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Soledad O'Brien

Broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien was born on September 19, 1966 in Saint James, New York. Her father, Edward, was a mechanical engineering professor; her mother, Estela, a French and English teacher. O’Brien graduated from Smithtown High School East in 1984, and went on to attend Harvard University from 1984 to 1988, but did not graduate until 2000, when she received her B.A. degree in English and American literature.

In 1989, O’Brien began her career at KISS-FM in Boston, Massachusetts as a reporter for the medical talk show Second Opinion and of Health Week in Review. In 1990, she was hired as an associate producer and news writer for Boston’s WBZ-TV station. O’Brien then worked at NBC News in New York City in 1991, as a field producer for Nightly News and Today, before being hired at San Francisco’s NBC affiliate KRON in 1993, where she worked as a reporter and bureau chief and co-hosted the Discovery Channel’s The Know Zone. Then, in 1996, O’Brien returned to New York to host MSNBC’s new weekend morning show and technology program The Site. Although The Site was cancelled one year later, O’Brien continued to work as a reporter and anchor for a number of shows, including MSNBC’s Morning Blend and NBC News’ Weekend Today until 1999, when she was named permanent co-anchor of Weekend Today.

In 2003, O’Brien left NBC and joined CNN as the co-anchor of the network’s flagship morning program, American Morning. In 2007, she moved to CNN’s documentary division, where she primarily worked on Special Investigations Unit and In America. From 2007 to 2013, O’Brien hosted a number of CNN documentary shows, including the Black in America series, the Latino in America series, and numerous Special Investigations Unit episodes. From 2012 to 2013, she anchored CNN’s Starting Point; and, in 2013, she established the Starfish Media Group production company, which has produced segments for CNN, HBO and Al Jazeera America. O’Brien was also hired by Al Jazeera America in 2013 as a special correspondent to the network’s America Tonight.

O’Brien has authored two books: 2009’s Latino in America, and the 2010 memoir, The Next Big Story: My Journey through the Land of Possibilities. In addition, she and her husband founded the Soledad O'Brien and Brad Raymond Starfish Foundation. O’Brien is a member of the board of directors of The After-School Corporation, the Harlem School of the Arts and the Foundation for the National Archives. She also served on the advisory board of Cyberangels, an internet safety organization.

O’Brien has received numerous awards, including the Emmy, the NAACP’s President's Award, the George Foster Peabody Award, an Alfred I. du Pont Award, and the Gracie Allen Award. In 2008, she was the first recipient of the Soledad O’Brien Freedom’s Voice Award from the Morehouse School of Medicine, and was the first recipient of The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Goodermote Humanitarian Award. O’Brien received the 2009 Medallion of Excellence for Leadership and Community Service Award from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. In 2010, she was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Soledad O’Brien was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 21, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.055

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/21/2014

Last Name

O'Brien

Maker Category
Schools

Smithtown High School East

Harvard University

St. James Elementary School

Nesaquake Middle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Soledad

Birth City, State, Country

Saint James

HM ID

OBR01

Favorite Season

Late Spring, Early Summer

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Miama, Florida

Favorite Quote

Remember, Most People Are Idiots. If You're Listening To Them, You're Probably A Bigger Idiot.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/19/1966

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Black Beans And Rice

Short Description

Broadcast journalist Soledad O'Brien (1966 - ) founded the Starfish Media Group, and anchored national television news programs like NBC’s The Site and American Morning, and CNN’s In America.

Employment

KISS-FM

WBZ-TV

NBC News

KRON-TV

MSNBC

CNN

Starfish Media Group

Al Jazeera America

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Soledad O'Brien's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Soledad O'Brien lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Soledad O'Brien describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Soledad O'Brien talks about her father's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Soledad O'Brien describes her mother's upbringing and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Soledad O'Brien talks about how her parents met and married

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Soledad O'Brien talks about her parents' aspirations, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Soledad O'Brien lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Soledad O'Brien talks about her parents' aspirations, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Soledad O'Brien describes her home life

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Soledad O'Brien describes her community in Smithtown, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Soledad O'Brien describes the sights of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Soledad O'Brien recalls her early education

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Soledad O'Brien describes her early personality

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Soledad O'Brien talks about her racial identity

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Soledad O'Brien describes her early experiences of religion

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Soledad O'Brien remembers her interests during high school

