I can’t tell you how honored and flattered I am by the story in the New York Times media business section about my journey to pundit-land and my experience so far. Here’s is the full text — or read it online here.
At Fox News, a Liberal Pundit Finds the Spotlight
By ELIZABETH JENSEN
Sally Kohn is a former community organizer who prefers baggy clothes and doesn’t own a television. She, her partner and their 4-year-old daughter live in the liberal bastion of Park Slope in Brooklyn, and she recently proudly posted on Twitter her new status as “co-squad leader at the Park Slope Food Coop.” Absolutely nothing about her screams obvious contributor to the Fox News Channel.
But for the last year, Ms. Kohn has been making a name for herself in the crowded arena of political punditry, having made her way into the business at Fox News, the country’s highest-rated news channel, and a favorite destination for conservative viewers.
Michael Clemente, Fox News’s executive vice president for news editorial, compared her favorably to Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate who was one of Fox’s roster of liberals.
“Sally is like Gerry: she says whatever’s on her mind,” Mr. Clemente said in a telephone interview. “She has some fresh thoughts,” he said, adding, “She’s not part of the pack.”
In the last couple of weeks, Ms. Kohn has, among appearances on Fox, put forth the argument for President Obama’s re-election, discussed women voters and the election and debated whether Ann Romney has been treated unfairly by the women of “The View.” “If this is grilling, I don’t think anybody has been to a barbecue,” she said.
In August, Ms. Kohn, who also writes for Salon.com and posts on Twitter constantly, won national attention with her Foxnews.com critique of the vice-presidential candidate’s Republican National Convention speech, with the innocuous headline “Paul Ryan’s speech in 3 words.” (Those were “dazzling,” “deceiving” and “distracting” and the commentary called the speech “an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.”)
Although Fox News never put Ms. Kohn on the air to discuss the post, the viral phenomenon collected 2.1 million unique hits, putting it among the site’s top five original posts for the year.
Ms. Kohn, who is 35, has a law degree, has worked at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and has run a feminist organization. Her unorthodox trajectory into punditry began in fall 2009, when she left her job at the Center for Community Change after six years of organizing communities, working on issues including welfare reform, health care and immigration.
“I was one of those people on the left who was frustrated, and there were a bunch of us, that the institutional progressive movement had, for lack of a better word, had sewn its lips to the rear end of the White House,” she said, adding that her organizing work was never about party politics. “I was about movement politics, about ideas, about vision, about how to get regular people engaged in the process of making the world a better place.”
At an Opportunity Agenda conference that year, a stranger approached Ms. Kohn, insisting she needed to pursue a television career. “I think I laughed at her,” Ms. Kohn recalled, adding, “That had not been at all a role that I thought for myself. In organizing, you’re all behind the scenes.” The stranger turned out to be Geraldine Laybourne, the cable executive instrumental in the development of Nickelodeon and Oxygen.
Ms. Laybourne, in an e-mail, recalled that Ms. Kohn “was incredibly articulate about complex issues. She had a point of view and could put it forward in a way that made people listen to her,” adding that, “I urged her to become a commentator frankly because we need more bright, young, well-informed women on TV.”
Ms. Kohn, still feeling “deeply uncomfortable” on television, agreed to training at the Women’s Media Center. “I think that Geraldine and I got her to understand that she could use that voice to do an awful lot of good,” said Carol Jenkins, W.M.C.’s founding president.
After several online appearances, she went on Sean Hannity’s prime-time Fox News show in fall 2010. After more appearances on CNN and MSNBC as well, she began to enjoy it.
“I started to realize this is really just like organizing, but with a bigger audience. Instead of talking about ideas and values in a church basement with 10 people or a hundred people, you get to do it on television in front of a million people,” she said.
The MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes, a mentor, knew her at the Center for Community Change and called her organizing background valuable, because it “teaches you to be undogmatic, to listen to people.”
“It forces you to take seriously politics as seen through the eyes of people, as opposed to the eyes of people who talk about politics,” he said.
In December 2011, after sending the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, an e-mail, she was signed to a paid contributor contract.
The move raised eyebrows among some on the left, but Adam Mason, the state policy director for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, called it a courageous move similar to organizing. “You don’t see many pundits going right into the devil’s den,” he said, referring to Fox News. “You’re really putting yourself out there in front of a lot of people that really don’t want to hear what you want to say.”
Ms. Jenkins said she was surprised that Ms. Kohn ended up at Fox, but added, “I’m glad she’s there.”
Eventually, Ms. Kohn said, she would like to have her own cable show, but for the moment she is still cobbling together a living from her various outlets. She is paid when on Fox News, but not for Foxnews.com writing. The liberal Web site Daily Kos urged supporters to donate to her after the Paul Ryan commentary. She received some $4,000, she said, adding, “I was so touched.”
Here is some great coverage and commentary on the New York Times story
TV Newser: “Sally Kohn: ‘FNC’s Geraldine Ferarro’”
Out Magazine: “Is Sally Kohn the Next Rachel Maddow?”
Red State: “Ride, Sally… Ride” — praise from a staunch conservative, talk radio producer Susan Cloud
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