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Culture

"America's Sweetheart" Won't Play The Victim: An Interview With Ainsley Earhardt

By Brittany Martinez·· 17 min read
Ainsley studio
Fox

"Welcome to the roaring twenties!" That's the message that flooded my social media on New Year's Eve. None of us dreamed that the start of a new decade would be so monumental in the worst of ways.

At the time I’m writing this, a Starbucks in Los Angeles, where I live, is on fire. The Grove, a popular place where I've dined, shopped, and gone to the movies over the years, is being looted and destroyed. On the east coast, a historic church is in flames. Across the country, over a dozen people have been killed by rioters. And only an hour ago, Trump labeled ANTIFA a “Terrorist Organization.”

This is, without a doubt, one of the most divisive times I've ever witnessed in America. And not just divisive, but dark in many ways. So when I called Ainsley for our interview, my thoughts consumed by the onslaught of chaotic news, I was surprised by her resolve, hope, and positivity. Despite recently going through a divorce and being quarantined in New York, one of COVID's worst hot-zones, she has an outlook on life that can benefit us all right now.

For a moment, I forget that we’re in 2020 and am reminded of the .American Dream.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ainsley Earhardt, she spends her mornings waking up America as the co-host of Fox & Friends, the highest-rated morning show in cable news, and the show The New York Times calls, the "most powerful show in America."

She’s often referred to as “America’s Sweetheart,” and sometimes, when people are feeling salty, “Barbie.” While it's safe to assume her critics are being degrading, they fail to realize that Barbie did kill it at every job ever. Perhaps it’s not as good of an insult as they hoped. Barbie or not, Ainsley is proof that with a hard work ethic, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. And for a moment, I forget that we’re in 2020 and am reminded of the “American Dream” I grew up hearing of.

Brittany: What was it like growing up in South Carolina?

Ainsley: I feel so fortunate because New York is my dream, and my dream came true. But growing up in the South, it’s such a wonderful place to raise a family. The values. And that’s something special about South Carolina. Most people don’t leave. There’s a lot of pride, and it’s just such a fun place. Everyone knows everyone in the South, and it’s very special.

Brittany: I’m curious. What made you take the leap to go into journalism when it was so far from the life you grew up in?

Ainsley: I knew when I grew up, I wanted to be an actress and was very involved in theater. I knew I wanted to do something in television. I wanted to go to college and get my education, and then I could go to New York. 

I started working for an orthodontist, who was a family friend. But it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do two more years of college and then orthodontistry. 

I accepted the job in Columbia where I grew up. I knew if I made mistakes on air, which is inevitable when you start, that the town would be forgiving.

So I majored in broadcasting and worked my tail off. A lot of professors noticed that and really talked to a lot of news directors and said, “She’s a really hard worker. I think you should hire her.” I got like three job offers and one kind of maybe, but I accepted the job in Columbia where I grew up. I thought, that’s great, my grandparents could watch me, and I knew if I made mistakes on air, which is inevitable when you start, that the town would be forgiving. And I could gather stories because I had friends in the city. I could call the police department. I had friends there. It was a great way to get my feet wet in the industry because it was my home town. 

Lesson: Get creative. Find a way to bring your unique strengths to a project, and don’t be afraid to let those strengths shine.

Brittany: Co-host on Fox & Friends is such an iconic spot. And I heard you didn’t even have experience in politics at all.

Ainsley: Well, when I was in college in South Carolina I interned for Amy Robach, who was on ABC. She’s now on Good Morning America, but I remember when I got the Fox & Friends job I called Amy, and I said, “Amy, I interned under you, and you taught me so much about the business. And now we’re both on morning shows.” I said God is so good. I still pinch myself when I walk into that building. I really do. I look up 6th Avenue, and I look all the way up to Central Park. I see all the American flags outside. And I’m like, this is where I work. This is my dream!

I remember watching movies when I was a child, and I saw this ‘80s movie. I think it was The Secret to My Success. And she would walk down the streets in her suit and walk to her big corporate job. And I would say I want that. I want to get dressed up and walk into a big building in New York City. I was hoping for a corner office and a big job in the city and be able to provide for my family, and just, everything’s come true.

Lesson: Always be grateful and remember how far you’ve come from where you started.

Brittany: Katie Couric was a role model for you, and now you have young girls shadow you. So what do you hope they learn from you?

Ainsley: You know, I had a friend tell me one time, “If someone ever asks you for help, don’t say no.” And I really feel like that’s the Christian thing to do. So when the younger generation asks if they can come and shadow me, I always say yes because I want to help. Because people did that for me.

