Greta Van Susteren on FNC vs. CNN, Missing-Person Cases, and Missing Wisconsin

By Alissa Krinsky Comment

5 Questions For… Greta Van Susteren

Alissa Krinsky
TVNewser Contributor

Van Susteren.jpgFNC’s Greta Van Susteren is host of On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. Before joining Fox in 2002, she was host of CNN’s The Point and co-host of Burden of Proof. Van Susteren was a trial attorney in private practice prior to her television career. A Wisconsin native, she is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, with a J.D. and Master of Law from Georgetown University.

In recent days, Van Susteren has made headlines, via her GretaWire blog. For (sort of) making nice with Anderson Cooper…defending her former CNN show…and responding to criticism by AC360 EP David Doss.

Doss had characterized On the Record as “not a news program. It’s missing-person-of-the-day.” Van Susteren elaborates on the characterization with TVNewser. She also talks about how working for FNC compares to her CNN experience.

1. TVNewser: Critics often lambaste cable’s emphasis on the big missing persons/murder cases (e.g., Scott Peterson, Natalee Holloway). My response:
Van Susteren: First, as noted, the question says ‘the critics.’ At Fox we don’t program for the ‘critics.’ Whether the critics like it or not, missing people is a serious topic, and if you don’t believe me, ask a family member.

This is not about pontificating from the sidelines — this is about real problems for people. And second, if you look at it, everyone in the business covers these murder cases cited in the question (including the high-and-mighty, who do it by the underhanded way of talking about how the others are doing it and how horrible it is that they do — that is what the critics do when they talk about it…hmmm…the oldest trick in the book and one we used often in the courtroom: “I am not calling this police officer a liar…” Just what are you doing?).

Yes, we at Fox — and especially at 10pmET — get criticized often for these stories as though we are the only ones covering these topics, but I suspect we get all the attention and much of the criticism for one reason: we don’t just sit on the set and yakety-yak and let others do the heavy lifting. We actually go out and investigate (an old-fashioned journalism concept: investigation!).

Of course, my years as a trial lawyer with an emphasis on fact investigation helps make our work better. I am the ‘real deal’ when it comes to fact investigation. In other words, we do our jobs…and we may be the lightening rod for criticism simply because we are doing our jobs well. I don’t mind getting criticism for doing my job well.

2. TVNewser: The main differences between working for Fox News Channel and CNN:
Van Susteren: I left CNN six and a half years ago and can compare my current experience to the one I had at CNN six and a half years ago. I don’t know what it is like now but can tell you what it was like right before I bolted for the door.

CNN was very, very ‘corporate’ in the last two years I was there — it was hard to get anyone to make a decision (they really overdid the committee ‘stuff’) and I did not feel comfortable that the decisions made were made for the right reasons (the fact that Time Warner has now retreated from the name AOL suggests that perhaps I was not wrong…)

I felt the answer to almost every idea at CNN in the last year (after Ted Turner departed and when AOL was in charge) was ‘no.’ CNN was always looking that last year at the bottom line as a measure of whether things should be done as it tried to make happy all the AOL shareholders.

Fox was/is different. Fox was (and is) refreshing. Every new idea I raise at Fox is answered by ‘why not? Let’s try it.’ In short, Fox is fun…and CNN was not (by the way, leadership does matter).

CNN was fun when Ted Turner was in charge. Ted made things fun and was willing to take a chance, and CNN became a nightmare after he sold it and it became corporate.

There is a big difference having Roger Ailes in charge at Fox compared to some faceless corporate board. Roger is not a stuffed suit — he is fun, he is accessible, and he is loyal to us. Yes, loyalty matters. Roger loves hard work, and he loves a challenge. His attitude is contagious to the rest of us and largely the reason Fox is number one in all of cable news.

3. TVNewser: I devote so much time and effort to GretaWire because…
Van Susteren: I started blogging ahead of everyone else (I think) in the news business (5 years ago?). I like it because I get to interact with the viewers instead of just talk ‘at’ them on camera. That is no relationship!

If you take a look at GretaWire, you will see that we do all sorts of things: behind-the-scenes, an internet show every night (GretaLiveWire), pics, polls, comments, etc. It is just fun to interact with the viewers. I don’t want to just talk ‘at’ a camera. That is too weird, too stiff and just not fun. I like the give-and-take.

4. TVNewser: How I compare my pre-TV life to my life now:
Van Susteren: Before I moved to TV, I never slept at night. I worried about my clients and I worried about making mistakes that could hurt a client. I took my job as a lawyer for clients very seriously. Lawyers shoulder huge responsibilities when it comes to taking care of people and I was not a corporate lawyer sitting in an office billing by the hour to some inanimate object. I was an old fashion lawyer who actually represented people who needed help.

I represented people in both civil and criminal cases and usually (almost always) very poor ones who had no hope but with what I might be able to do for them. I was not watching from the sidelines…but inside. Everyday I knew I helped someone and that is a great feeling. I love TV news and have fun in this job but the truth is: no one dies when an anchor makes a mistake on TV…the worst that can happen is that I either embarrass myself (not fatal) or I libel someone (and we carry insurance for that unintended error.)

5. TVNewser: What I miss most about Wisconsin…
Van Susteren: Bratwurst, my high school friends, the Packers and cheese.