|Image Credit: Gary Landsman
White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux on the current state of TV journalism, pregnant chads and the curious tale of a birthday cake."Women have to be more aggressive and assertive," says Malveaux.
Being CNN's White House correspondent wasn't sufficiently tiring, so on a Sunday in late October, Suzanne Malveaux went for a little run. Like 26.2 miles, aka the Marine Corps Marathon. "It took me five hours and 36 minutes," says a chagrined Malveaux. "But it was my first marathon, and, hey, I finished."
The road to the White House pressroom also has been an interesting run for Malveaux, local girl made good. Born in Lansing, Mich., she moved here as a child, when her father entered Howard University Medical School (where he is now dean), and attended public schools in suburban Maryland.
Her first career goal was to follow in her father's footsteps, specifically "to deliver babies." But halfway through college, she became interested in using her sociology major as an entry to journalism. "I wasn't drawn to the camera," she says. "I was more of a producer type."
After graduating cum laude from Harvard, Malveaux spent a year doing documentaries in Egypt as an intern. During that time, she gained her first on-camera experience. But when it was over, she felt the need for an even stronger academic background and enrolled in Columbia University's journalism program.
Favorite movie about TV: "Broadcast News, with Holly Hunter and William Hurt. Nothing else comes close."
Favorite TV personality: Christine Amanpour. "[She's] fearless, and she's a model of what a journalist should be: hardworking and what I call a rock-and-roll journalist, but still down-to-earth and not aloof. And she's not caught up in any of the superficial aspects of the business—that's refreshing
Why she stays in D.C.: "Professionally, because it's the seat of power and where so many important events are happening. And it's great to be near my family and people I grew up with. The sense of community it gives me makes my job a lot easier."
Favorite vacation spot: "Anywhere warm, but especially Cape Town, South Africa. It's the most beautiful place in the world."
Her ride: Saab convertible. "I took so much grief for years about the old wrecks I drove that I finally bought a real car."
Her first on-air job was with New England Cable News, where she worked as a general assignment reporter. But it was always her goal to get back to Washington. So, after three years in Boston, she applied for jobs here; and when local NBC affiliate WRC offered her a job in 1996, she took it. "I spent three years running around the city as a ‘rock-and-roll' reporter doing anything and everything local—especially crime coverage. Then Tim Russert asked me to join NBC Network News. I did that for six years, three in Washington and three in Chicago."
The young reporter's timing could hardly have been better. For NBC, she covered the Clinton impeachment proceedings, the Elian Gonzalez story and, as a Pentagon correspondent, the military actions in Kosovo and Afghanistan. And then she covered the attacks of September 11. "Actually, it was 9-11 that brought me back home," Malveaux says. "NBC had me covering the crash in Pennsylvania and then the Pentagon." In 2002, she left NBC for the job as CNN's White House correspondent.
She says her favorite assignment was the down-to-the-wire presidential race of 2000. "I thought that our coverage of the ballot count in Florida served a very useful purpose. It elevated the discussion from hanging chads and pregnant chads to the question of how the system works. Yes, there was a circus atmosphere. But at the same time, you had important legal decisions, and the pace of the story was unbelievable. I think it was a high point for American journalism—whereas impeachment and Monica Lewinsky had been a low point."
It's a good thing that Malveaux runs triathlons and marathons, because her current assignment requires more than a little stamina. "Until I landed the White House beat, I'd thought covering the Elian Gonzalez story was the most physically demanding. But the other day, covering the president in Crawford [Texas], we were up at 5 a.m. and then flew out to inspect the damage caused by the wildfires near San Diego. By midnight, when I got back home, we'd been traveling for 10 hours. And that was a typical day."
In addition to filing daily reports from the White House, which often means appearing live every hour, Malveaux also is a rotating panelist on CNN's On the Story, a weekly program that features women anchors and correspondents discussing current events. While she's quick to admit that her generation of female journalists hasn't faced anywhere near the amount of bias as their predecessors, she still believes that "women have to be more aggressive and assertive. The most important thing for a woman to be is determined." She pauses for emphasis. "And nothing is a substitute for being prepared."
One of Malveaux's favorite journalistic experiences is also a personal one. "It was on a long trip with Mrs. Clinton. I'd turned 30 earlier that year, but because I'd been so busy working and traveling, I'd never had a party to celebrate that special birthday—and I'd been lamenting that fact to one of our photographers. As we were getting back to Washington after this really grueling trip, I fell asleep.
Just before we landed, I felt somebody tapping me on the shoulder. I woke up, and it was the First Lady with a birthday cake and candles. She said, ‘I hate to think you'd missed your 30th birthday.' And with that, she started to sing Happy Birthday, and everybody joined in. I thought, wow, this is a great birthday after all—and not a bad way to make a living."
What about the future? Does thirtysomething Malveaux have specific goals? "I'm happy where I am right now," she says. "I always want to be involved in politics, because it's both fascinating and rewarding. I never want to do anything that could be called ‘tabloid.'
I started out doing documentaries, which are slow, and now I'm involved with breaking news, which could mean being on the air every half-hour, or even for hours at a time. As I grow up in this business, I'll probably strike a balance between the two. Until then, I'm having a ball."