I remember being at that age, and I so badly wanted someone to notice me.

I’ve been at Fox for what, 13 years? And we’ve had so many interns that have gone on to get TV jobs or work at the White House or work on the Hill and have really big jobs now. So it’s so rewarding to see that you helped play a part in that because people did that for me. I remember being at that age, and I so badly wanted someone to notice me. I wanted someone to see those qualities, and a few people who became my bosses saw that spark in me. And really helped me hone my skills and become a better journalist. So I want to do the same for other people.

Lesson: Pass on what you know to the next generation. It’s good karma.

Brittany: What advice would you give to young women who receive a lot of hate, judgment, or criticism, particularly for their beliefs?

Ainsley: I think the key is to be positive... I’m not always perfect. I’m far from perfect. I make mistakes, but when I do I’m quick to say I’m sorry. I want to be that kind of person. I want to have strong character. I want to always try to be righteous, and a pastor told me one time, he said, “Anytime you read the word ‘righteous’ in the Bible replace it with ‘doing the right thing’.” I love being a mother. My daughter brings so much joy to my life. I had a miscarriage and some struggles getting pregnant, and I’m so grateful that God has blessed me with this child. We don’t have a big house, but I like to keep it clean so it feels like an oasis for her. 

Lesson: Remember what’s truly important in life. Staying grounded in your family gives you strength to stand up to almost any trial.

Brittany: A lot of women today are putting off having children. Did you know early on that you wanted to have kids or was the idea of motherhood something that came after your successes?

Ainsley: So growing up, we had plenty. But money was always something on my father’s mind. “How much is this going to cost?” And that’s normal. I just didn’t want to be a burden on my dad because I knew he was stressed financially. So I knew I wasn’t going to be starting a family until I got where I was going. So I put all that on hold and was focused on what I wanted my future to look like.

So I got to New York and got married. Then, I think in my mid-thirties, we started talking about having a family. When we were 38, I started trying and had a miscarriage. And then at 39, I got pregnant with Hayden three months after my miscarriage. So I know there was a plan in this. I wouldn’t have had Hayden if I hadn’t gone through that. At the time I didn’t understand it, but I knew that God had a reason.

To answer your question, I knew that I wanted to probably have children. Once I hit mid-thirties, I knew I wanted to be a mother. I was finally able to have a family and be comfortable in New York City. As far as having more children, I just give that to God. I’m 44. I think right now, I’m great. I’m really happy, and I can pour my life into Hayden. I would love to give her a brother or sister, but I’m not sure that’s in the cards. So I’ll leave that to God.

Lesson: It’s okay if you’re not ready to jump into having kids right away. But don’t wait too long. A career isn’t a replacement for a family.

Brittany: What’s a misconception about you that you wish would stop?

Ainsley: You know, I think there are people that are critical of Fox News, and it’s a wonderful place to work. It’s my family, and I’ve grown up so much at Fox. Most of the good and bad in my life has happened there. We support one another. I have a great group of friends there, and there’s not anyone there that I dislike. I love them all, and they’ve really supported my faith, supported my books, motherhood. 

I think no matter if you agree with the opinion shows or not. Whether or not you agree with the politics, just give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I do that with other networks. Just because I don’t agree with the host’s opinions, it doesn’t mean they are a bad person. 

I think this day and age people are so dismissive. When Ronald Reagan was president, his best friend was a Democrat. So I love the fact we can be different. I have friends that have different faiths. I have friends that have different political beliefs. I just try to love everybody.

Sometimes I read the criticisms from people. Personal attacks on friends at Fox or on me, and I know these individuals. And I think, “You don’t even know them.” They're wonderful people. If you could just go have a beer with them, or go to a restaurant and have coffee with them, you would love them! Even if you don’t agree with their politics. I want our country to come back to that.

Lesson: People are much more than their political affiliation. Don’t assume that because someone disagrees with you that they’re a bad person. Be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Brittany: Do you think there’s a double standard when it comes to women in media? Like the values they’re allowed to hold or not hold in the court of mainstream opinion?

Ainsley: I think we’re getting better. More women are allowed to rise to the top. Barbara Walters, I read her book, and she had to work extremely hard and there was so much sexism. I’m sure Katie Couric experienced the same thing, but it’s definitely getting better. After the #MeToo movement, things are changing in our country for the better for women. I think women are not afraid to stand up for themselves now. They know their rights and they’re not afraid to voice their opinions.

Brittany: Did you feel like you had more of a struggle growing up because you’re a woman, or do you think by the time you became successful it was less of an issue?

