Photos courtesy of Fox News
The Fox News correspondent on covering President Trump, her secret trip to Afghanistan and growing up with astronaut parents
By Mara Sassoon
A few days before Thanksgiving 2019, Fox News correspondent Kristin Fisher received an urgent phone call from her bureau chief. He asked if she’d be willing to take on an assignment during the holiday. The catch: he couldn’t offer her any details except to tell her that he thought it was one she would want.
Fisher (’05), who has been a Washington, D.C.–based correspondent for the network since 2015, was planning to host a holiday celebration and she had family members coming into town later in the week. She considered all of the holiday preparations that needed to get done, but she was intrigued by the secrecy. She also knew she had to give an answer fast. “I trusted him and took a leap of faith and said yes,” she says.
The day before Thanksgiving, Fisher was given more cryptic instructions: go to the top of a parking garage in D.C. and make sure to pack a change of warm clothes. There, she met with a man she suspected was a member of the Secret Service (he never confirmed) who ushered her by car to Joint Base Andrews, a military facility in Maryland, and informed her she would have to temporarily give up all of her electronic devices. She got on a small, nondescript plane. For the duration of the flight, a small group of people—who also failed to identify themselves—asked her about her preparedness: did she bring food or ear protection in addition to the change of clothes? (For the record, she hadn’t.) Two hours later, she was in Florida, still wondering why she needed to pack warm clothing. Not long after they landed, President Donald Trump boarded the aircraft. Here was Fisher, the lone member of the press on a plane with the president and some of his senior advisers, about to embark on a Thanksgiving trip that was still shrouded in mystery.
It was a moment she had been preparing for since she was 10 years old, when she had first decided she wanted to go into broadcast journalism.
After Trump got on the plane in West Palm Beach, Fla., where Fisher says a decoy Air Force One was left on the tarmac, they flew back to Joint Base Andrews to board the real Air Force One. The purpose of the ruse: a trip to Afghanistan, where Trump would meet with the troops and sit down with the country’s president, Ashraf Ghani. Because of space and security concerns, Fisher was the only member of the press selected to go on that first leg of the trip to sneak Trump out of Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort. She joined other members of the White House press corps already on Air Force One. They weren’t told of their destination—Bagram Airfield—until they were a few hours into what would be a 13-hour flight.
Fisher says they spent a little over three hours on the ground in Afghanistan. As members of the White House press pool, she and the other reporters shared the material they’d gathered with all of the major networks. For example, Fisher was able to ask Trump several questions during his news conference with Ghani, in which he brought up restarting negotiations with the Taliban. Once the news embargo was lifted and her electronic devices returned to her, Fisher scrambled to finish her story and transmit the footage to Fox News.
Kristin Fisher was invited to join President Trump on a secret Thanksgiving trip to Afghanistan where he greeted US troops. Fox News
Fisher has discovered that adaptability—and even a dash of impulsiveness, as in the case of this mystery assignment—is essential to covering the Trump presidency. A lot has changed since she arrived at Fox News in 2015 at the tail end of President Barack Obama’s time in office. “My job is still to deliver the news down the middle, truly fair and balanced. In that sense, I do my job during the Trump administration the same way as I did during the Obama administration,” she says. “But, in terms of just the pace of and the amount of information that’s coming from the White House, it’s night and day.”
Fisher grew up in Houston, Tex., five minutes from NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Her parents were both astronauts. She was only a year old in 1984, when her mother joined a mission on the space shuttle Discovery to deploy and recover satellites. That trip earned Anna Lee Fisher the designation of first mother in space. Her father, William Fisher, was a mission specialist on Discovery’s sixth flight, in which he completed the longest space walk in history at the time.
“I lived in a neighborhood where everybody’s parents were astronauts,” Fisher says. She didn’t realize how remarkable it was until she arrived at BU and saw the reactions of her new roommates. “I thought it was very cool growing up, but it also seemed very common. It’s something that I really took for granted as a child.”
“I remember talking to my mom about what the journalists and anchors and reporters were doing and then my mom said to me, ‘You know, I think you’d be really good at this.’ From about age 10 on, broadcast journalism was really the only thing I ever wanted to do.”
What really sparked Fisher’s imagination at the time was broadcast journalism. She remembers her mother waking the entire family in the middle of the night to watch every space shuttle launch. “This was back when all the big network news stations still covered these live. It was a big deal,” she says. “I just remember being really captivated by the emotion and the power of watching it on TV.”
CNN’s coverage of the Gulf War in 1991 had a similar impact. “I remember talking to my mom about what the journalists and anchors and reporters were doing,” she says, “and then my mom said to me, ‘You know, I think you’d be really good at this.’ From about age 10 on, broadcast journalism was really the only thing I ever wanted to do.”
At COM, Fisher immersed herself in everything journalism. “COM taught me what it means to be a journalist—how it is a public service—and all about objective reporting,” she says. “I understand that in this day and age, objective reporting can be seen as boring, but I just don’t care. I didn’t get into journalism to be exciting. I got into journalism to tell the truth.”
During the summer of 2004, before the start of her senior year, Fisher covered the Democratic National Convention in Boston for class. Students were paired with local news affiliates from around the country, essentially becoming those small stations’ DNC correspondents. She worked for an Arkansas station. “It really convinced me that I would like to eventually get into more political journalism,” she says.
