Sally Kohn on What It’s Really Like Being a TV Pundit

My very first TV appearance in politics was on Fox News. I was on a split screen with an aggressive, uber conservative white boy arguing with me about God knows what (I legit don’t remember). What I do remember is this: I told myself never again. I’d continue to do TV, but I would not do Fox News or any other show that made me argue with someone. It’s probably why years later, after having left politics, I don’t watch a lot of cable news.

But millions and millions of people do. For them — and for all of us who sometimes don’t have the energy to debate our most precious values in public — I’m really grateful for Sally Kohn.

Sally is a CNN commentator with hardcore activist credentials. She is unapologetic about what she believes and bold enough to defend it to anyone (just ask Ann Coulter). She’s not just a debater. She’s also an “emotionally correct” listener, completely unthreatened by opinions that are different from her own. (Side note: That’s part of what makes her such a good human, too…)

Sally’s “call” has been to use her voice to stand out and stand up for her values in a cluttered media landscape. In the process, she’s built a successful career and a pretty good life.

Check out an excerpt from the conversation below and make sure to listen to the full episode:


Erica: Your job is to have an opinion, and ultimately, to share it effectively. How do you measure your own impact?

Sally: For folks who don’t know, I started as a community organizer. I was a community organizer for 15 years. I loved what I was doing…I worked on criminal justice reform, gay rights, fighting back against welfare reform, pushing for Obamacare, you name it. And one day, I was speaking at a conference — this was a year into the Obama administration — and this woman comes up to me after I was on a panel and says, “We have to get you on television.” And I said, “No, we do not! But thanks,” and turned to walk away. I was a community organizer, and the ethos of a community organizer is that you are the behind-the-scenes person, you are not the person in the spotlight — in fact, you eschew the spotlight — and your job, your whole mission and ethos, is to put the people who are actually facing these issues, the people who are actually the most affected, into the spotlight.

So I turned to walk away, and this woman grabs my arm and says, “No. You are going to do this and you’re going to be good at it.” Her name was Geraldine Laybourne. She was the first woman ever to run a television network, she ran Nickelodeon, and then she and her friend Oprah started Oxygen. And Gerry was not one to take no for an answer! She drags me across the room and introduces me to Carol Jenkins, who is running the Women’s Media Center, and says, “This woman is going to train you and I’m going to support you and I’m going to introduce you to people.” Initially, I think I judged my impact through that lens, through the lens of how am I being of service to movement-building and the on-the-ground work of change that I still, in my heart, believe in.

I went to Fox News for two and a half years…I started to measure my impact more through the emails I would get. Never like, “Praise you, Sally, you changed my mind! I’m a new convert!” I never got any of those. I would get ones like, “Huh. I don’t agree with you, but you made a good point here,” or, “I disagree with you on everything, but I liked how you expressed yourself,” or, “You just seem like a really nice person,” or, “I never thought about it that way.”

Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt. Listen to our first episode of The Call here!

Erica Williams Simon

Erica Williams Simon

Erica Williams Simon is the host of The Call.

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