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Soledad O'Brien recalls her decision to attend Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Soledad O'Brien describes her experiences at Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Soledad O'Brien remembers the diversity at Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Soledad O'Brien describes her activities at Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Soledad O'Brien recalls her decision to leave Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Soledad O'Brien recalls her start at WBZ-TV in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Soledad O'Brien describes her parents' reaction to her decision to leave Harvard University

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Soledad O'Brien talks about her work ethic

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Soledad O'Brien talks about Jeanne Blake's mentorship

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Soledad O'Brien recalls the minority training program at WBZ-TV

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Soledad O'Brien recalls joining KRON-TV in San Francisco, California

Tape: 2 Story: 15 - Soledad O'Brien describes her initial challenges at KRON-TV

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Soledad O'Brien remembers her colleagues at KRON-TV in San Francisco, California

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Soledad O'Brien recalls hosting 'The Know Zone' on the Discovery Channel

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Soledad O'Brien remembers anchoring MSNBC's 'The Site'

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Soledad O'Brien reflects upon her self image

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Soledad O'Brien remembers 'Imaging America'

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Soledad O'Brien describes her role at NBC News in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Soledad O'Brien recalls joining 'Weekend Today'

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Soledad O'Brien reflects upon her success in the broadcast industry, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Soledad O'Brien reflects upon her success in the broadcast industry, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Soledad O'Brien talks about the skills of a successful television anchor

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Soledad O'Brien talks about her marriage

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Soledad O'Brien talks about balancing her family and career

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - Soledad O'Brien remembers broadcast journalist David Bloom

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Soledad O'Brien recalls joining CNN

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Soledad O'Brien remembers completing her degree at Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Soledad O'Brien talks about the history of CNN

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Soledad O'Brien describes a typical day at CNN

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Soledad O'Brien talks about her experiences of gender discrimination at CNN

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Soledad O'Brien remembers covering Hurricane Katrina for CNN

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Soledad O'Brien recalls her experiences of racial discrimination at CNN

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Soledad O'Brien recalls her transition to documentary production at CNN

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Soledad O'Brien talks about her work on 'Black in America,' pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Soledad O'Brien talks about her work on 'Black in America,' pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Soledad O'Brien reflects upon the success of 'Black in America'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Soledad O'Brien talks about CNN's documentary production team

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Soledad O'Brien reflects upon her CNN documentary series

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Soledad O'Brien talks about the depiction of African Americans in the media

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Soledad O'Brien talks about the changes in broadcast media

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Soledad O'Brien describes her plans for the future

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Soledad O'Brien talks about the importance of storytelling

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Soledad O'Brien reflects upon her life

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Soledad O'Brien reflects upon her career

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Soledad O'Brien talks about the future of media

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Soledad O'Brien describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Soledad O'Brien talks about the PowHERful Foundation

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Soledad O'Brien reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Soledad O'Brien shares a message to future generations

