Brian Kilmeade, the co-host of “Fox & Friends,” will appear at the Book Revue in Huntington on Monday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. to discuss and sign copies of his latest book, “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny” (Sentinel, $28), which he co-wrote with Don Yaeger.
Kilmeade, 53, is a father of three and longtime soccer coach in Massapequa who joined Fox News in 1997. He was named co-host of “Fox & Friends” a short time later. He also hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show on Fox News Talk on weekday mornings.
Before joining FNC, he was a TV sports anchor and — earlier in his career — worked as a stand-up. He’s a 1986 graduate of LIU Post, where he played soccer. “The Miracle of New Orleans” is his fifth book, and third with Yaeger.
Kilmeade recently spoke to Newsday TV critic Verne Gay about the book, his show, and Fox News’ recent travails.
Why a book on this very specific chapter of Jackson’s career?
I don’t think I could outdo Jon Meacham or Ron Chernow and do the definitive biography on these great Americans — I don’t have the time or skill set. But I did want to focus on the battle that was uniquely American and that deserved more attention, and bring something new to it. . . . I also thought he and [President] Trump have a lot of parallels.
Jackson was controversial in his time, and is now, with his support of slavery and the forced march of Cherokees from Georgia. This appears to be a moment when historic figures are being re-evaluated. How would you evaluate him?
I know he’s not perfect, but along the way, he had a huge impact on the country and future presidents. Truman worshipped him. Lincoln studied him. Reagan insisted on taking his picture at one of the Jackson statues. Teddy Roosevelt wrote his biography. All these great people in their time were fascinated by him, and I felt I’ve got to study this guy, but I’m not one to judge him.
You say that Trump and Jackson share traits. What are those?
Both were and are obsessed with the media. [Jackson] subscribed to 16 different newspapers and put them into binders . . . [and] there are marks in the margins like “not true . . . never happened.” Both were considered outsiders. They were both detested by the D.C. establishment; in Jackson’s case, the Washington/Virginia establishment of John Quincy Adams. He was the uncouth Midwesterner, getting into duels with everyone. He was a hero but he was considered not good enough to be president. And he took his case to the people. . . . I’m not saying Donald Trump is Andrew Jackson . . . [but] Trump sees the similarities too. He took the same tour with the same tour guide I did at the Hermitage (Jackson’s Nashville home).
As you’re aware, there has been a movement to remove statues beyond those of Robert E. Lee, and even the mayor of New York has wondered whether the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle should come down. Could Jackson be subjected to removal around the country?
If you’re looking to put statues of perfect people on pedestals, you have a lot of empty pedestals. Who’s the perfect person beyond reproach?
Let’s talk Fox. Your former co-host, Gretchen Carlson, launched what became the biggest media story of the year in 2016 when she sued former FNC chief Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. The lawsuit and subsequent settlement still echoes loudly to this day, with the accusations against Harvey Weinstein and others. What was your reaction when you first heard about it?
I was actually in Hawaii. I had never taken a two-week vacation in my life and we’d planned this one years ahead of time. Then this happened all of a sudden, literally thousands of miles away. I was stunned. I got along with Gretchen and she did my radio show as long as I’ve done my show. I had no inkling what was going on.
Had you ever known Gretchen might do this? Had she expressed her concerns to you?
I don’t think anyone here had a heads-up. Understand the one reason why I do well here: I just do my job. My job is, just do or say stuff on the air, and that’s where my controversy or praise — something negative or positive — comes from. I’ve got this life where I’m up at 3 in the morning and unless filling in [later in the day] I’m outta here. I can pretty much say that’s the one reason I’ve been successful at Fox. I just do what I do.
Nevertheless, the conflagration threatened to engulf the show, Fox News and, by association, you. Was there ever any concern about that?
I’ll bring you up to the day by day here. Day by day these last couple of years we had the most electrifying run for the presidency — unbelievable — and one of the people who was our guest every week for six years was the candidate. So I have this unique window into the guy running for president, and then we have two conventions, then you keep filling in [on other shows], or helping out. Watching all the other stuff taking place [at Fox] and knowing you’re just a bystander, did I fear for myself? Not really. We’ve got the No. 1 network and I really feel like it takes all my energy to keep up with the [election] news.
Had you ever been aware of Ailes’ behavior, as alleged by a number of former Fox News employees as well as Carlson?
Your reaction when you learned of them?
I can only go by the Roger Ailes I knew. (Ailes died May 18 at the age of 77.) He was inspiring and demanding and very supportive. There were things that popped up that were controversial with me . . . [and] I remember his saying, ‘Listen, I back you 100 percent. . . . ’ ”
Ailes’ eventual downfall (he was forced out in 2016) affected the entire network. How did it affect you personally?
You might have a wrong perception of the way things work here. I have my executive producer . . . [and] am in three hours of meetings, or pitching stories, or on the air, or on a remote. Unless there’s a problem, you never heard from . . . [the executive] floor. It’s so busy.
From the outside, it looked like FNC was imploding, with new bosses arriving, then other charges of sexual harassment, and subsequently Bill O’Reilly’s firing. What was it like from the inside during this tumultuous period?
When we walk in the building we go to work . . . [and] you pump it out. There’s no time for introspection because of the pace of news. On a daily basis you don’t have time to think about the changes.
Let’s talk “Fox & Friends.” Obviously it has a unique role in the media landscape, as a popular morning show, but also one where critics have long said that it offers praise and comfort to the president on a daily basis. How would you respond to that criticism?
I just talked to . . . [the president] yesterday, on the radio, and he told me, “Fox is fair to me. You hit me when I need to be hit.” And I think that we have. We’re playing it fair. If you watch the other channels, they are so anti-Trump you want to laugh out loud. . . . If you have five things and four of them are positive, the other networks are choosing to air the one thing that’s negative all day. To him, it’s frustrating, and I think we’re doing a much more accurate job of what’s going on in the world, and our ratings have never been higher.
Are you personally friends with the president?
I would say this. I know him well enough to know that he is fundamentally a really good person, and that when he’s successful, the country is successful. I’ve known him over the years, and if you judge people by how they treat other people [who work for them] then he grades out extremely high . . . For me to presume that we’re friends is a huge leap. He’s a 70-year-old billionaire and I’m 30 years younger from a lower-middle-class background and just a morning show host but I think we should all hope to be as successful.
He obviously watches you guys very closely. Does he call during the commercial breaks to give suggestions or reactions?
No, I don’t have that type of interaction.
Let me quickly ask you about Megyn Kelly’s show on NBC. It’s had some critics too. Are you one of them?
I’m a huge Megyn Kelly fan ... [and] I did her show [at Fox] every day for 2 1⁄2 years. I’d stay the extra six hours to do that four minutes she asked me to do. I’ve been friends with her for a long time and I thought she was great here. . . . She does her best under adverse conditions and did her best here when the criticism [from Trump] was highest during the election. Her track record is that she always rises to the challenge.