Last week, Fox News celebrated its 25th anniversary on air, and there are a few select individuals who have been there from the very beginning. One such person is Steve Doocy, who has co-hosted the morning show Fox & Friends since its very inception, remaining a constant amid the show’s many iterations alongside co-host Brian Kilmeade.
Fox & Friends is a beast of a cable news program and ad revenue earner for Fox News. Last year, the conservative opinion show drew its highest ratings in history. The morning show routinely draws more viewers than all of CNN’s prime time, and finished the third quarter with 1.2 million viewers and 210,000 in the demo, easily outpacing CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
I was able to chat with Doocy late last week and discuss a number of topics of the day. We discussed our shared small-town Kansas roots, the joy of fatherly pride that comes with his son Peter Doocy’s rise to influence as White House correspondent for Fox News, and why he believes in encouraging viewers to get vaccinated for Covid-19, despite a segment of his audience that remains resistant to it.
The following transcript has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
Mediaite: 25 years is a long time, and it’s a big journey. Describe for me the sense of accomplishment that you feel for having been doing this for 25 years.
Doocy: It started to sink in today when we were talking about 25 years and then one of the writers had put “a quarter of a century” and it’s like, Whoa, wait a minute. Years are one thing, but centuries are a completely different thing. And that’s you know, that’s cool, because in the beginning, of course, Fox is a big deal now, but in the beginning, we didn’t know if it was going to work. There was a lot of expansion, but it was hard to get on cable channels at that time. And I remember just talking to the executives and the other original Fox members in the beginning. For the first year, I don’t think anybody knew that it was going to wind up working. But at that point, we were not in New York City, and the whole way that you survive in television is with TV ads. And we didn’t have the ads. We didn’t have the advertisers watching because we weren’t on in New York. The first year we didn’t have Madison Avenue watching because we weren’t on in New York City and the reason we weren’t born in New York City was that the big cable company Time Warner, which owns CNN, would not put us on the cable. And so there was a struggle for a year, and eventually, I think it was coming up on a year before we were actually on in New York. And then once we run in New York, then — this could actually work out with people watching. And it was remarkable… because you’ve been at startups, you just don’t know in the beginning, and yet it all worked out.
Mediaite: One of the things I noticed when I covered the 15th anniversary and what is an interesting phenomenon at Fox News is those early days where you were very much going uphill, you didn’t know if you were going to make it. You were definitely the underdog. That still seems to be in the party’s DNA, even though you all have been dominant in the ratings for fifteen years, you’ve been number one forever. And I’m fascinated by that, you guys are consistently the most-watched, top-rated network by far. But you also have kind of an underdog position, and I think it works.
Doocy: I think you’re right, because in the beginning, Colby, we were the underdog. You know, CNN had a 15-year head start, or however long it was. And there were other channels that were vying for the same space. When you’re the underdog, you go into a big game on in football or anything else, and you’re the underdog and you know you’re the underdog, you work harder, I think. And we were the underdog for a long time. Things started to change after 9/11. And I think that’s about the time we started becoming number one every day because people were interested because we had more extensive coverage of the War on Terror and the search for Bin Laden and stuff like that. But then when we were number one, that same mentality, okay, we’re still taking up just like before we’re just taking on everybody else and we still have that. I think that’s a great observation on your part. You know, the underdog is now the big dog, but you know, we still fight to win every day.
Mediaite: I grew up in Hutchinson, Kansas and I know you are from a small town in Kansas as well. That underdog point of view, I think, really closely aligns with the show’s intended audience of Middle Americans and who feel that they are not spoken to or they are ignored by some of New York or coastal-centric cable shows. Is it fair to say that you embrace the underdog status, and speak to viewers who feel like they’re largely ignored?
Doocy: Well, you know, anytime you start… Whatever the business is. In the beginning, you got to think, is there a market for this? If you build it, will they come? The founders — this goes, this goes way back — they knew that there was an appetite for a channel that presented both sides because before Fox News, for the most part, you just got one. You got kind of, I wouldn’t say the middle of the news, but you only got a portion of the news or points of view and stuff like that, and so when we started, I would say, Bill Clinton is still in the White House back then, people started watching the channel and I would see them like when I was out and about at Home Depot or the grocery store. And they go, you know, I don’t hear anybody else talking about these stories that you talk about. And they would say thank you for being fair and balanced, which was obviously the slogan back then because we, you know, the whole idea was to do both sides of the story. And if people say, well, the channel leans one way and it’s like the other channels don’t even present the other side. And what they’ve always told us from the beginning is you’ve got to give both sides. And we do. We always, you know, because the only way somebody is going to be able to make an informed personal decision on their own or have an opinion on something is if you know the whole story if you only care about half the story, you only know half the story. So you know, we always do our best to, “Okay, this is what’s going on. This is what that side says, this is the other side says” after our discussion, you know? If we’ve done a good job, people know both sides, then they can figure it out themselves.
