Q&A: 'Campaign Carl' reflects on ties to Granite State

August 25. 2017 6:58PM
In this undated photo, Carl Cameron reports in front of the State House in Concord. (COURTESY)

Editor's note: The following is a question-and-answer session with Carl Cameron, the longtime political correspondent for Fox News, who announced his retirement earlier this week.

Cameron became Fox's first high-profile, on-air political talent, its first correspondent covering a presidential campaign, its first chief political correspondent and its first chief White House correspondent.

Prior to 22 years with Fox News Cameron was a veteran reporter and political director with New Hampshire news media at WMUR-TV as well as in radio at WFEA-AM and WZID-FM.

Fox News anchor Shepard Smith dubbed Cameron "Campaign Carl", a nickname that became his on-air moniker.

Senior Reporter Kevin Landrigan, who has known Cameron for three decades, conducted the interview.

Q. Carl, you're still at a young guy at 55, what are your plans for post-retirement from Fox?

A. I've got lots of plans and lots of opportunities, none of which I can talk about yet. I am not going to be doing cable news per se or Washington-type journalism. I am going to do some things which hopefully can help the public steer through the rocks. It has not all come together yet. It may in the coming weeks and we will keep you posted, more to be revealed, stay tuned, more from Campaign Carl.

I've got a few books in me. At this point right now I do really feel good about it. I think my reputation is intact and that's always been important to me.

Q. What are your most memorable New Hampshire moments, as a journalist here and as a correspondent for Fox News?

A. The role that WMUR played in 1992 and 1996 was remarkable. The whole world was coming to Channel 9 like it never had before. Prior to that and through 1988 the Union Leader was very dominant and Republicans in New Hampshire were everything.

In 1992 things started to change. It was a combination of Bill Clinton's candidacy and the wave of the internet. Bob Dole and Bill Clinton were the first candidates to have a web page.

All of a sudden Channel 9 was the go-to media. I vividly remember Bill Clinton getting off a puddle jumper off the Lebanon airport and putting a microphone in his face saying did you dodge the draft.

My first interview was with George H. Bush after the Nashua Rotary. I interviewed the vice president then. It was surreal.

There was a time when (former Union Leader Publisher) Nackey Loeb and (current Publisher) Joe McQuaid used to delight in giving me the needle, and I say now with great feeling that Joe McQuaid is one of my dearest friends in New Hampshire.

I was able to give him the Bartlett Award a few years ago. We were friendly adversaries.

The UL was such a huge part of it, even the battles that 'MUR and Fox had was always a good-natured race for news.

I remember (Republican presidential hopeful) Lamar Alexander was walking across the state in 1996 and I had to abandon him on the campaign trail one day because Jerry Garcia, the leader of the Grateful Dead, had just died. That night playing at the Hampton Casino was Bob Weir, a guitarist and lead singer for the band.

I dropped Lamar Alexander like a hot potato and as Mr. Weir was deciding whether to cancel his show, he was in his bus out back. I passed the guys running for the casino and said if he wants an interview live at 6, I'll give it to him and, by the way, I had been to 175 Dead concerts.

Jim Breen, who is still there at WMUR, he shot it. I held the mike and that night on Nightline a tearful Bob Weir told his story.

When I was a political director at WMUR, one of my proudest moments was the day that the O.J. trial went to the jury, (former California Gov.) Pete Wilson dropped out of the President race.

Channel 9 was the only radio or television station that led not with the O.J. trial but with Pete Wilson dropping out in New Hampshire.

That was a triumph of politics over pop culture. I will wear that badge to my death with me.

Q. How did the transition from WMUR to Fox come about in 1995?

A. I have had an amazing experience with Fox. They came to WMUR and Larry Gilpin and said, "Hey, we'd like to have him do his Channel 9 hits (television appearances), then switch and hold a Fox mic flag."

The network that Roger Ailes built was started by Joe Peyron; he was the guy who actually hired me.

That was in the spring or summer in 1995. Every time I would do a piece in the Milford Oval I would flip it over and do it with the Fox News flag on it as well.

This has been 22 years. It was unbelievable. Had it not been for me coming from New Hampshire having learned the political ropes at the State House and Ward 1 in Manchester and Nashua, I never would have been asked when the Dole-Clinton race ended in 1996 to leave New Hampshire.

Q. What was that big leap like?

A. I had no idea I would be going down to Washington. After the campaign, here WMUR's Larry Gilpin pushed an envelope across the desk from me saying I was leaving MUR and I was going to Fox.

I was kind of crushed. "Holy bleep" I said, don't you love me any more. Larry said, "You've gotten too big for us, Carl."

I was hurt. What did I do wrong?

At first I was intimidated as hell. I was deeply concerned I wasn't going to cut it in Washington.

When I got down there it took six months to realize the egos were bigger, but that it was basically the same thing, the same game, just people playing with bigger egos.

I learned it by accident in New Hampshire.

I owe it all to the guys I competed with in New Hampshire, and everything I stole from you guys made it possible.

Q. Do you worry about the business, especially broadcast focusing on appearance rather than substance in picking its on-air talent and the decline of the public's interest in traditional news coverage?

A. Sure. News is a business and we get that. The truth of the matter is the business model of TV is that my product is to keep your eyes glued to the TV set so you will watch our Geico commercials. I would admit it. I would often start my TV story about some verbal combat, something sexy to get attention. I bowed to the, "Hey, I have to look at something that is going to entertain them and keep their interest."

The recognition that print media is suffering - television media is suffering by other platforms - means it is easier to give people what they want and not what they need. That's a real problem.

For the people following in our footsteps, I feel really bad for them. People entering the business now, they know more about managing their Facebook or Twitter feed than they do about the Congress, and that's true about the candidates, too.

Q. The Trump presidency has led to a greater percentage of people who say they don't trust what they read or watch. Has the mainstream media been unfair to this President? And will the national media's image ever improve with the American people?

Absolutely, that is a concern. I made mistakes over the years; I am human. It wasn't because I had an agenda - I messed it up.

I once had the IRS call me because I had misquoted the percentage of IRS employees who were not paying their taxes. I did a correction on air the next day and said please IRS don't audit me. The entire newsroom cracked up.

There is nothing wrong with making mistakes if you correct them.

There is something wrong with deliberate bias or one-sided reporting in the news. Sins of omission in journalism are not cool.

Q. Will New Hampshire see more of Carl Cameron going forward?

A. Sure will. My folks are up in East Wakefield almost full-time now, and I am way overdue going to see them.

I will always be Granite State through and through.

John Clayton in his City Matters column once called me out for speeding, and he knew it was me because I had the license plate, "NHNewsman."

I still have that hanging in my den.

Once a New Hampshire newsman, always a New Hampshire newsman.

General NewsNew HampshirePoliticsNH People

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