Ainsley: You know I’ve never let myself go there. I don’t want to get bogged down in what I have or don’t have. I just want to work really hard. I can tell you that I have my position because of hard work. I worked my tail off to get to that position, and that’s what I try to teach the interns. 

As a woman you can’t be jealous of other women. You have to support each other.

And I will tell you this, as a woman you can’t be jealous of other women. You have to support each other. And if I have a woman in my seat, if I’m taking a vacation day, I try to write them. Tell them, “Thank you for filling in. You did a wonderful job.” There’s not an ounce of jealousy in my body because I know there will be a time that comes when I won’t be sitting in that chair anymore. And whether or not that’s retiring or choosing another path, whatever God has in store for me. But whoever takes that seat, I will be so supportive of them. I hope it’s a long time from now *laughs* but just, try to be supportive.

Lesson: Work hard and support the people around you. Excuses aren't empowering. Don’t spend your time being jealous of others - it just distracts from the hard work that needs to be done.

Brittany: I wish more women understood that. I think you’re spot on. There’s such value in having a strong work ethic, regardless of your background.

Ainsley: Thank you. Just work hard. Say “Yes.” If your boss wants you to go cover a convention, say yes. And that’s one of the reasons I waited to have children. Because when I was asked to go, I wanted to be able to say yes and learn as much as I could about the profession. So if you continue to say yes to your bosses, it means you’re a team player but also learning and growing as an individual. And if you said no, someone else is going instead. So if you want to get to the top, you have to say yes.

Lesson: Always be the one to say “yes” when opportunity knocks.

Brittany: According to a 2018 Gallup poll, the supermajority of women in the U.S. and the U.K. do not identify as feminists. What about modern feminism do you think is turning women away it?

Ainsley: Gosh, that's a great question. Well, I think we’re evolving. And more women are in charge, more women are single moms, more women are the breadwinners. And I think feminism looks different than it maybe did 10 or 20 years ago. The movement started, and it was just women should be equal to men. I agree with that. I think we are different, but we should be treated equally in the workforce. So I think it’s a wonderful thing that it’s changing, and women are more confident and stronger and more empowered.

I think men and women are different, but we should be treated equally in the workforce.

I mean look at Washington. We need more women in Congress because it’s not representative of our country. But that’s changing. More women are speaking out, and more women are becoming leaders. And I want my daughter to see me as a leader. And I’m hoping I’m still in this seat when she’s older so she can see a powerful woman, a woman from South Carolina who worked to get to the top and do it all. I’ll be able to send my daughter to college because of the Fox News channel. 

I try not to focus too much on what men can do and what women can do. I just want to be a strong woman. I want my daughter to know there are things you will not take from men and some things I expect from her. I want her to be happy, positive, a good person, with a strong faith. And no matter what profession she wants to go through, I will support her and I will help her along the way. But I want her to stand on her own two feet. I don’t want her to think I’m there to do everything for her. I want her to pick out her clothes, which can be scary sometimes. *laughs*

Brittany: I love that. I know our time is almost up but is there anything else you’d like our reader to know?

Ainsley: My book comes out in paperback. I launched the book two years ago. I was married but going through a separation when I wrote the book. So, it wasn’t public yet. So the new last chapter in this book is about getting through that and letting women know “You can do it.” I had one of my hardest days through that process, and the book goes into detail about that. But whatever you’re going through, God will get you through it. And if God changes the course of your life, He’ll make it so much better. I just say, “Jesus, take the wheel,” like Carrie Underwood says. 

Closing Thoughts

Listening to Ainsley speak about her job, her daughter, and her faith, it’s easy to see how she earned the title “America’s Sweetheart.” She's a Southern girl from humble means who made it in the Big Apple (and made it big). While it's a charming story, it's certainly not a common one. At least not in real life. How many go to work every day feeling like they're living their childhood dream, especially in a public role so often the target of criticism? It doesn't matter whether you see her as political or not (she certainly doesn't). There's a bigger lesson to be had here, and it goes deeper than a Carrie Underwood song.

All too often, women are expected to think a certain way and check certain ideological boxes. If you don't conform, you're often mocked and belittled, or worse, #canceled. Your ideas aren't challenged, but rather your identity as a woman is demeaned, despite your achievements that would otherwise be exalted. In the words of a dead Greek philosopher, "When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the losers." But as easy as it would be to chalk it all up to sexism, Ainsley doesn't go there. I get the sense she's almost offended by the idea of playing the victim. She knows women have it better today in America than any woman before us anywhere. And the best way we can honor their struggle is to push forward in the roles they paved for us, and not just with style, but with class. God knows the world could use a lot more of it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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