something that is untrue.

Latinos are severely underrepresented in the media and in film. What can be done to wake up Hollywood? Does the Latino community need its own Jordan Peele, who has been very successful and created movies that appeal to a wide audience?

I think that person in the Latino community is coming. If you look at Latino political power, you see a similar thing. African American political power has been more entrenched and more, I think, stronger than Latino political power — but I think Latino political power is catching up.

I think what drives Hollywood is money, what’s successful, and everybody has their theory around success.

The only way to really do it well, I think, is to figure out how to open doors for people, and that’s starting to happen. I think that even diversity is a conversation in Hollywood is a huge plus. It’s just very slow to happen.

What advice do you have for young journalists and women in particular?

When I started working in TV news in 1987, people would say to me the evening news is dead … and now there are more platforms than ever.

I think predictions about the death of the whole industry are wrong. I think it changes. I think it’s going to dramatically change. We’re seeing that, but I think there are a lot of opportunities.

I think journalism … is a bit of a calling. Most jobs don’t pay very well. Most jobs are really hard and you have to really really really want to bring microphones into places that maybe people don’t care about.

I think anybody who goes into it thinking it’s going to be a cushy job, it just doesn’t work like that — but I think it’s really important. I think the people who stick it out recognize [that]. Especially people of color, because I think they recognize that they’re not just, ‘Hey, listen you’re a reporter here,’ you represent a lot of other things too.

So my advice is stick it out – it’s a calling, so you have to really want it. Recognize how important your existence is on days that feel really [bad].

Answers have been edited for brevity.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.