As a person who sometimes bunks in pest-ridden motels and owns more than a handful of Emmy awards, Rita Braver has learned to take everything in stride. In summarizing her career as a longtime national correspondent for CBS News — including four years as chief White House correspondent and her ongoing role on the top-rated morning news show, CBS News Sunday Morning — Braver concludes, “So that’s fun.”
Braver has had a lot of fun building her legacy in the national news industry. As a little girl, she believed a career in journalism would mean adventure, and she has not been disappointed. “I have covered politics,” she says. “I have done international stories, entertainment stories, lifestyle. I have done many stories on art, which is one of the really fun things I love to do.” In covering all of these topics over several decades, Braver has been able to share the stories of countless people, from private citizens to presidents.
Braver has also established her legacy at the UW as a highly accomplished alumna, commencement speaker, and supporter of campus. In 2010, she and her husband, high-powered lawyer Robert Barnett ’68, were jointly awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for their impressive professional achievements.
You have a political science degree from the UW — did you go into school knowing that’s what you wanted to pursue? Did you have a career in news media in mind at the time?
I was probably eight or nine when I knew that I wanted to be a journalist. So, I always had that in mind. I actually started thinking I was going to be a journalism student at UW, but when I was there, you had to take about half of your courses in advertising and business, in addition to the actual journalism — the writing and the reporting classes. I just knew that wasn’t a direction I wanted to go, and I felt like I didn’t want to spend my precious classes doing that. So that’s when I switched to political science. In those days, you couldn’t really get credit on your diploma for a double major, but I did the English major as well. And I took a lot of art history, which has stood me in very good stead covering all the art stories I do now.
What is the best part about being a national news correspondent?
It’s a chance to have a front row seat on what’s going on in the world and to talk to people at every level who know what’s going on. No matter what the issue is — whether it’s politics, whether it’s art — if you call up and say, “Hey, I’m from CBS News Sunday Morning, and I’d like to speak to you,” it makes a big difference. Private citizens don’t get to do that. The other part of it is that you hope, and I think I certainly get enough feedback from working for Sunday Morning, you hope that you are bringing information to people that they can think about, that they can use in their daily lives, that, in a way, gives them a chance to aspire to certain things. You try to cast light on things. You try to give a voice to people who might not otherwise have a voice.
I just did a story for Sunday Morning on the problem that is going on all over the country, where daycare providers are just having to close up shop. … The teachers in daycare, those people can make more money, in some cases, working at chain stores than they can taking care of children, and daycares are closing all over the country. It is a national crisis, and yet, it is in the president’s Build Back Better plan, but that plan is now stalled in Congress. So you hope that you are at least making people say, “Wait, what’s going on here?” And maybe somebody will break out at least that part of the Build Back Better plan and try to pass it individually, because it is a problem in every state in the country.
And what’s the worst part about being a national news correspondent?
In my case, it’s the travel. Sometimes you get to go to really nice places and stay in really lovely hotels, but most of the time, you’re working all day. So you’re flying at night, or you’re flying someplace at the crack of dawn to get there for a story. We do not have the money to stay in fancy hotels, but frequently, even if we did, I am in some place where there aren’t any nice hotels. Those motels that you pass along the highway and you say, “Gee, I hope I never have to stay in a place like this” — believe me, I have stayed in them. I have stayed in them all. I have stayed in places where I’ve had little critters as my bunkmates. So, that’s the hard part.
[Another difficult part is] if you’re in hard news, you’re constantly being attacked by politicians. Luckily for me, most of the stories I do are not political. In doing the daycare story, for example, I have no idea what the politics are of any of the people that I interviewed. I just know that these are people who run the daycare centers, the parents who have to send their kids to these places, the teachers who are trying to make a living and don’t want to leave but need to get a decent salary. I don’t care what their politics are. And it’s not about politics, it’s about what’s going on with them. Ultimately, I suppose it comes down to politics, because whether they’re not getting any governmental help or not is going to turn into a political issue. But these people don’t see it that way. It’s a question of life struggle for them.
You were a UW commencement speaker 25 years ago, and you advised graduates to have heroes like your friend Elizabeth Glaser ’69. What advice do you have for graduates now?
The advice I would have for them now is, and I might have even said this then, but I would really advise them not to forget to have fun. We all end up working so hard. We are so obsessed with doing our jobs and doing a really good job that we forget that life is supposed to be about enjoyment, as well as work. Jennifer Senior wrote a book, All Joy and No Fun. And I think that happens. You may take joy from your family, but you forget to have fun with them. So, don’t forget to have fun. Don’t forget.