Following an internship at NBC News’ London bureau during her senior year, she decided to apply to small-market TV stations—and start working her way up. “I had a bunch of stand up [clips] on the floor of the DNC. I had some stand ups from my time in London,” she says. A few days before graduation, she edited them together and sent tapes to 40 local news stations. About two weeks later, she got a call from KJCT News 8 in Grand Junction, Colo. They flew her out for an interview and made an offer. Within a few weeks of graduating, she was on the job.
Fisher covered big issues like the fracking industry and methamphetamine abuse, and soon was promoted to weekend anchor. After nine months, she moved to KATV ABC 7 in Little Rock, Ark., where she started as a general assignment reporter and then got her dream beat: politics. The 2008 presidential race was underway, and two candidates had strong ties to Arkansas: Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton. Fisher persuaded her bosses to let her do “one-man band” campaign coverage, as she puts it, or following the candidates on the trail without a crew and doing all reporting, filming and editing work herself. “I know some people don’t like being a one-man band, but I absolutely love it,” she says. “It was nuts. I was all by myself.… It was the best possible experience that you could ever have in this business.”
After a few years in Little Rock, Fisher moved to Washington, D.C., to work at the CBS affiliate, WUSA. She spent almost four years there, and won a regional Emmy in 2010 for a biweekly series on heroes in the area. She continued to take the one-man band approach. “One of the things that one-man banding lends itself to is very immersive storytelling and doing that kind of fly-on-the-wall type of reporting. You don’t have a huge camera crew with you, so it’s easier to get your subjects comfortable with you. And you don’t take up a lot of space, so you can tag along with people without being a huge nuisance.” For one segment, she spent a night with a group called HIPS, which works to help sex workers in the D.C. area, riding along in the organization’s outreach van.
By that time, Fisher had been working in local news for about eight years and was hoping to get back to politics. “It’s tough being in D.C. and not covering politics. It’s what everybody’s talking about, what everybody’s doing, and I really wanted to be a part of that conversation,” she says. She left WUSA and started freelancing for ABC News One, the affiliate news service for ABC News, and CBS Newspath, CBS News’ affiliate news service. On the side, she started a video production company called Field Mouse Films, making documentary-style videos for companies like Uber and Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
In 2015, Fox News came calling.
An Evolution of the Press
Fisher started out at Fox News as a general assignment reporter; at the beginning of Trump’s presidency, she became weekend White House correspondent.
There was a lot of travel involved—most weekends, she was either on the ground at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., or at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. After Fisher had her first child, in late 2017, Fox News agreed to move her off the weekend beat. She went to a 3 to 11 pm shift, still mostly covering White House–related news as well as issues related to Capitol Hill. Fisher says that navigating motherhood and a job that still requires quite a bit of travel is a work in progress.
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, covering the Trump presidency meant a lot of travel, including reporting from campaign rallies across the country. Fox News
“But, look, my mom was the first mom in space,” she says. “I always thought that she set such a great example for me that you can be a loving, present working mother, but also crush it in your career.”
One thing that excites Fisher about covering the Trump presidency, she says, is that she is never sure what twists the day might take. “It’s never dull. You can go in thinking you know what your day is going to be all about—the president signing a new bill or a new trade deal—but then he’ll tweet or say something and the whole narrative is just completely blown apart, and you just have to be ready to roll with it.”
The press has also had to navigate other unconventional methods of the Trump administration, Fisher says. “It’s been an evolution, both from the administration standpoint and from the press’ standpoint.” One of the more recent changes is the administration’s shift from holding no formal press briefings to conducting daily briefings in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak—putting a spotlight on the often antagonistic relationship between the Trump administration and the media. At an April briefing, when Fisher pressed the President about the availability of coronavirus tests, he called the question “horrid” and said she should be congratulating him instead.
Fisher says that one of her favorite parts of her job is talking with reporters from other networks. “We’re all very friendly. There is competition, but there is also a sense of unity in that we’re all a part of this really historic time in Washington. There has never been a more exciting time to be on the White House beat and it has a unifying effect.”
Fisher now covers news from the White House and Capitol Hill. In September 2019, that meant breaking news about impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. Fox News
Reflecting on COM’s Lessons
As a correspondent, Fisher has reported from the G20 Summit in Germany in 2017 and has conducted one-on-one interviews with Vice President Mike Pence, but the Afghanistan trip ranks as one of her most exciting, and memorable, assignments. “I enjoyed it from the standpoint of getting to be a witness to history. But it was also so cool because I felt like I was kind of getting back to my one-man band days. At one point, we were on Air Force One, flying back, and we were super time-crunched, so I just made the cuts myself and I was able to put my experience editing in Final Cut Pro to good use.”
While covering politics, Fisher says she has also learned to fight through the noise. She says that all the talk of fake news in recent years hasn’t affected her approach to reporting. “The lessons that I learned at COM are the ones that I’ve taken with me throughout my entire career, and I really do pride myself on being about as down-the-middle of a correspondent as you could possibly find,” she says. “I think a lot of viewers in this day and age think that I have an opinion or that I should have an opinion or that, in some way, I’m secretly trying to promote it, but I don’t. When they tell me that they can’t tell my political views, that is the greatest compliment that I think I could ever get.”