Every night at 6 p.m., smooth as a well-oiled clockwork, Fox's Special Report goes on the air. Host Bret Baier reports the major events of the day, analyzes the latest political stories and also leads a panel of pundits and political reporters who discuss their broader significance. Like most televised news shows, it appears to viewers to be a seamless process, a graceful admixture of news and commentary.
But what is it like on the other side of the cameras?
Well, kind of messy. "Sometimes it can get really heated and passionate," Baier, who has been hosting the show since 2009, said in a phone interview with AOL Jobs. "Sometimes I rib the panelists on the air, tell them 'let's calm it down, and step back a bit.'"
A confrontational format
From health care to the debt ceiling, sequestration to the attack on Bengazi, Special Report covers the most controversial news stories of the day. Baier says the biggest challenge often is time. "A big part of the show was learning to corral the horses," Baier says, joking he could easily fill a two-hour show. "My panelists already have a perspective in mind, on a lot of topics, before the conversation begins. When we start, they're off!"
This balance between argument and respect is part of the show -- and dates back to its original host and creator, Brit Hume. Succeeding him was "daunting," Baier recalls. "Brit's an icon, and he built the show from scratch. For the first few weeks, I was definitely looking at the graphic to make sure it still said 'With Bret Baier.'" Soon, however, the show truly became Baier's, moving from Hume's somewhat professorial rhythms to a faster-paced, more confrontational format.
Given that Special Report is a Fox program, it's not surprising that some media analysts see the show as tilting to the right. What is surprising, however, is the degree to which Baier's panel tends to include moderate and even left-of-center journalists. Regular contributors include Daily Beast columnist Kirsten Powers and Washington Post reporters Karen Tumulty and Charles Lane. And, while -- as Baier notes -- discussions can sometimes get "heated," the collegiality of the panel has paid off for the show: Last month Special Report was the third highest rated cable news program, according to Newser.
A professional highlight: An interview with Obama
After four years of constant -- and sometimes tumultuous -- news coverage, it only takes Baier an instant to identify the most exciting moment as an anchor. In 2010, three days before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act went to a vote, Baier interviewed President Obama. "At the time, lots of people in Washington didn't know what was in the bill," Baier recalls, then laughs. "To be honest, I think a lot of people in D.C. still don't! There was real confusion about what was going to happen."
Those confusing moments -- the time between when a story breaks and when everybody understands it -- are among Baier's favorites. This was a big part of the excitement of covering the 2010 and 2012 elections, when the future of the country was up in the air. "There's nothing like seeing all the votes come in, following the elections in real time, and bringing that breaking story to the country," he recalls. The greatest pleasure, for him, lies in watching history unfold. "For a political junkie, that's a big deal."
At odds with the Democratic administration
Because of Fox News Network's well-known conservative reputation, Baier has found himself in the center of political battles with the Obama White House. In 2009, after much squabbling between Fox and the White House, there was speculation that the White House might even withdraw the network's press credentials. Baier's Fox News report on the dustup was closely watched by White House Deputy Communications Director Jennifer Psaki, who sent out an e-mail stating that "brett baier just did a stupid piece on it - but he is a lunatic."
Two years later, the e-mail was publicly released by a conservative watchdog group, with some back pedaling from the White House. But Baier emphasizes that it actually had a happy ending. "That was a bad experience that led to a good relationship," he stresses. "A lot of things are said in D.C., but I've found that if people sit down to talk, you can work through almost anything. In most cases, these problems are a simple misunderstanding. Relationships are important in Washington -- and they also can help get a lot of news."
Time for the family
Of course, as with any other high-powered job, relationships are often difficult to juggle. And, as the married father of two children, Baier says, "It's taken me a while to learn how to shut off the iPhone, hang up my jacket and be with my family. A good friend of mine, the late ABC Pentagon correspondent Jack McWethy, used to say that if you can learn to hang up your trench coat and leave your work with it on the rung by the front door, that's ideal."
As for whether or not he's learned to thread that needle, Baier notes that it's a difficult process. "I am trying to do that more and more every day," he laughs.