When Campbell Brown Found Her Mission, The Teachers Unions Came After Her

The Autonomous podcast with Campbell Brown of The 74 — on Donald Trump and the media, Hillary Clinton and generational differences, education and more

“For once in my life, I know I’m doing the right thing,” said Campbell Brown, in the Autonomous podcast. The former NBC and CNN host is away from the broadcast studio now, but her work has taken on a new importance. In fact, says Brown, “It feels more satisfying and more important than anything I’ve ever done in my life.” [9:25 in the podcast.]

So what is the work? Brown in the co-founder and Editor In Chief of The 74, an education reform non-profit journalism site devoted to charter schools and fixing a system that badly needs change. But Brown has been met with a lot of pushback. She’s been called a “charter propagandist”…and worse. What’s the reason? 19:05 in the podcast:

There are a lot of people who are very invested in the system as it currently is. The teachers unions don’t want things to change. They want to maintain control over the way things currently work. When you come in and start raising questions and saying things people get really bent out of shape.

We talked Trump and the media, Hillary Clinton and the generational divide and much more. Listen to the FULL podcast here, or below, more quotes from the overall interview:

[You can listen to all the Autonomous podcasts on Soundcloud, or subscribe and listen now on iTunes as well.]

Brown was born in Mississippi and grew up in Louisiana. She was a “very erratic student” and remembers how “women and girls were treated differently.” Her mom was a “repressed feminist,” and instilled values in Brown that she keeps with her, like how “you should respect authority but only if they earn your respect.” [:55]

She ended up, of course, moving to journalism, “the one profession in life which rewards that sort of behavior…where you don’t get in trouble for talking back and asking questions to the point of annoyance, you actually get rewarded for it.” [8:05]

Her first job was in Topeka, Kansas (making significantly less than a Pizza Hut delivery driver). That led to a job in Richmond, VA (working at the time with Mike Allen of Politico and Peter Baker of the New York Times). Then, to NBC News, working with the legendary Tim Russert, and working for Jeff Zucker. Her dream was to end up as a White House correspondent, and she worked her way there by being David Gregory’s fill-in on the 2000 campaign trail covering George W. Bush, where she said “If you will give me this gig I will go to Austin, TX and I will stay there and I will never ask you for a day off.” [25:25]

She joined CNN as the host of “CNN Election Center” during the 2008 campaign “CNN found its footing in a pretty impressive way in the coverage of 2008, which was the idea of throwing every resource imaginable at one big story,” she said. But she left in a public way, resigning two years later. “I think viewers understand that ratings are really important but I don’t know if they fully appreciate the degree to which people on the inside are obsessing about it,” she said. [49:35]

And now she’s focused on education reform. “I’m very frustrated that our presidential candidates aren’t talking about education,” she said.

But while the candidates may not be talking about it, the word is getting out. “I don’t think that a teacher who hurts a child physically or sexually abuses a child should ever be allowed in the classroom again. How do you argue with that?” says Brown. [16:30]

We talked the New York teachers union (“Most powerful political force in NY politics…politicians are very scared of them”) [20:02], the future of news (“I don’t even know if television news is going to be around in five years”) [56:25], the missed opportunity for an independent to run for president (“The majority of the country is not enthusiastic about either one”) [41:25], and her advice for young journalists (“If you are young and creative and energetic and entrepreneurial, the world is your oyster”) [57:15].

On Donald Trump, Brown sees TV news as particularly involved in his success. “I do think television news in particular did play a role in creating him,” she said. Also: [34:20]

In the beginning they didn’t take him seriously, so they just started taking his rallies live, with no editorial commentary or judgment or reporting around it, it was literally they’d let him speak, because they thought he’d say something crazy because that’s great for ratings. And they let him take control of the editorial process and of the coverage.

And Hillary Clinton? “She stands for something that was unattainable, and unthinkable, to my mom and many people in her generation. Versus my generation who assume, I assume, there will be a woman president, whether it’s Hillary Clinton or someone else in my lifetime. And I can’t even imagine how my teenage niece thinks about this.” [43:55]

Thanks to Campbell Brown for her time — please listen and give any feedback (good or bad) — especially as a review on iTunes — as we continue to shape the podcast!

Next week: author and Love City podcast host Toure.