An Interview With Dana Bash: GW Alum and Chief Political Correspondent for CNN

We may not be chief political correspondents for CNN (yet!) and we may not cover 24/7 news cycles. Hillary Clinton may not be the future first lady (circa 1992) and meeting George Stephanopoulos may not be our #onlyatGW moment.

But, we are students in The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and we are GWU Her Campus correspondents. Melania Trump is our future first lady and we did just experience our #onlyatGW moment. #wejusthungupthephonewithDanaBash.

What, did you think we stalked Dana Bash’s Facebook page all the way back to the 90s? As she put it, “We didn’t even have email when I was in college.”

In an unforgettable 20 minute interview (we’re still not over it!), we had the opportunity to talk with Dana Bash, GW alum and chief political correspondent for CNN. With a bond over our respective time at GW and mutual love for journalism, we discussed all things Dana. From her perspective on the future of the media to the culture behind women in journalism, we invite you to check out our exclusive interview below.

Sam & Elisabeth: “You’re one of GW’s most established alum. What was the most valuable skill you learned during your time here at GW? It could be your favorite course/professor/out of class experience, etc.”

Dana: “Academically I was a political communications major, which at the time, was a program you couldn’t apply to until Sophomore year. I remember I was taking a polling class… and I hated it. I was never going to be a pollster -- and when I went to my professor’s office hours, I basically told him that. He told me that if I wanted to be in journalism, I’d have to know how polling worked. At the time, I was like ‘ok fine’. But now, looking back, he was one hundred percent correct. I use what I learned in that class every single day. But also, out of the classroom, I loved just being in Washington. You know the whole spiel -- ‘Washington is your campus’, and you know that’s true. I used it -- I interned while I was in school and that was really great.”

Sam & Elisabeth: “You freelanced for CNN your senior year at GW. What originally drew you to CNN, in particular?”

Dana: “I freelanced for CNN my senior year. What drew me to CNN was really basic --I thought to myself, I want to make money. And so I found somebody, who found somebody, who found somebody. Long story short, I called the right person, at the right time, on the right day. I happened to call 2 minutes after some guy got yelled at and I asked if any freelance opportunities were available. And that’s how I got my foot in the door at CNN.”

Sam & Elisabeth: “Growing up, your father was a broadcast producer for ABC. Then at CNN you started off in the library, sorting tapes, nothing was digital… how do you feel the landscape of the media has changed since you have been exposed to it? How do you see it moving forward?”

Dana: “I graduated from GW without ever sending an email. [The technological revolution] is a different species really. After freelancing, I got a full time job in the tape library. Today, that library doesn’t exist and neither do the tapes. You used to have to twist the stacks and it was really heavy and that was my job. And now you find what you need on your desktop; it’s all digital. I think it’s going to continue to be much more user friendly, a la cart. And I also think CNN is going to continue to be the place for big events and breaking news and hopefully appointment programming. We’ve already seen the network put in a huge investment towards unique digital pieces. Whenever I complete a TV segment, the very first thing I do is make sure it’s online, because that’s how most people will see it. And you can continue to keep it alive. Thankfully CNN is on top of it.”

Sam & Elisabeth: “What is something you wished you knew going into the field of journalism?”

Dana: “Well I guess I knew this while I was in school, from my internships. I saw how much of a team effort television is. But, it really is remarkable how many people it takes to do a TV piece. It’s me, it’s a producer, it’s a camera crew, it’s a complete team effort. People out there don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes. But, I’m just one part of this big team.”

Sam & Elisabeth: “What advice do you have for students hoping to break into the field?”

Dana: “Intern. Intern. Intern. Interning is so important. Especially at GW because you have so much here. Even now, I mean, when I was there was no Politico, no Daily Beast, no digital, nothing. There were just newspapers and TV news, that’s it. Now you have such an opportunity to learn not just what you want to do, but also what you do not want to do. For a time, I thought I wanted to do PR. But because of an internship, I found it wasn’t for me. I learned that, and I wouldn’t have known that had it not been for that internship. And, of course, another piece of advice is making contacts. Academics are important, but so is getting your name out. The great benefit of being at GW is having the practical learning. Because I worked at CNN, I learned to do a lot by myself. I never learned to shoot a camera, I taught myself. Today the world is completely different. And the fact that you guys are in school now getting those skills, puts you so far ahead of us old folk who are already here.”

