On Monday, Bill Hemmer, a part-time Sag Harbor resident, becomes anchor of Fox News' weekday 3 p.m. newscast, "Bill Hemmer Reports," replacing "Shepard Smith Reporting." Smith quit last October (and per trade reports, is being courted by CNN and MSNBC).
I spoke recently with Hemmer, 55, who joined Fox 15 years ago from CNN as a breaking news specialist and as co-anchor of "America's Newsroom" at launch in 2009.
The last few years were tumultuous at FNC. What were they like for you?
It's been a great run here [and] I'm very fortunate to survive in a business for 25 years that seems to invite so much turnover. I feel I'm a survivor.
Tell me about your early career.
I was a sports reporter [in hometown Cincinnati] but my grand ambition was to backpack around the world before I turned 30. I had my midlife crisis at the age of 26 and quit, then did that for a year. I wasn't staying in cushy youth hostels in London, but went to Vietnam, China, Nepal, India, eastern Europe, Russia.
Parlayed that into a news reporter job in Cincinnati, but with so many talented people ahead of me, I knew I wasn't going to get far. I hired an agent [Jackie Harris] and she got me into CNN — I got the job because of travel.
You quickly became a big star at CNN — glamorous globetrotter, the "Chad Lad," subject of an adulatory New York Magazine profile. What were those years like for you?
Versatility has its rewards in this industry if you can prove you can do a lot of things. [But] if you do them without much drama, you will be given more opportunities. I'd stress that whether at CNN or here, it's been an absolute privilege to experience history changing before your eyes.
Why leave CNN?
They wanted me to be White House correspondent [but] I was and am a big fan of New York City and wasn't ready to leave. I had a few [other] opportunities, at CBS News, and Fox.
I always thought of you as a breaking news guy. Did you think Fox would let you do that?
After I left CNN, we [then-FNC chief Roger Ailes] started talking and he made it pretty clear he thought I could find success here, but I don't think I was convinced overnight.
It was hard to break into the lineup, but there was an assignment that opened at noon, so I took it. Every time I spoke with Roger [who died in 2017] I learned something new, and one time — I think I was up for a contract [renewal] — I sat down and had this big monologue to deliver as to why he should keep me. He asked me just one question: 'Are you generally happy?' because if you are, I have one less person to worry about.' I said I was generally happy."
Shep left in dramatic style. Your reaction?
I had no knowledge beforehand. I was shocked. It was a drop-the-mic moment.
FNC primetime is filled with opinionators, reportedly a concern of his. What about you?
I'm not an opinion maker. I think our people are the best [but] it's not my comfort zone.
Will you be a Trump booster or critic?
Neither. On some days, Trump wins, some days loses. Some of those stories are so complex that to assume you can figure them out in sixty minutes is shortsighted.
I do have to admit, you leave a thin Google trail — no controversies, your private life is private and so, it would seem, are your politics. Who are you?
I'm the middle child [of five] who was responsible for making certain his [siblings] were taken care of. It's the classic middle child syndrome. I don't like drama.