Mediaite: Fox and Friends is clearly an opinion show, and it largely takes a conservative or Republican point of view. But I’ve noticed that when you talk about both sides, that often falls to you. And I don’t want to say that you have a more moderate voice, but you tend to present the whole story. Is that a fair assessment? And if it is, do you ever feel like you’re open to criticism, or if you’re just trying to be “fair and balanced,” to use the phrase.
Doocy: Well, you know, when I was at the University of Kansas William Allen White School of Journalism, that’s what they taught. I was going to be, you know, I went there because I was going to be a newspaper writer. And they said, Look, you just have to explain the story. And so I just try to explain the story. And the great thing about Fox is we’ve got a lot of different people with different points of view, and that’s fine. But let’s just explain the story and then we can talk about it. And I hope there are different points of view because it would be really boring if there weren’t.
Mediaite: You and Brian Kilmeade have been together on the couch for 25 years, and yet it still comes across like you really enjoy each other’s company, You’re both funny and quick-witted. Can we talk a little bit about your relationship with Brian and your partnership?
Doocy: You know, Brian and I worked together for, approaching a quarter of a century. He kind of reminds me of — I don’t have a little brother or younger brother, but he, for the most part, is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a younger brother. And before he came to Fox, he had been a performer, and so he gets how TV works. And so we’ve been good together because I’ll say something and he’ll add to it. Once we start down the road, we figured out how to make it interesting and at times entertaining for the people who are watching. And that’s not easy to do because sometimes people just talk and it’s back and forth, back and forth. But I think ultimately we’ve learned each other’s points of interest so that we can present something that will be just different. You get the news, you get a laugh, you get something different than the other channels.
Mediaite: Your son Peter has become — I think I wrote that he was the breakout star of the Biden administration. And pretty much any time he has an interaction with Jen Psaki, we will cover that and get traffic because he’s one of the few people in the room that asks really interesting questions and tries to speak truth to power. I have to tell you, as a father, when my 14-year-old makes a nice play flag football game, my heart bursts with pride. I mean, literally, I’m an old sap. It’s a Midwestern thing, but I come close to tears. But Peter is your son, and he’s doing phenomenal work making news. That has to make your heart swell.
Doocy: Well, as a father, you would appreciate this. I think Peter’s been there 11 years, 12 years, something like that. When he first started, when he was on TV — and he was never on Fox & Friends in the beginning, he was in Chicago, he was in Philly, he was in New York doing stories across the country. But my wife, Kathy, and I would be at home and we would watch him, and when he was live on the air, we could not breathe because it’s like, Okay, is he going to be okay? Is he going to do okay because it’s …
Mediaite: It’s got to be nerve-wracking — like watching a high wire act, not wanting him to make a flub that would get featured on a website like Mediaite.
Doocy: It’s terrifying. I mean, live TV is daunting. He started and in the very beginning, he was doing great. And then one day we were watching and, I forget where he was, I think it was a junkyard, it was a live shot and he threw to a package, it was a tape, and then out of the package, he started to talk and then he just stopped. And it was like, wait, what? He stopped talking, and I talked to him later and the producer, said in his ear, “We’re out of time! We’re done.” And so he just stopped and I said, “Peter, did you know what you were going to say?” And he goes, “Well, then when they said that, I did not know what to say. And I said one of the things I’ve always done, is I’ve always written down on a notecard or a notebook, a basic idea. And from that day on, he always had… he’s got an unbelievable memory now. But in the early days, he, at my suggestion he would write down his ad-libs, or his words in and out of the package.
Peter grew up watching Fox. He’s not part of the Washington establishment. So he’s familiar with the news, but he knows in that room of 75 people, whatever the news of the day is — like today, it was the debt ceiling limit — out of that room, 75 percent of the people want to ask questions about the debt limit. And so she’s going to answer those questions thoroughly, and by the time she gets to Peter, what’s he going to ask? What’s going to be left? So he always comes up with interesting questions.
