Gretchen Carlson Getting Real

ISBN 13: 9780143109242

Getting Real

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9780143109242: Getting Real
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In the wake of Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, her memoir of her time at Fox—working alongside Megyn Kelly, Bill O’Reilly, Steve Doocy, and other prominent conservative news personalities—is more relevant than ever.

In this candid memoir, celebrity news anchorwoman Gretchen Carlson shares her inspiring story and offers important takeaways about what it means to strive for and find success in the real world. With warmth and wit, she takes readers from her Minnesota childhood, when she became a violin prodigy, through attending Stanford and later rising to anchor of The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson on Fox News after working her way up from local television stations.
 
Carlson addresses the intense competitive effort of winning the Miss America Pageant, the challenges she’s faced as a woman in broadcast television, and how she manages to balance work and family as the wife of high-profile sports agent Casey Close and devoted mother to their two children. An unceasing advocate for respect and equality for women, Carlson writes openly about her own struggles with body image, pageant stereotypes, building her career, and having the courage to speak her mind. Encouraging women to believe in themselves, chase their dreams, and never give up, Carlson emerges in Getting Real as a living example of personal strength and perseverance.
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About the Author:

Gretchen Carlson is an award-winning journalist and the former host of FOX News Channel's The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson. She previously co-hosted Fox & Friends for eight years and served as a CBS News correspondent and co-host of the CBS Saturday Early Show. She was the first classical violinist to be crowned Miss America in 1989 and serves on the board of the Miss America Organization. She is also a National Trustee for the March of Dimes. She is married to sports agent Casey Close, has two children, and resides in Connecticut.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

Speaking My Mind

“Have you had sex yet . . . or are you waiting for marriage?”

The New York press is a tough crowd, especially for a twenty-two-year-old suddenly thrust into the spotlight. But two days after being crowned Miss America, at my first national press conference, the last thing I expected was confrontation, especially from one dogged reporter named Penny Crone, who seemed eager to take me down.

Her question elicited a chorus of boos from the other reporters in the room. They’d had enough. Before she “went there,” Penny had barraged me with a series of test questions, supposedly designed to prove I didn’t have a brain, because all the media were reporting that I was a senior at Stanford, positioning me as the “smart Miss America.” As if to say, “Okay, let’s see how smart you really are,” she gave me a quiz right in the middle of the press conference: “Do you know who Mary Jo Kopechne is . . . Do you know who Daniel Berrigan is . . . Do you know whose face is on the twenty-dollar bill . . . ?”

I held up under the pressure, but I felt humiliated. What young woman wouldn’t? The memory of that press conference stayed with me, and when I later looked back with more perspective, those questions made me angry. Why would a seasoned reporter think it was newsworthy to take down a young woman in such a gleeful manner? Ratings? Meanness? It made a deep impression on me.

At the time I just smiled and moved on. Then, more than a decade later, in 2000, when I was a correspondent for CBS News, I was at a pep rally for the Mets and Yankees in Bryant Park. They were playing a Subway Series that year. I was standing on a platform with others from the press, and there was Penny Crone. I recognized her. And it struck me right then: I was going to say something to her. When we were done, I walked over and said, “Penny, I’d like to reintroduce myself. I’m Gretchen Carlson.” I could tell she had no idea who I was. I said, “I’m the Miss America you demoralized in 1989—and I’d just like to let you know that I still made it. I’m a CBS News correspondent . . . and you’re not.” It was out of character for me to seek revenge, but I went for it. Although I’d often thought about giving her a taste of her own medicine, rarely in life do we get those opportunities. I did it for myself and for all the other women who’ve been made fun of, called names, put down—just because.

I didn’t wait for a response. I didn’t want one. I walked away smiling. It felt great!

There’s something about the title of Miss America that brings out the snark. When you’re wearing the crown, some people see it as an opportunity to knock you down a peg. On my first morning in Atlantic City, I was intent on inspiring girls who were overweight, letting them know they could still pursue their dreams and win. So I told the story of being a chubby child and how my brothers used to tease me, calling me Hindenburg and Blimpo. The next day, walking through the airport, my first brush with fame was glimpsing a banner headline on that week’s Star magazine: “Blimpo Becomes Miss America.” It was a rude awakening.

