When Mike Emanuel missed classes at Rutgers, his professors knew he wasn’t slacking off. Emanuel RC’90 was an aspiring journalist who did play-by-play for Scarlet Knights football, men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, and lacrosse at WRSU-FM, the university radio station.
He would tell his professors that if he wasn’t in class, he was probably on the road with one of the teams at places like St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, or Syracuse.
“They were great about that,” Emanuel says. “They thought, ‘He’s doing something that he may do for the rest of his life.’”
And they were right.
Emanuel found his calling in broadcast journalism, working as a television news anchor in major markets like Los Angeles and Dallas before moving to Washington, D.C., in the early 2000s to cover the White House and Congress, among other beats, for Fox News.
Emanuel was recently named chief Washington correspondent at Fox, a position that will give him room to do in-depth stories for the cable news network.
“If there is an overarching Washington story or just something that takes advantage of my experience over the last 20 years, then that will tend to come my way,” he says. “I am really excited and grateful to do it.”
It’s a job he has been preparing for since he was a kid growing up in a Westfield, New Jersey, home where three newspapers hit the driveway every morning and News Radio 880 was the soundtrack for breakfast. At Rutgers, Emanuel had just settled in for his first year when he came across an ad seeking on-air staff at WRSU.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I could be on the radio?’” Emanuel says. “’How cool is that?’”
He majored in communications at what is now the School of Communication and Information and minored in religion. The combination of his coursework, which included a lot of writing, and the radio gig helped prepare him for the big time.
“My professors were really encouraging,” he says. “And the radio experience prepared me for a life in front of a microphone.”
As is typical for rookie journalists, Emanuel began his career far from the glamour of Washington and New York. His first job was at a television station in the Midland-Odessa region of West Texas, where local news events included the occasional rodeo and ostrich festival.
He loved the work, appreciated the Texas culture, and relished the opportunity to learn about the oil business. And, during a subsequent job as weekend anchor at an Austin station, Emanuel received a fateful assignment to cover the 1994 gubernatorial race between Ann Richards and George W. Bush.
“My boss said, ‘Mike, you are going to cover Bush. He’ll never win, but it will be good exposure for you.’”
Bush, of course, did win, and Emanuel became a political correspondent at the Texas Capitol. His experience covering a governor with national aspirations made him an attractive candidate to Fox, where he was hired in 1997 and assigned to Washington in 2001.
In the early days of the Bush presidency, the network would often send Emanuel back to Texas when the president returned to Crawford for vacations.
“He’d have a foreign leader there, and he’d say we’re only going to take two questions, and he’d point to me and say, ‘Mikey,’” Emanuel says. “Everybody (at Fox) loved that our guy got a question.”
He soon moved up to premier beats, serving as White House correspondent, senior political correspondent, and chief congressional correspondent. As chief Washington correspondent, he plans to do more long-form enterprise journalism, focusing on major issues such as immigration and the economy.
His new role comes at a particularly challenging time for journalists, with audiences deeply polarized and social media platforms generating content of questionable veracity that reaches millions.
“Good solid journalism that I learned as a student is more important than ever,” Emanuel says. “I do the news—that’s my job—and not any opinion. I stay true to the mission as best I can.”