FOX News anchor and legal correspondent Shannon Bream is at Elon University’s School of Law in Greensboro today. She met with students and alumni to provide her insight on being both a journalist and an attorney.
Elon News Network sat down with Bream to discuss her role in covering some of the nation’s landmark court cases, from Obergefell v. Hodges to Roe v. Wade. She is the third and final speaker for Elon Law’s Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Can you tell me about yourself? I know your background, you went to Liberty University, and you're a lawyer, but can you explain more in detail about how you got to where you are?
“I've always been a current events nut. I always wanted to know what was happening, what's the latest. Of course now, when I was a kid, you didn't have social media and didn't have the immediacy of what you can get. But, now it is one of those things that an event can happen anywhere in the world and you could know about it in 30 seconds if somebody is live streaming on social media.
I've always had that passion for storytelling and knowing what's going on in the world. But when I went to college, I studied business, I went to law school. I've always been fascinated by law and politics too. But I found that current events thing and that passion for storytelling never really went away.
When I was in my third year of practicing law, I decided I'm really gonna investigate this idea of journalism and storytelling.”
You've had a front-row seat to a lot of events in history, like the overturning of Roe v. Wade, presidential elections, all of that. How have you seen the intersectionality of law and journalism evolve over your career?
“So many of our top stories are legal stories, whether it is a landmark decision at the Supreme Court, whether it's the indictment of a former president and how that plays out. So I'm really grateful for my background as a lawyer because so many of the stories that we do take us into courtrooms, take us to emergency filings and stays and last-minute emergency appeals. So I feel like often our lead story of the night is legal.”
I know a lot of predominant journalists, you think about Savannah Guthrie, Dan Abrams, they all have law degrees. How does it particularly assist you when you're doing your journalism?
“I'm really grateful for the background because when I interviewed for my job to cover the Supreme Court at FOX, the man doing the hiring, Brit Hume, at that point said he didn't want to interview anybody that wasn't an attorney. He wanted to make sure they understood the workings of the court.
I'm really grateful for the legalese, the technicals, how to find the statute, how to find the briefing, how to read a motion. I'm really grateful for the years of that experience that really helps me in covering the legal beat now. But I think probably the biggest thing I got from my legal years that benefit me now is research and writing. I mean, you're gonna do that all day as a lawyer and it's what I do all day as a journalist.”
Can you touch on your experiences of having a front-row seat to some of these monumental historical events? I know just recently you were on air for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Can you talk about what those experiences are, specifically as a lawyer, but also as a journalist?
“When a decision of that importance is coming in, you wanna get it exactly right. And sometimes if it's a two or 300-page opinion, it's difficult. One of the tricks I learned from a former coworker of mine was to flip to the dissent. When you see the grouping there, it often tells you more about the case. Then if you start at the beginning with a majority opinion, it's a good little nugget that's helped me many times. So you want to get it right.
That's more important than being first. But also as a journalist, there's that urgency. I mean, you are thankful that you were there at that moment, but you're often so much running on adrenaline that you really don't have time to stop and think at that moment. This is a bit of history. It's maybe later in the day after you've done 15 live shots or the next day when you've had a night of sleep to think, gosh, that's something that I will talk about for decades to come. Where were you? What was it like? What did it mean? How did it reverberate? So I'm very grateful for those moments to get to be there.”
I know that you just had a talk with a class about your faith and how that plays a role in your practice. Could you share with me about that and the challenges that you face as being a woman of faith but also being an attorney and a journalist at the same time?
“I think of it as an absolute net positive in my life. It is the grounding factor for me. When you travel around the world and you report on situations that are devastating, you see lives lost, you see destroyed families and homes, natural disasters, it's hard to digest some of that and to see real suffering. So, for me, my faith is the thing that gives me hope in that it gives me the ability to know that faith is the place where you can't answer every question, but you have hope for the future. For me, that's what it is. Now there have been times in my career where people thought that I was 'too churchy.'
That's the word that was used that I maybe was too much about my faith. And I don't think I can be, I mean, to me it is the core of who I am. I think there's a way to marry it together with what you do. I mean, for me as a Christian, as a believer, I feel like I'm called to a standard of excellence that if you’ve got to be accurate, you’ve got to be hardworking. You've got to be working for a higher purpose. So to me, that means everything I do needs to go to the next standard, the next level. I think that's a good thing as a lawyer or as a journalist to say that you want to do no matter who comes across your work with and know you're a person of faith or not to say that person works with excellence.”
How do you manage the bias of that, if there is any, when it comes to being a Christian but also reporting on topics that may be controversial or things like that in Washington that are being decided?
“I feel like all of us come to the table with our own biases or opinions about things. And one of the biggest assignments of our job is to not let it bleed into our work. I also have to check that I don't overcorrect sometimes with that because I want to be so sure that my personal feelings don't ever show up in my work or in my interviews. I want to make sure that I'm probing both sides of any topic or any issue, both sides of the aisle. So I think we're all human beings, so we're going to walk into whatever our job is with who we are and what we believe. But for me as a journalist, I think one of the top things I have to do is make sure that it's not a part of my work.”
You've written two books. What made you decide to become an author and to write these books, to share your words and wisdom?
“It seemed like one of the impossible things I would hear about people writing a book and think, how do you even do that? That seems kind of overwhelming. Fox actually came to me a few years ago and said, we're thinking about getting into this space of books and your faith is an important thing and we want to write books about faith and kind of meet people where they're at. So it felt like a wonderful opportunity and I learned so much in the process. I did grow up reading all these stories from the Bible, but to do a deep dive on them and as an adult I felt like, gosh, I'm getting a whole new perspective on who these people were, the circumstances of their day, very different from what we have in the western world. So it was a gift to me. As much as I hope now to the readers, it's a gift to them too.”
What do you think are the challenges to being a legal correspondent in 2023 that maybe you didn't face years ago?
“It's not just that we get the opinions, which are always a challenge to digest and quickly get out there and make sure that those are right. But there's a lot more interest in I think the justices as people and what they're doing in their personal lives, ethics questions and public feelings about the courts, the polling on that. So I think that there are things that aren't just about the legal content of what we're doing, but about the court as an institution, we're still trying to find the leaker, that made history in what most people see as a very negative way in undermining confidence in the court. So, I think that there are these stories about the court where it used to be strictly legal reporting and now it's on the institution as well. That makes it a little different moving forward.”
What words of advice would you offer to not only future lawyers but future journalists?
“I would say do not take no for an answer. You'll hear it a lot no matter what fields you go into. And it's very discouraging. But I meet people all the time in both of those fields who say, I wish I just stuck it out a little bit longer. I wish that I had fought for what I believed was my passion or my dream if it's a career-related thing.
I would say, all you have to do is be that one person that says yes and you'll probably have a ratio of like 100 to one of no to yes. But I'm still fighting it. Every time we try to get an interview with somebody with the White House or somebody on Capitol Hill, you gotta ask a lot and you gotta work ways around those no’s, so know that they're coming. They're not the final word and just keep pushing through.”