William Goldman, an accomplished and famous screenwriter, whose credits include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride, was a judge at the pageant my year, and he actually wrote a book about it, which was published in 1990. It’s a good thing I didn’t know about the book until later, because it might have shaken my confidence a little to read page after page about my inadequacies, wrapped around the title he gave me, “Miss Piggy.” He also called me a “God-clutcher” because I said my faith was important to me. To Goldman I was too “chunky” (at 108 pounds!) to even make it to the top ten. He seemed downright offended that talent should count as half the score, and he didn’t much care for my winning violin performance of Gypsy Airs, which he referred to as “fiddling.” He admitted to favoring Miss Colorado. Still, his criticism of me throughout the book was a little over the top. His objectification of me and the other women in the pageant was demeaning. Rereading it recently, I was surprised to find that it still stung. I was embarrassed, even ashamed. It made me realize that shaming is a potent force. For decades I hid my feelings about Goldman’s takedown because it was so belittling. But I certainly have no reason to feel that way. Now I understand that this kind of degrading talk is what keeps young women from being fully themselves—or even trying.

When moms ask me what their little girls should do to become Miss America, I tell them they should take piano lessons, play sports, and study hard. In other words, be the best they can be. You have to build from the inside out, have an inner core, and know who you are to have the confidence to achieve your dreams.

 · · · 

My parents taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be, and that’s how I’ve lived my life. Thanks to their love and the values I learned in my small midwestern hometown of Anoka, Minnesota, I grew up with a fierce determination to make my own destiny. For me being Miss America had less to do with how I looked and more to do with who I was and how I could use my talent and hard work to advance myself. I started the process of becoming myself not on a pageant stage wearing a gown, but as a very young girl who discovered the gift of music.

The first time I picked up a violin it just clicked. By the age of ten I was playing with world-renowned concert violinist Isaac Stern before large audiences. I wasn’t nervous because nobody ever told me I was supposed to be nervous. There was affirmation in the applause. Even when I was a very young girl, I played in church, and people clapped. That was a shock—you weren’t supposed to clap in church! But I smiled, enjoying the moment.

I loved performing and I was passionate about music, but the accomplishment came with a lot of practice. I practiced my violin three to four hours a day. I missed playing with friends and being a Girl Scout and having lazy days when I did nothing at all. I’ve never regretted that time, though sometimes I struggled, and it was lonely. The point is, by the time I was twenty-two, I had earned a place on the public stage. I would never have been Miss America—much less Miss Minnesota—were it not for my violin.

Nevertheless, after I won Miss America, people felt comfortable referring to me as a blonde bimbo. I always get asked whether being Miss America was good for my career. Overall, I have to say yes, but sometimes it took people a little time to get there. The first job I applied for in TV after I graduated from Stanford was in Richmond, Virginia. When I called the news director and introduced myself, he remembered me from the pageant. “Weren’t you Miss America?” he asked doubtfully. “My wife doesn’t even let me watch the Miss America pageant. I’m sure I’m not going to like your work.” I kept my cool—by then I’d had a lot of practice. “Why don’t I send you a tape and maybe you’ll change your mind,” I suggested. Fortunately, he hired me.

Even now I have critics who refer to me as an empty St. John suit in five-inch stiletto heels, despite the fact that I’ve been practicing journalism for twenty-five years. They assume that because I do a show on Fox News I must be required to toe a party line, and they’re shocked when I tell them I’m a registered independent, free to say what I want.

I have always been one to speak my mind, and I don’t sit still for being stereotyped. A friend who knows me really well called me “Badass” one day, a nickname that stuck. It was all in good fun, but Barbara Walters pounced on it the day I cohosted The View. I think she was mystified that anyone would call me that, but to me it was a badge of honor because that’s who I am. I stand up for myself and speak freely, whether the subject is faith or freedom or my own potential. People like to criticize the “bimbo” or mock people who openly profess their faith. If someone wants to label me as a God-clutcher or a culture warrior, go for it.

I don’t mind being called a culture warrior, and that includes being a warrior for women’s equality. The National Organization for Women has never invited me to play on their team, and that’s okay with me. I don’t like boxes or labels. But no one feels as strongly as I do about equality for women.

When I was on Fox & Friends I got a lot of publicity on one occasion when I stood up for women. I did it in a lighthearted manner, but it resonated. My in-box was jammed that day. Steve Doocy was doing a remote segment about the Navy Sea Chanters, commenting that it had been an all-male group until 1980, when women were allowed to join. On the set with me Brian Kilmeade joked, with faux disapproval, “Women are everywhere. We’re letting ’em play golf and tennis now. It’s out of control.” I stood up and walked off the set, calling back, “You know what, you read the headlines since you’re so great. Go ahead, take ’em away.”

Brian laughed. “Leaving an all-male crew . . .”

“In all your glory—go for it,” I called.

I didn’t “storm off” the set, as some reported. I didn’t “shout angrily,” as others portrayed the moment. The manner was strictly teasing. But I guess I made my point, especially in the eyes of the blogs and journalists who usually don’t come out swinging for me. Suddenly they all loved me for standing up for women’s rights!

