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CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Covering Trump, How to Achieve Pay Equality and New Year’s Eve With Don Lemon

Like everybody in the news business, Brooke Baldwin’s life has taken an unpredictable turn since Donald Trump was elected president. “My two hours falls smack dab in the crazy sweet spot of the day where the White House daily briefing happens,” says Baldwin, who commands the CNN anchor desk between 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

It’s been a busy year for Baldwin. She’s been a star reporter on the cable news network covering school shootings and March for Our Lives; launched the digital series “American Woman,” highlighting those who have shattered glass ceilings; and rung in the New Year with Don Lemon. As part of our Power of Women New York issue this week, Baldwin spoke to Variety about her around-the-clock coverage.

How has covering the news changed for you in the last year?
Oh gosh. I’ve had the same two hours for eight years. It’s changed because in the last year-plus, we’ve been taking these White House briefings because news is made. There are often days when I’ve sat down in my office for hours and prepped for a show knowing three minutes before I go on, some big crazy thing happens where everything is thrown out and the teleprompter goes blank. A blank teleprompter has become my best friend, because we can’t write that fast. My job is to be OK without a precise plan.

What’s been a particularly hard news day for you?
Every day is a week, every week is a year. There was a day where I feel like something changed just before the top of the show. I can’t remember if it was Stormy related or Russia related. The next thing I know, I’m realizing who I’m going to talk to as I’m being rushed to the set, as I’m ad-libbing the news.

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Do you think our metabolism for news is different?
Yes. I wonder about that so much. I think our metabolism is sped up. We’re used to a lot and much more frequently. I’m really curious what life looks like on the other side of this. Do we go back to what once was? It depends on what happens.

What’s the hardest part about covering the Trump administration?
I would say we are not always dealing in authenticity and fact. Just because someone says something, whether it’s at the podium during the briefing or the president tweets, I can’t always assume that’s factual. That’s insane. We have to be very quick on our toes in fact checking. When Sarah [Huckabee] Sanders says something, I can’t tell you how many times we’re emailing. You’ve got to listen really carefully and you’ve got to call out BS when they are not telling the truth. That is our new existence.

What was it like covering March for Our lives?
This is something that is very close to my heart. Because I happened to have been in the anchor chair when so many of these shootings have happened, I’ve gotten to know this community of gun violence survivors pretty well. And I did this big interview a couple years ago with 40 gun violence survivors in D.C. And so to be in Washington, to have covered Parkland, to have been in Florida at all these other shootings, legitimately something is different. To be at the march and to hear from these folks who have been directly affected, that there is hope for change is incredibly encouraging.

How did you come up with your digital TV series “American Woman?”
Having covered the crazy campaign of 2016 and seeing a lot of young women showing up, I just had this ah-ha moment. I went to my bosses and said, “Guys, I want to make women my priority.” They were totally onboard. It was my idea to go out and find famous women who don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. My soul needed this project.

Do you think we’re at a tipping point when it comes to what’s happening?
I do. I think it’s cyclical. When I talked about Pat Benatar, she remembers the women’s revolution from several decades ago. It’s now this new crop of women who are standing up. One of the huge things I talk about is salary transparency. I think that’s one of the next things to happen, so men and women are more on equal footing and women help women. I did something recently that I’ve never done before, which is tell a girlfriend what I make and tell her about my contract in detail so that she can be armed with information to use in discussing her contract with her TV network. I think it was a scary moment, but at the same time it emboldened her. I think we need more of that to help other women make what they deserve.

You’ve been doing New Year’s Eve with Don Lemon for a few years. Do you guys actually plan what you’re going to do?
We have a bunch of producers who have all kinds of plans. Don and I roll up, and go, “Do we want to do this and this?” We can go rogue, in the best possible way. Don and I are amazing friends off camera. I think there was a hot tub from a couple years ago. There was the ear piercing. Don always comes to play. I think what people enjoy about us, if you talked to us off camera, it would be the exact same as on camera. We almost forget that we are on live television when we have a heart-to-heart about relationships, which can be dangerous. It was so cool to have both our men on live television. And the kiss between Don and [his boyfriend] Tim [Malone], I don’t think we realized how big of a deal that was in the gay community. I still talk to Don and Tim about it. I think it’s awesome to see two dudes kissing on live television on CNN. Good for them!

Do you limit how much you drink?
Here’s the boring answer: I never have a drop the whole night while I’m on TV. It’s just a rule for myself. Don doesn’t have a rule! But I would say Don doesn’t actually have as much as people think. Don hams it up. He’s a total ham. What we’re glad that nobody does see is that after we ring in the New Year, we always go to our favorite gay bar in the French quarter until 4 in the morning.

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