Greta Van Susteren is a former criminal defense and civil trial lawyer, and the host of On the Record on Fox News. Last week, she took a few minutes to chat with Matt Ritter about her career path.
First job out of law school?
After getting a JD, I did some legal research for my later-to-be husband (he had the Iranian hostage lawsuit) … then I was a clinical fellow at Antioch law school for one semester. Then, in fall of 1980 became the first Stuart Stiller Fellow at Georgetown (2 years), and then I hung out a shingle with Steve Milliken and formed Milliken & Van Susteren. For many yea’rs in the firm, since we represented poor people, my salary was $12k/year.
How did you end up becoming a lawyer? Did your father being a judge influence your decision?
I always wanted to be a lawyer. My father never said girls could not be lawyers and always encouraged me from an early age.
Best moment as a trial lawyer?
When I won!
When I lost!
What did you teach at Georgetown and did you enjoy teaching?
I taught: criminal trial practice, evidence, advanced civil procedure, media and the law…and did I enjoy it? In hindsight the answer is no and I think because I was not that great at it.
You’ve said that you never set out to become a TV anchor, so how did you sort of stumble into it?
CNN was looking for someone to do legal analysis for the William Kennedy Smith case. I had two law degrees, taught as an adjunct professor at Georgetown, tried rapes and murder (real experience!) and had some minimal TV experience….so they called and I never left.
When the OJ trial happened and we had this unprecedented level of media coverage, did you realize that the manner in which we watch the news was changing forever?
No. I just thought it was a fascinating trial.
How has the 24-hour news cycle affected your job? I know you have the Gretawire blog and tweet frequently. Do you ever get to shut off your phone/email/etc and disconnect?
News is 24/7 but I like it. It is fast and never dull.
You’ve spent a lot of time through the years covering so many big and somewhat gruesome cases, Robert Blake, Michael Jackson, Natalie Holloway, Scott Peterson, and now Casey Anthony. Why do you think we are so fascinated by this stuff? Is it because we can’t keep our eyes of a train wreck?
Trials have always fascinated people — long before TV. In the 1930’s people were consumed with the Charles Lindbergh child kidnapping case.
You have the highest rated show in your time slot for going on 10 years now, how competitive is it in your field? Is there a camaraderie between anchors? Or is it a rivalry of Letterman/Leno proportions?
We are all too busy to check what each other is doing. We all do live shows so we can’t even watch each other. The media makes much of the competition but that is a media fiction more than a reality. I have friends in all the networks.
What is the booking process like?
If the story is politics / capitol hill, OTR at 10pm is in the driver’s seat! We are the only prime time cable news show ANCHORED in DC so I can quickly run up the hill or interview the guest in person on the set. Most politicians prefer in person interviews to remote (via satellite that all other shows must do because they are in NYC.) Also, being #1 at 10pm for 9 ½ years straight is a powerful selling point why to do our news show at 10pm and not some other network.
We also have an advantage in criminal cases because of my background and that I have been around long enough to know a lot of people in the law.
Where we have a harder time is when we compete with the broadcast networks who can offer private planes and fancy hotels to guests.
Favorite guest of all-time?
Impossible to answer. Everyone is a favorite for so many reasons.
You have spent a lot of time on political issues; do you think politically we are more divided than we’ve ever been?
We have always been divided. Now it just may be louder.
Do you think the media in any way perpetuates that conflict? Democrats and Republicans coming on air and agreeing with each other wouldn’t be very exciting, would it?
When some in the media don’t look for solutions from guests or don’t look for facts or are not curious but instead seek to spark a fight, the media is in the way.
As a successful female attorney, journalist and anchor, who were some of your heroes growing up?
Like most kids….parents.
Three things you can’t live without?
Husband…pets …and ipad.
Book you’re reading right now?
3: Betty White’s If You Ask Me, Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner’s Reckless Endangerment, about our economic crisis, and Christine O’Donnell’s Trouble Maker (I have an interview scheduled with her and I read all the books of authors who appear on our news show).
Advice for a lawyer who is considering becoming a news anchor?
Learn how to be a lawyer. Learn how to try a case. Know what facts are.
I understand you’re a huge Packers fan. Do you seem them repeating this year?
I always think the Packers will win (but I’m not always right.)
I understand you are lover of animals. How many pets reside at your home?
3 big dogs (Zoe, Audrey and Olive) and 3 cats (Ozzy—from the Osbournes, Mike, and Bill)
Many thanks for taking the time. Tune in to On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, airing weeknights at 10pm on Fox News.