This blog post is written by Molly Gallagher ’18 and is a supplemental piece to Hathaway Brown School’s Spring/Summer 2017 HB Alumnae Magazine. Read the full issue at hb.edu/magazine.
Fallon Gallagher, a member of the class of 2014 at Hathaway Brown School, is currently a junior at Northwestern University double majoring in journalism and political science. Her interest in journalism originated during her childhood, when she was affectionately known as the “reporter” among her grade school friends. She would often detail and inform her friends of events and relationships at school and on the playground. Her mother always encouraged her to be “diplomatic and fair” in all her friendships. It seems only natural Gallagher would blend these two strengths into a career. Gallagher recalls: “when I was a kid, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I came from a family of doctors and business people, and I knew I could do both of those things, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. I always hated when people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up.” Gallagher soon recognized her potential and realized her true calling. “I remember as a kid, I would start all of my mornings the same way. I’d wake up for school around 6:45am and by 7:00, I’d be sitting at the kitchen counter glued to the Today Show. The first time I remember positively responding to that dreaded question about my future, I proudly exclaimed, ‘I want to be the next Katie Couric!’ Something about what she was doing as a broadcast journalist really clicked with me.” Having grown up doing theatre, Gallagher felt comfortable in front of an audience– and dreamed of one day becoming that person responsible for telling a national audience the important new stories of the day. The idea of informing the public felt natural to her; telling stories was her passion.
Gallagher continued to hone her reporting, writing and photography skills while a student at Hathaway Brown contributing to various student publications as well as journaling daily, a habit she established at the age of seven. She also enjoyed watching political television dramas such as the West Wing and House of Cards rather than the more popular reality TV shows typically favored by her age group. Although these were dramatized versions of reality, they did incorporate the important political issues of the day. These political dramas made for especially compelling storytelling; Gallagher broadened her horizons and furthered her interest in politics, keeping abreast of the real-life political drama by regularly watching programs such as Meet the Press and Hardball. By Gallagher’s standards, watching the President address the nation was more captivating than the Super Bowl.
Traditionally, politics has been a male-dominated field, but Gallagher felt drawn to the subject matter. She looked to successful female political journalists such as Andrea Mitchell and Cleveland native, Kelly O’Donnell for inspiration and motivation. Both of these accomplished women have had a significant influence on Gallagher and her desired career path. Gallagher hopes to follow in their accomplished footsteps: “I have always admired women in this area of the news, the challenges they face in political arena push them to be even better journalists as they chase down the story and discuss important issues.” Gallagher had the good fortune to meet and speak with Mitchell on the MSNBC location set while she was covering the Republican debates in Cleveland in August 2015. This chance meeting ultimately led to Gallagher’s first internship experience that following summer. Just this past week, Gallagher was offered an internship opportunity for summer 2017; she could be working on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, furthering her relationship with this seasoned political journalist.
Today, politics have taken on a center stage in the news. From primetime nightly news to satirical shows, political stories have been engaging and captivating viewers like never before. Political figure impersonations such as of Alec Baldwin’s President Trump are regularly featured on Saturday Night Live, a long-standing comedy known for its political characterizations. All of these shows are a reflection of the countries interest and engagement in politics. Working as a young woman in politics today, Gallagher remarks, “We’re currently in the midst of one of the most politically engaged eras in American history– but also one of the most divided. As a young person, it’s interesting because so many of my peers are very politically engaged. In fact, I think there has been some sort of sociopolitical protest on the Northwestern campus every week since President Trump’s inauguration.” For Gallagher, the experience is a little different, “As a journalist, I must try to be an unbiased, fair and balanced observer. I can’t really put my own personal political opinions out there in the open because it will ruin my credibility. That said, though, this current political climate has been great for me because all news is political news– even the late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live sketches. There’s never a shortage of material.”
