The Making of Malveaux
CNN’s White House correspondent discusses the impact of having educators as parents and how higher education shaped her journalism career.
Title: White House Correspondent, CNN
Education: B.A., Sociology, Harvard University; M.A., Journalism, Columbia University
Experience: Reporter, New England Cable News, Boston; Reporter, WRC-TV, Washington, D.C.; Correspondent, NBC News, Washington, D.C., and Chicago
Birthplace: Lansing, Mich.
By Ronald Roach
Known to millions for her incisive and scrupulous reporting, CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has drawn considerable praise as a broadcast journalist throughout her career. For the past five years, Malveaux has covered the Bush White House and national affairs for CNN, making her one of the most visible women of color in American journalism.
Since joining CNN’s Washington bureau in 2002, Malveaux has broken a number of major stories for the cable television news network, among them the plea arrangement of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Malveaux spoke recently to Diverse about her path from journalism student to White House correspondent. The daughter of former Howard University medical school Dean Floyd Malveaux and educator Myrna Malveaux, Suzanne and her twin sister, Suzette, both attended Harvard University, where they graduated with honors. Suzette is currently a law professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Malveaux’s early forays into broadcast media included internships and jobs in documentary filmmaking in the United States and Africa. Soon after earning her master’s in journalism from Columbia University, Malveaux landed in Washington, spending several years there with WRC-TV and NBC News before being reassigned to Chicago. She later returned to the nation’s capital with CNN.
DI: How would you describe your professional growth since becoming a White House correspondent?
SM: I have to say that every day I learn something new. There was a story in particular when I covered President Clinton when we were in Africa. We traveled to Rwanda shortly after the genocide. I had an opportunity to meet a woman, a survivor, and to talk with her. This was a woman who had been raped. One of the things that I asked her was what had given her the strength. ‘How do you move on with your life from this experience?
I ask a lot of people that — people who have painful stories or people who are survivors. You don’t know how people can cope and survive things like that. That day I felt like I learned something. I gained a certain strength; I gained a certain inspiration from that woman.
DI: As someone with roots in New Orleans, can you describe how you were personally affected while covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?
SM: It really motivated me because I came back and I had an opportunity to interview [former] Presidents Clinton and Bush together because they were working to put together a Katrina Fund. And so I was in a unique position sitting across from them saying, ‘As someone who has family in New Orleans, I’m asking what do you plan to do here?’ And also to follow up with the President where I could ask those questions, and I knew that they couldn’t tell me anything that my family wasn’t personally experiencing — that my family wasn’t going through. They were the ones living in the trailers and dealing with FEMA.
DI: Your parents are educators; your mother was an elementary school teacher and your father served as dean of the Howard University medical school.
Can you describe the impact of growing up in a family deeply connected to education?
SM: One question I get, ‘Was there a lot of pressure in your house?’ I don’t think it was pressure. It was just enthusiasm that was always there. My mother was always a part of it. She was always participating in it. The nice thing about growing up with Howard University was that we were always connected to the university — ever since we were kids — because my dad started as a student at Howard.
In high school, there was a very small percentage of Blacks and other minorities. It might have been 2 percent. The wonderful thing about Harvard was that there was a Black community, and for the first time I had a lot of company. It was great.
DI: Can you describe how your career aspirations were shaped?
SM: Two things I envisioned when I was a kid: One was standing in front of the White House, and the other one was delivering babies. I started off pre-med my freshman year and I was doing internships at radio and TV stations. I also did this fascinating weekend at Howard where I was with a doctor and I helped him deliver babies at D.C. General. You encounter the worst circumstances of childbirth, where there were people who had no prenatal care and they were coming in from every situation possible. I was there for 48 hours and I stayed up with the doctor, helping him deliver babies. I saw everything.
I realized that my heart just wasn’t in it enough to go through the pre-med regimen when I was already doing things I loved in TV and radio. I interned at Blackside Productions, which had done the ‘Eyes on the Prize’ documentary series. Everybody at Harvard who wanted to go into journalism went to [the late] Henry Hampton (of Blackside Productions) and learned how to put a story together. I realized my passion was motivating me to pursue journalism.
DI: Given the changing nature of journalism, do you recommend students pursue a broad-based liberal arts education?
SM: I majored in sociology, and people used to say, ‘What are you going to do with sociology? You’re never going to get a job in sociology.’ Sociology is great. It’s a liberal arts-based education. I would recommend to journalism students to try to have a broad-based education as much as they can, soak it all up and take it all in. Because I think either you’re going to specialize in something or you’re going to go out there as a general assignment reporter. If that’s what you’re interested in, you’re going to be able to take that broad-based background and apply it to all different kinds of stories that you’re going to encounter.
DI: What are your long-term goals?
SM: I am very happy doing what I’m doing now. I’m very excited about covering the White House. I see doing this in the future. Writing a book would be wonderful in the future, to share some of my experiences. I would love to be able to talk to people in the community, whether it’s through speeches or visiting schools. Beyond that, I hope to stay in the news business. This is a nice fit for me.
DI: Whom do you admire in the journalism field?
SM: I can think of two people in the journalism world who come to mind: Maureen Bunyan, who’s an anchor [in the Washington, D.C., area.] and whom I grew up watching as a kid. She’s been a mentor to me. I greatly admire her because of her tenacity, her passion, her seriousness, her tone. She’s always been a class act. I was fortunate enough, privileged enough, to be able to meet her as a young journalist; she took me under her wing.
The other person is Christiane Amanpour because she’s just kind of a rock-and-roll journalist. She’s amazing. Her war coverage is no-nonsense; she gets to the bottom of it. She’s courageous, and those are all qualities that I admire.
DI: What advice do you give to young journalists?
SM: I think there’s a time in your life when you need to be fearless. I don’t think you have to be fearless every day. You don’t have to be fearless during your whole career. But I think there’s a time when you have to really seize the opportunity and just go for it. Be fearless in your pursuit.
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