Candy Crowley, veteran CNN reporter, takes on competitive Sunday morning slot

Veteran CNN reporter Candy Crowley joined the ranks of Sunday morning news anchors in February when she began hosting CNN's "State of the Union." Crowley does not fit the conventional mold for a Sunday morning cable show host, Ellen McCarthy writes. Here's a look at Crowley and other Sunday morning hosts.
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

There's no secret about what works on cable news these days.

Flashy graphics and raised voices burst through the screen to jostle into our agitated, unfocused, Twitterized minds.

Anchors are loud, beautiful and opinionated. They are celebrities, meticulously drawn on-air characters who may or may not bear a resemblance to their off-camera selves. Anderson the Great. Glenn of Conspiracyvilles. Rachel, Puckish and Left.

They can present news, sure, but they're really here to provoke. Viewers should be fired up as much as informed. Guests will be either aggrandized or antagonized, based on party alignment and time slot. No segment can run more than a few quippy minutes, and everyone's blood pressure must rise.

And as the host of its Sunday morning talk show, a marquee program in a hyper-competitive hour, CNN picked Candy Crowley -- who embodies absolutely none of that formula.

She is 61 and not gorgeous. She trades on layered, nuanced conversations expressly devoid of personal bias. Her dusty voice never lifts above a lecturer's tone, and if she walked into any given beyond-the-Beltway restaurant, she might not be asked for an autograph. This is a woman who has been a vegetarian for 15 years and kneels to meditate twice a day, every day. In an era of unrelenting interruptions, she's a self-deprecating anchor who hates to interrupt.

Crowley is beloved inside the halls of CNN and roundly respected in official Washington, a veteran political reporter who works hard and knows her stuff. Friends and colleagues describe her as brilliant and hilarious. But as the host of "State of the Union," she's a gamble.

It's not just that the network's executives are betting she can do the job; they're taking long odds we'll sit still long enough to watch. And if early ratings are any indicator, we might not.

'She reads everything'

Candy Crowley has been in our living rooms for more than a quarter-century now, first as an NBC reporter and since 1987 as a CNN correspondent. Until this year, she was relegated to the supporting cast, a perennial smart lady some well-lit anchor would conjure via satellite to explain Washington. She'd talk, he'd nod. Then the cameras would turn away; he'd move on to a hurricane watch or pop-star update, and she'd blink back to political Neverland.

There was no reason to ponder whether or not she really lived there -- which, in fact, she did. It wasn't for us to count the dozen-plus presidential campaigns she covered, the hundreds of congressional news conferences, or innumerable scandals and stump speeches. If we'd stopped to think about it, we might have guessed that she was never just a newsreader like some of the others, but we didn't stop to think about it.

"She's like the CliffsNotes for all the other reporters," says Alexandra Pelosi, who covered two presidential races alongside Crowley. "They talk about those things that nobody reads -- nobody reads bills. But Candy does. She reads all of that stuff. She reads everything. On the bus, everyone would just go to her and ask her, 'Candy, so what's this bill about?' "

Still, Crowley wasn't a star, and for decades no one seemed much interested in elevating her into one. So she is startled to find herself at the helm of a Sunday talk show, peaking in her career during her seventh decade of life.

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