Gallagher spent the summer of 2016 interning at MSNBC in New York City working on Hardball with Chris Matthews. Here she met many high profile, key political players as they were daily guests on the show. Escorting these larger than life political figures, including Rudy Giuliani and KellyAnne Conway, through 30 Rock, was a highlight of Gallagher’s internship experience. She gained invaluable insight covering both the Republican and Democratic conventions in this past highly contentious election cycle. She experienced first hand the so-called “fake news”, a phenomenon that seemed to stem from the contention of this past election cycle. Weeding through the mass of information and fact-checking sources became even more important according to Gallagher. As President Trump has proven to be a polarizing figure, the political atmosphere continues to be heated following his inauguration. President Trump has been very vocal against news outlets, particularly MSNBC. Ironically, Gallagher believes the media, in fact, played a huge part in elevating the Trump campaign above a field of 17 Republican candidates, ultimately pulling off one of the greatest political upsets in modern times. Gallagher argues, “the media coverage of the Trump campaign is one of the key reasons why he won the general election. The media gave him so much free air-time and exposure, which ultimately propelled him to a national spotlight where he was able to appeal to a large number of marginalized Americans.” Gallagher believes the way President Trump tries to diminish the power and voice of the media is unfortunate, “the media play a critical role in holding authority figures accountable for their actions, but he entirely bypasses it. The media is critical to a functioning American democracy– so critical that the Founding Fathers felt it was necessary to protect them in the First Amendment of the Constitution.” Gallagher sincerely hopes and believes that if President Trump wants to be effective, he must ameliorate his relations with the media. Gallagher says, “they won’t always report things that he will like, but if they’re doing their jobs correctly, they should be reporting the truth.” Gallagher’s time at MSNBC did not shift her personal political views, but it did shed new light on how political journalists cover news, “having worked at MSNBC during the election cycle, I remember days when we would scrap all of our plans for Hardball that night because Trump would be giving a press conference. He would give his same shtick at every conference, yet we would air them all– giving him free air time to reach a broader audience”. In hindsight, Gallagher feels the media should have been pushing back on the specific issues and engaging in fair and even debate with both parties and both ends of the political spectrum to be more constructive. As a journalist, Gallagher firmly believe she must be responsible while also holding politicians accountable; on both fronts, she feels there is room for improvement.
Gallagher plans to do just this as she embarks on another internship this summer: “I’m currently knee-deep in the recruiting process. I’d love to be at another major news network this summer — whether that be MSNBC again or one of its competitors.” Gallagher looks forward to expanding her broadcast news production skills, while immersing herself in political news coverage again. Last summer, she had the perspective of the campaigns – including both parties’ conventions – but this summer, she would be looking at the early days of an unprecedented administration, a truly exciting prospect. She is currently interviewing at NBC, CNN and ABC. She is looking forward to seeing where her next opportunity leads. With options including the Late Night with Seth Meyers Show on NBC, she could have a tremendous opportunity to learn more about covering politics from a satirical perspective, for which fortunately the Trump administration has been providing ample material.
The news media industry has been the subject of recent news reports as it has recently been criticized for its failure to accurately report the news. Gallagher finds this ironic twist makes her chosen career path even more intriguing and exciting. When questioned about how the media is portrayed, she remarks, “‘dishonest!’ according to President Trump’s tweets (laughs). It depends who you ask. If you ask anyone in the Trump Administration, the media is ‘fake news’ — but that’s coming from an administration that flaunts ‘alternative facts.’ So, like all other issues of portrayal, it is entirely subjective. I personally think that in the past few years, the media has dropped the ball.” Gallagher strives to be better and do better, holding important figures accountable for their actions, “I became interested in journalism because I saw it as a way that I could make a positive change in my society. I wanted to tell the stories that I thought were important for people to know– especially stories that may have otherwise gone untold. So, I hope that as a journalist, I can help get the media back on track, so all people see the media as a responsible and reliable portion of American society.” As a rising contributor in this new generation of journalists, Gallagher hopes to make her mark asking tough questions and reporting accurately with integrity. These are hallmarks of the journalists she grew up admiring. Perhaps one day, Gallagher will report from the White House, Capitol Hill or maybe even work in the White House Press Secretary Office, all positions to which she aspires. We can be sure Hathaway Brown will be proud to say Gallagher was an alum of the Class of 2014.