I put myself out there, so I’m fair game. Now that I have my own show, called The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, I hear a lot from my viewers. I often have to laugh when I read my e-mails. A woman writes, “How can you consider yourself a Christian woman with that kind of cleavage?” Then the very next e-mail will be from a man: “Could you please wear that dress every day?” That makes me chuckle. I love my viewers, and I recognize that, like me, they are individuals with their own viewpoints. They are interesting and diverse, and keeping up with them is a big job.

I fight for women to be respected for everything they are and do, and I ask it for myself. We’re all complex beings, full of unique gifts and opportunities. I’m blessed to find fulfillment in each of my roles—as a wife and mother of two, as a journalist and anchor of a television show, as a musician, as a woman of faith whose weekly highlight is teaching Sunday school alongside my husband. Like every woman I know, I juggle a full load of both joys and stresses.

In one of those early New York interviews, after I won Miss America, the newsman Jack Cafferty challenged a statement I’d made that I didn’t become Miss America because of “luck.” My words seemed to offend him. He prodded me: “If you had to say it again, wouldn’t you rephrase it?” I think he had the idea that you just walked out on a stage, flashed a pretty smile, twirled, and took your chances. I assured him that luck didn’t get me there. I worked my butt off for that opportunity.

We all have some luck in our life, but believe me, I don’t tell my children, “Maybe you’ll get lucky.” I tell them to work hard and study and give it their all. I make sure they understand what it means to have strong values and always strive to do the right thing. Looking back, I remember myself at the age of eleven—my daughter’s age. My dream then was to play the violin on a world stage. No one told me I wasn’t good enough, or skinny enough, or any other “enough.” My life stretched out ahead of me full of possibility, and I lived with the ever-present idea that I could do anything if I set my mind to it and was true to myself. In my life I’ve encountered some big obstacles and made my share of mistakes, which I’ll tell you about in this book. But I’ll also tell you about how I’ve moved past those obstacles to get back up after I’ve failed. I’ve learned to dig deep inside and figure out which direction to take, even when the path is not clear. I’ve tried to be honest about my shortcomings, even though the truth isn’t always pretty. I’ve learned to speak my mind and not be intimidated by critics or demoralized by negativity.

And I’ve always tried to stand up for myself, because being myself is the greatest gift God has given me.

Chapter 1

“Sparkles”

My heart was beating in my throat. My hands felt clammy. Waiting in the wings for my name to be announced, I closed my eyes and repeated the words to the Lord’s Prayer once again. At thirteen I was about to give the biggest performance of my life.

The Minnesota Orchestra was onstage at Orchestra Hall playing the rousing piece Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland. The music was fast-paced and uplifting, with trumpets blaring. I was up next to play the first movement of Édouard Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole.

When the soundproof doors opened, a rush of cold air came at me and I began the long walk across the stage, violin in hand. I was a chubby girl, awkward in my floor-length white dress, but on that day I was also a concert artist, who would lead an entire orchestra in a performance.

Although it was only 10:30 in the morning, the auditorium was full for the orchestra’s popular Coffee Concert. This was a venue for some of the most famous soloists in the country, and today the stage belonged to me. I took my position, fighting nervousness, and everything became silent. The oboe player gave me an A note to tune to. And I began to play.

Just like that, the nervousness fell away and I was lost in the music. I was always a very physical performer, and I poured my heart into interpreting the uplifting Spanish melody. It was not only a matter of technical skill. It was an emotional experience, a feeling of euphoria I’ve never experienced in any other setting. By the time I was done, my dress was damp with sweat, as if I’d just run a race.

The audience rose to its feet cheering. I heard, “Bravo! Bravo!” The applause seemed to go on forever as I left the stage and returned twice more for encore bows. It was a thrilling moment, and then it was over. Normal life resumed.

Back in the dressing room I changed out of my long white dress, and then my mom drove me to school. I got there in time for math class, where we had a test scheduled. My fellow students didn’t even know where I’d been that day. To them I was just one of the kids. They didn’t understand the other me—the one who had just performed with the Minnesota Orchestra.

That dichotomy was the story of my young life. I was a girl who lived for my music, and I spent much of my time in the hallowed circles of great musicians. But I was also engaged in a constant quest to be a regular kid. It was a sometimes frantic, sometimes confusing double life, and beneath my normally sunny exterior there was a nagging loneliness when I felt that my friends couldn’t really know me or be a part of my life with music.

Those two sides of me were in conflict many times over the years. Looking back as an adult, I’ve come to see that both were a gift of my remarkable upbringing in a small Minnesota town, where exceptionalism and normalcy were valued in equal measure.

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