Mediaite: The key to great content is always scarcity. Something unique, and it’s clear that he does that. But you know, you make a sort of reference to this thing. And I don’t want this all to be about Peter because I think it really relates to you also. Peter asks tough questions that are very pointed. But it’s very clear that he was Press Secretary Psaki abide by the same social contract, but there is some they’re maybe not ideologically on the same page, but there is a great deal of mutual respect. Is that a fair assessment? And can you speak with that? Is that a result of being raised by you and your wife or just go off on that?
Doocy: Peter came in at the beginning of the Biden administration. I think the entire Trump administration. The temperature in the Brady Briefing Room was completely different. And the approach of many of the correspondents was completely different. And so coming into the new administration, you know, I think Peter thought about how he wanted to approach things, but ultimately. His approach, which is very civil, is the same approach he used on the campaign trail. And he followed Joe Biden around for a year and a half before he was elected president, so Peter was with Biden. He was with Harris. He was with Bernie. He was with all of them. And the way to get, you know, the way to get answers is to ask good questions, and he always will generally know what they would say. If I ask this question, they’re probably going to say that. So. He looks at the nuance about what they’ve said in the past and he’s crafted some, some pointed questions that wind up getting interesting answers. And I think it serves just the press. It serves, not the press. It says a lot about his approach to the job, which is very civil, and you know, that’s the kid we raised. So my wife, Kathy and I are very gratified that he was paying it, that he was paying attention.
Mediaite: You’ve been pretty vocal in being a proponent for Covid-19 vaccines. Have you received any pushback on that?
Doocy: Let me explain it this way. Like three years ago, my wife and I came out with a cookbook. And we told this story that the idea behind the cookbook was after she got an eye cancer diagnosis, she had eye cancer, we went down to Philadelphia, Wills Eye Hospital, which is the greatest eye hospital in the world. And they said “You know what? We’re catching this early. We’re thinking we’ve got a handle on it.” When she was being treated there, we were down there for a week, and Kathy and I were in one room and the kids were all in the next room. We had to stay at a hotel because she was radioactive because she had this radioactive plaque sewn into her eye, which is barbaric, but that’s the only way to kill cancer in your eyes. One of those sleepless nights, she thought what if I don’t make it? Who’s going to raise my kid? How will they — they’ll miss their mom. And then she came up with this idea: I’m going to write down all my recipes. And then we spent a year writing down all her recipes, and we wrote a cookbook. And so the reason I bring that up is that Kathy has been on our show, and we’ve talked about her eye cancer.
Fast forward to the pandemic, Kathy’s doctor said that given her situation, if she got Covid, she would die. It just was like, if you get it, you’re going to die. And so we did everything we could to isolate her before the vaccine came out, and as soon as she could get the vaccine and she got it. I’m of the opinion that if the scientific data supports it, people should get it — with the exception of people who cannot tolerate vaccines and stuff like that — get it because it can save your life. It can save the life of somebody in your family. Ultimately, there are a lot of people who, for a variety of reasons, are not getting the vaccine. But unfortunately, right now, there are a lot of unvaccinated people who are infecting other unvaccinated people and ultimately people are going to get sick and in the worst-case scenario, they will die. I base it on just the practical application of, we all got vaccines to go to school. That was the price of admission to go to school. You had to get chickenpox, MMR, all that stuff, tetanus. If that’s what you need these days to get through life, get the shot. And so I said that. And I know people said, “Hey Steve Doocy said he’d get the shot.” Sean Hannity said he was the pro-vaccine as well. It goes back to my core, and that is, trying to be an explainer. Let me explain what’s going on. Let me tell you the story, and so that’s where that comes from, Colby.
Mediaite: Well that puts it in proper context.
Doocy: Ultimately, I’m trying to protect my wife and people like my wife. And so that’s why I said as soon as I could, I got the shot.
Mediaite: You know, Mediaite covers Fox and Friends, which is a loose and sometimes casual show, and there are times where we jump on things that we think are newsworthy. Not make this about us, but you do pay attention to what blogs do? Do you ignore it? Do you let the attention bother you?
Doocy: I generally don’t read a lot of stuff about me. But I look at Mediaite, at least a couple of times a day. And in fact, Peter and I had a conversation yesterday where we were talking about an interaction he had with the White House and he said, you know, Mediate got it right. Got the point and got it right. And I said, OK, I’m going to take a look at it.
Mediaite: Well, thanks so much for taking the time today. I really appreciate it.
Doocy: Well thank you, Colby, and I love that another Kansas boy is doing well.
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