5 Questions with… Eric Shawn

By Brian Flood 

Eric_Shawn304Eric Shawn is celebrating his 40th anniversary of anchoring election night coverage on cable news. He produced and anchored live election night coverage “Election 74: Manhattan,” on Manhattan Cable Television channel C, public access in New York City. His coverage was praised by the television critic in the New York Times in 1976. From there, he went on to become a local reporter at WPIX and then WNYW before he started reporting nationally. Shawn joined FOX News at its inception in 1996 and is now a New York-based senior correspondent and anchor of FNC’s weekend show “America’s News Headquarters.”

Shawn will anchor Fox news Channel’s election coverage from 1-4 am ET.  TVNewser caught up with Shawn to discuss 40 years covering elections and how times have changed since he began in 1974.

TVNewser: This is your 40th year covering election night news. What is the biggest change in the way the media covers election night?

Shawn: In the cable news world, we now can go live with a smart phone or the Live U in an instant. In 1974, we did not even have the luxury of a satellite truck. We relied on the New York City subway and taxi cabs to ferry the reporters’ taped reports from the campaign headquarters to the studio! We had no polls, projections or voter data and could only call the races when the Board of Elections did or the candidates conceded or gave a victory speech. It kind of kept the excitement of the election night drama going. I miss that uncertainty, versus the immediate declaration of the projected winner the second after the polls close that we announce now, based on our sophisticated data crunching operations.

TVNewser: So, how did you make it 40 years anyway?

Shawn: Beats me! I just keep showing up and my stuff is still in my office.

TVNewser : You’ve interviewed everyone from Bill Clinton to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad… who is the most interesting person you’ve ever had a chance to meet?

Shawn: Ahmadinejad is perhaps the most puzzling. A PHD who was a master at spouting the party line, countering every truth that I threw at him with deception and inverted analysis. It was like spending time with a totalitarian version of Alice in Wonderland. I was very touched by the grace of Mother Teresa. But I think I can speak for many of my colleagues, in that it largely is not the famous and notable interview subject who leaves the most meaningful impressions, but the everyday people struggling against adversity or engaged in heroic endeavors. The F-14 fighter pilot just back from a mission over Iraq eating “mid-rats,” the soft serve ice-cream at midnight on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, my young translator in Somalia whose eyes bulged wide open when I opened my copy of Newsweek and he said he hadn’t seen one in years, the brother of a woman run over and killed on Christmas eve with tears streaming down his face as I stood in their doorway of a New York City housing project, the mother of one of the Marines who was killed in the bombing of the barracks in Beirut in 1983 stoically coping with his loss, the young woman who needed a heart-lung transplant and was so weak that she had to hold the microphone against her lips to be heard, who spoke of the beauty and blessings of life and how we should strive to be happy. She died the next day.

TVNewser : You’ve been based in New York City for essentially your entire career. Does one particular political race stand out as the most polarizing among New Yorkers?

Shawn: The 1989 Mayoral primary between Mayor Ed Koch and David Dinkins. Just weeks before the primary, a 16 year old black teen, Yusef Hawkins, was shot to death when he was surrounded by a white mob in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The tragic killing helped defeat Koch, and Dinkins went on to become the city’s first African-American Mayor. Al Sharpton led incredibly tense protests through the Bensonhurst streets, where misguided young men shouted racial epithets and held watermelons as they pretending to shoot Sharpton. The older cameramen I worked with said the atmosphere echoed the riots of the 1960’s. A mob with baseball bats was standing in front of Yusef’s home when we pulled up, and the police asked use to move the live vans because the family thought we were listening in on their conversations! I later became close to Yusef’s father Moses, a noble and ethical man and complex interview subject who only tried to do the best by his beloved son.

TVNewser: Best pizza? Famous Ray’s, Famous Original Rays or someplace else?

Shawn: At the risk of forever jeopardizing my die-hard, chauvinistic and proud New York City heritage…. I’d pick the white clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s in Connecticut. No mozzarella… just clams, grated parmesan and lots of garlic! Heaven.