Sam & Elisabeth: “We are two women journalists, hoping to score a very limited supply of jobs in the journalism field. We’re not expecting it to be an easy feat…especially with the incoming administration… As a woman, do you feel you have had to overcome any adversity within the field of political correspondence or among your colleagues?”

Dana: “I feel incredibly blessed that I’m in my generation and not my mother’s generation. I feel that I’m very much benefitting from the strides that the women before me made. My mom went to Medill at Northwestern University and started working at the ABC affiliate in Chicago. And the only job she could get was as a secretary, with one of her tasks being to iron her boss's pants. And that’s because she was a woman and that was what was expected of her. So, from that perspective, we are doing pretty well. Having said that, I think that in today’s culture, we see people much more attuned to balance and making sure that women are represented. And, I think we actually do a really good job. I work with a lot of phenomenal women and we have a real sisterhood. Women bring things to the storytelling of news that is maybe more relatable to the women that are consuming. I think about that a lot. I think it’s a big asset.”

Sam & Elisabeth: “Last night, at the “Now What? Governing in a Trump Era” event at GWU, we discussed the future of governing in a Trump era. However, as journalism students we are curious about the media in a Trump era. President-Elect Donald Trump truly defied standard campaign media practices this election cycle using his Twitter as his own personal platform. With threats to open libel laws and his constant negative remarks about various media outlets and their accuracy, how do you think the Trump presidency will change the future of journalism?”

Dana: “Well, it is changing, but it’s on a continuum. I mean it’s very stark because he is a celebrity president-elect, so you see the way he uses his own media platforms, maybe in a way that wasn’t as visible with Barack Obama. But, Donald Trump is definitely much more active on Twitter and using his social media to get his message out. I know the role of the media is going to be to try to hold him accountable in a different way. The answer is to be determined. I think that everybody is going to approach it with a new perspective.”

Sam & Elisabeth: “This election was a shock to the system. We woke up on November 9th and realized the future of the country was changing. The past several months we witnessed President-Elect Donald Trump flooding our newsfeeds through his self-run social media platforms (Youtube, Twitter). He capitalized on the free press and the public, spreading good news, bad news, fake news… to him… all publicity was good publicity. As a journalist, do you think this was a novel way to manipulate the media in our current digital age? How did this change the way you typically would report and cover an election?”

Dana: “Generally when a presidential candidate wants to get news out, and Hillary Clinton did this too, he or she uses social media. It’s just the nature of how we consume information. And we saw the use of Twitter much more in this election even than in 2012. In 2008, when President Obama first ran, Twitter did not even really exist. It’s really hard to wrap your head around that. So yes, I mean you're seeing it right now. The president-elect wakes up and sees something he doesn’t like or something he wants to comment on and he sends it out into your Twitter feed. And so the news of the day isn’t necessarily an announcement that he makes or even an external event. It’s what he says or does on his Twitter feed. There is a big debate over whether or not reporters should focus on his Twitter feed or whether that is giving it too much oxygen. I’m of the belief that, of course you have to focus on it. It’s the modern day bully pulpit. It is the way he is communicating and we should treat it like you would any other communication from a president-elect or a president."

Sam & Elisabeth: “GW student to GW alum… Our’s was last night… and right now! What is your favorite #onlyatGW moment/favorite memory from GW (no need to be political!)"

Dana: “Oh my god, that is such a great question! Ok, so the election I experienced during my time at GW was the 1992 Bill Clinton election. It was sort of different from President Obama’s for obvious reasons, but it was also similar in that it was a new generation coming into the White House. They were young, and I know it’s hard to imagine Bill Clinton young, but he was. He had a super young staff. I mean if you go back and Google it, a big storyline was that he was bringing in all these young kids who were basically running the White House. The press office, was practically 23 year and 24 year olds who had just dropped out of college completely to go work on the Clinton campaign. And then suddenly, they were in the White House. So my #onlyatGW moment was when George Stephanopoulos, who was like the star of the Clinton campaign, came to Lisner, I believe, at GW for a post- election event. I got to go and watch it. It was the coolest thing, it was on C-SPAN and all that. I remember because I was a young girl and my roommate in college was Melina Zacharopoulos, a beautiful Greek girl, and both of us were determined to get her to meet him. Because what would be better than Melina Zacharopoulos marrying George Stephanopoulos?! So I remember we were trying to get through the back door… we didn’t find him. But that was one of my #onlyatGW moments for sure.”

A special thank you to our role model and mentor Dana Bash.

She also wishes everyone good luck on finals.