May 20, 2024

Bret Baier’s recent Fox News interview with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took up less than 36 minutes on the cable outlet’s “Special Report.” Behind the scenes, preparations took months.

Baier spent time in the U.S. with Princess Reema, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, and made a special trip overseas to meet with various ministers and the head of state himself to test their rapport. “I went over on a flier,” says Baier during an interview in Fox News Channel’s New York offices. “I said there was not going to be any laying out of what the questions are, that it was going to be tough but fair. And we came to the end, and he said, ‘I think I’m going to do it.’ It took a few months after that to get it locked down.”

What Baier got was something of a surprise. He and his team expected bin Salman to answer the bulk of the questions in Arabic, with a translator on hand. But Baier asked if he would consider answering some part in English. “I asked the first question. He answered in English. I asked the second question. He answered in English. And I said, ‘This is happening in English.’” Baier would go on to challenge the leader on his efforts to buy stakes in sports leagues to boost his nation’s image amid allegations of human rights abuses and asked him about negotiations with Israel and how they might affect Palestinians.

The segment generated a lot of headlines.

Such interviews are hard to line up and more difficult to make happen. They can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel, technology and equipment. ”It’s definitley not cheap to do,” says Jay Wallace, president and executive editor of Fox News Media. Sometimes, says the anchor, ”you’ve got to throw the long ball and hope it gets caught.”

Bret Baier is trying a few new maneuvers at “Special Report,” one of the longest-running programs at Fox News Channel. About six months ago, he says, he talked to his staff about getting more ambitious. “We had a talk about what the show should look like,” he recalls. “Most days, you take singles and doubles and you cover the news and you do it as best you can, but the occasional triple and home run sometimes lend themselves to other big plays.” In recent months, Baier has landed newsmaking interviews not only with bin Salman, but also former President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the results of which have often been picked up by rival outlets.

His efforts come as Fox News has been working to broaden its offerings as advertisers grow more wary of news in the current polarized environment. The company has touted its ability to attract independent voters and Democrats, not just Republicans. Red-meat opinion programming still gets the bulk of the attention at the Fox Corp. outlet, but executives have over the past few years introduced a handful of programs that either veer away from a single host offering opinion or delve into topics other than politics. They typically show up on weekends, and not on the primetime schedule. Wallace says Baier has long been able to snare interviews with everyone from actor Matthew McConaughey to athletes.

Big “gets” are worth the investment, says Wallace. “There are lots of deputy prime ministers around, but when it comes to the true leaders of the world, there are only a handful of them that really move the dial,” he says. “In other countries, especially with other types of governments, they don’t have to talk,” so “when you get them, you want to make the most of them.”

Baier thinks one big get can help secure another. He says representatives of Israel’s Netanyahu reached out to him as he returned from Saudi Arabia, after they had seen bin Salman comment on their countries’ talks, which led to a conversation with Netanyahu within hours.

Not every idea pans out. Baier and his team recently negotiated with what they believed would be three different candidates for U.S. Speaker of the House. Rep. Steve Scalise, Rep. Jim Jordan and Rep. Kevin Hern all agreed to take part in a panel discussion with Baier for “Special Report.” Fox News agreed to hold off on announcing the event until the show was broadcast on October 6. In the interim, says Baier, word began to leak out on Capitol Hill.

“It was sort of bizarre. First it said I was doing this in a closed-door setting, only for the Republican caucus,” which wasn’t accurate, he says. He cites “pressure from Republican members who thought they should be talking to members first before they talked to the American public” as the reason the effort had to be scuttled. Baier also tried to organize deep-dive conversations with at least two of the Republican presidential hopefuls, Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy, but says the RNC got involved and pushed the candidates to stick to debates rather than smaller group discussions.

He’s raising his ambitions after snaring an earlier-than-expected renewal with Fox News. In September, Fox re-upped a contract with the anchor, who was already signed through at least 2025. He’s also being given new leeway. During the coronavirus pandemic, Baier and his family left the Washington, D.C. area for Florida, a move Baier’s spouse and kids want to make permanent. As a result, he has already begun to anchor “Special Report” in Florida one day a week, while usually working in Washington Monday through Thursday. If you see the U.S. Capitol behind him on Fox News, Baier is in Washington (that’s the actual Capitol seen through a window). But if Baier is sitting in front of a picture of a newsroom, it usually means he’s on the road or closer to home.

Now he has his eye on other luminaries. Baier says he would really like to interview China’s Xi Jinping as well as Pope Francis. He has had a request in to speak with President Biden since he won the primary in South Carolina in the run-up to the 2020 election. “The White House has been a tough nut to crack,” says Baier, noting that he has interviewed various Cabinet Secretaries and other officials. Biden has not granted any one-on-one interviews to Fox News during his term, even declining to take part in the traditional exchange prior to the Super Bowl when Fox Corp. broadcast it earlier this year.

But landing such conversations often takes more than a single request. “I have a meeting once every couple of weeks with my booking producer and my executive producer, and we we do a little status check. Who is just like pie in the sky and who is maybe more realistic,” says Baier. “I think if you keep on touching base, one of those times, the fish is going to bite.”

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