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$4

DAStory

5$9

DATitle
Soledad O'Brien talks about her experiences of gender discrimination at CNN
Soledad O'Brien talks about her work on 'Black in America,' pt. 1
Transcript
I remember once being called at the end of 2004, 2005 to go, to cover the tsunami, and I got a call from a, a young woman actually on the assignment desk. And her whole strategy was like, "Listen I've been sent to call you to see, we're trying to send someone to Thailand, but I know you're a mom and you're not gonna want to go and so I just have to run it by you and you know, now you got babies." I was like, "Who more than me wants to get on a plane to Thailand? Oh, me, send me." And I went, you know, and I always felt like you had to joke about these things to kind of get them past people, you know. And then when you got there you better bust your ass and do a good job because everybody was waiting for you to screw up. The first guy, when I got to Thailand, sat me down, pretty sure I'd end up working with a lot. He said, "Listen, so I know you're like this little star and all, but you should know that if I feel like you're not doing your job, I'm gonna call back to the network and tell them." I was so stunned, me not doing my job? The entire history of work had been over doing it. I was just--I was so upset. I was so upset, I went back to my room. In fact I had--I had my luggage. I hadn't even checked into the hotel yet. I was sent to go do a documentary, to do an hour long, sort of special for the network on the tsunami.$$Which was major. That tsunami had everyone--$$Right. One hundred and fifty thousand people died, and I remember--and I was also trying to do my show ['American Morning'] again, same thing, I was like well, I'm here, the news is here, why would you not do your show? And by the way because Thailand's twelve hours ahead, I can do my show from six p.m. to ten p.m., right. So I could shoot all day and then do my show and to have this producer, the first thing he said to me was to explain--"Let me explain to you, little girl--," basically, you know. "I know you're a star, but you should know that I'm going to call back and tell them if you don't do your job." I was so surprised, I was so surprised, you know, and I shot all day, I'd come back, six p.m. I'd say. "I'm available to do my show." I would do my own show with no producer 'cause they didn't send one for the show. I had been a producer, I know how to produce. Set up the lights. I mean because that's sort of how you're successful. And that's the great thing about CNN was that if you did that you know you really could be successful. A lot of your success was in your own hands. I mean I really liked that about CNN, you could--if you were prepared, if you got yourself prepared, if you did a good job reporting, you could be successful, you know, if someone else didn't have to make you, you could do it yourself. I'm trying to think of another good example. It was just--It was just you know, covering the Haitian earthquake, Wolf Blitzer, who I love said, "How do you feel as a mother covering this story?" I was like, "Well, as a reporter, like everybody else who's here reporting on this story, it's a very tough story to report. I'm holding onto babies who are dying in my arms, so yeah, I think it's tough for everybody." And my mother [Estela Marquetti y Mendieta O'Brien] called me and said, "Good for you, good for you. Don't let them call you a mother while you're working, make sure you tell them you're a reporter." You know, so if that's terribly dramatic and tough and whatever, no, but you know, I definitely was very cognizant all the time that as a woman and as a minority there were a lot of people watching to see kind of what you would do; and you know if you screwed it up (makes sound), that was it.$'Black in America'--$$So how did that come about, because--?$$The president of CNN at the time, a guy name Jim Walton, and Jon Klein [Jonathan Klein]--I'm sorry, the president of CNN Worldwide and then the president of CNN Domestic, a guy named Jon Klein, were trying to figure out what do you do for the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]. And so they asked me would I be interested in hosting this big series, just be tons of hours on the assassination and then kind of like about black people today, and called 'Black in America.' And so I was intrigued, I wanted to do it, and I said yes, and so it was kind of up to us to shape how it would go, but it was a very--it was not a great experience. It was very stressful. There almost no black people who worked on it, and it was very--very contentious, you know, because a lot of people were like, "Listen the story of 'Black in America' is prison, black men in prison, statistics clearly show this is an issue. The story of Black America is a failure, the story of Black America is unwed mothers to poverty--," and then it's kind of like, I remember one of the producers said to me, and we've interviewed Michael Eric Dyson and he's talked a lot about the statistics and just how dire the situation is for black people, especially black men, and I think we need to do this and this and this. And I was like, and who is the funniest, happiest guy you know? It's Michael Eric Dyson, right. Michael Eric Dyson is not a bummer. If you've ever gone out, you know, hung out with Michael Eric Dyson, you'd laugh your butt off the whole time, right? So I said, so clearly we're not--that's not the story, it's more nuanced than that and if you do a story about, you know, the statistics, show doom. And you're going to call it 'Black in America,' like what? And I remember calling Kim [Kim Bondy], I would send her all the scripts, which was a big no, no. Not to send scripts out you know, and she would go through the scripts and say, "You know I think what you want to do is show the story of a guy, you know--," she said, "listen, I think that the issue of the prison thing is people are successful often connected to people who are struggling, right, so--so it's hard to be very successful because you've always got one arm or one leg being pulled down." So I think that's a more nuanced story. You know how do we tell these stories of success and struggle and we were trying to be very balanced about it like literally to the point of story count, but you know you are terrified sometimes by some of the producers. I remember saying to somebody, "So like, are we getting a really diverse group of people?" "What do you mean?" "I'm getting like dark skinned black people and light skinned black people. I mean who--I haven't done all the shoots, who are we interviewing?" And she said, "Oh, it's just everybody like So and So, everybody like Butch Warren." Butch Warren is who you and I would consider to be a relatively light skinned brother. I mean, oh, my god. We're--everybody looks like Butch Warren? Do you now understand that there's a subliminal message sent, like this is part of the story and you don't even understand that this is a dynamic in the story. It felt very stressful all the time because it was such a big project and I just felt, you know, sometimes that I was arguing with producers all the time.