The College Backgrounds of America's Talking Heads

Tom Wood

(1) As the American political season crescendoes towards November 4, I have started wondering about the role of the liberal arts in American political commentary in the mainstream media (MSM, as it now called).

 In my last posting, I made a case for the liberal arts. This week, I thought it might be interesting to investigate the extent to which the liberal arts figures in the college backgrounds of America's most prominent TV news anchors, reporters, and commentators.

 I was not the ideal person to engage in this project, as I get almost all my news, political and otherwise, from the Web. I therefore had to find some way to go about the matter systematically. Fortunately, between the main TV network and cable news sites and Wikipedia, I was able to get a reasonably comprehensive listing of the major talking heads with their bios at CNN, MSNBC, FOX NEWS, ABC NEWS, and CBS NEWS. What I offer here is hardly definitive, but I hope that readers will find it of interest.

 (2) There was more information on the TV network and cable news web sites about the college backgrounds of the talking heads than there was for their majors or graduate degrees. Consequently, what turned out to be an investigative project focused on the liberal arts broadened into an inquiry about the college backgrounds of the talking heads. However, major fields of study, both undergrad and grad, are noted when they were available using the sources mentioned above.

 (3) I wanted to find background information about some of the leading political analysts who are used by the major networks and cable channels as well. When I looked for background information on political analysts that came to mind as I thought about the matter, I found that the information was generally available on the Web. However, I did not pursue this line of inquiry because I have found no systematic way of identifying these analysts, as the web sites usually gave only the bios for the staff of the various programs.

 (4) Most of the information in the listings below was garnered from the various network and cable channel web sites. I have provided all the links I used for the information given. When I had to resort to Wikipedia (or when Wikipedia supplemented information available on the web site), that fact has been noted.

 (5) I plan in a future posting to provide similar information about the CEOs for, say, the top 25 companies in the Fortune 500. This investigation is of some interest, too, because, if one can believe what they say, businesses and corporations do want well-trained people with liberal arts backgrounds--it's just that these days they have a hard time getting them (well-trained graduates, that is).

 (6) Here are some brief impressions of my own about the findings below:

 (a) The overwhelming majority of the talking heads have college degrees; many of them have advanced degrees. The social sciences are well-represented, but undergraduate degrees in the social sciences are somewhat less common than humanities majors. Degrees in journalism are also common, although in the case of many of the talking heads, the degrees in journalism are advanced degrees rather than undergraduate degrees.

 (b) There is a mix here of elite, selective institutions and less distinguished ones. I was occasionally surprised by the educational backgrounds of some of the talking heads. I am aware that such matters involve very subjective judgments, but some talking heads that have always struck me as real airheads had degrees from elite institutions, and conversely, many who have seemed to me to be occasionally insightful and interesting had degrees from less selective and distinguished ones. The correlation between selectivity and competence here isn't exactly zero, in my opinion, but it's not a terribly strong one, either.

 (c) Whether they are elite or not, small, private liberal arts institutions are overrepresented in this sample, and public universities, even the elite ones, are underrepresented.

 (d) There is a strong geographical bias in the sample favoring the East Coast. Institutional representation drops off markedly as one moves west. Colleges and universities in the Midwest appear in the list far less frequently than those on the East Coast. The lack of representation of schools on the West Coast is even more dramatic.

 This is puzzling. Talking heads of course live on the East Coast: they have to, since the news is broadcast from there. It is harder to explain why the college backgrounds of America's talking heads are so heavily weighted in an easterly direction.

 As a native Californian (I live in Berkeley), my own theory of the matter is that the West Coast acts as a giant sieve, sucking away all the talents of those who might work in TV news. Since living out here is so much more desirable than living on the East Coast, all the talent that originates here or moves here from other parts of the country stays here. So perhaps it is hardly surprising that American political commentary on TV, and the sphere of the "public intellectual" more generally, is as impoverished as it is. This is likely to continue to be a problem as long as it is more desirable to live on the West Coast than the East Coast of the country.

 Tom Wood




 Principal Source:

Christiane Amanpour: Graduated summa cum laude from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor of arts in journalism

Paul Begala: Earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas, where he taught before his work at the White House

William Bennett: Studied philosophy earning his bachelor’s degree at Williams College and his doctorate at the University of Texas. He earned his law degree from Harvard University

Wolf Blitzer: Earned a bachelor of arts degree in history from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and a master of arts degree in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Gloria Borger: Graduated from Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., where she has served on the board of trustees.

Campbell Brown: Graduated from Regis College in Denver with a bachelor of arts degree in political science

Jack Cafferty: I could find nothing about his educational background on the CNN site or Wikipedia

James Carville: Graduated from Louisiana State University with undergraduate and law degrees

Anderson Cooper: Graduated from Yale University in 1989 with a bachelor of arts degree in political science; studied Vietnamese at the University of Hanoi.

Lou Dobbs: Graduated from Harvard University with a degree in economics

Amy Holmes: Holds a degree in economics from Princeton University

T.J. Holmes: Graduated from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism

Larry King: I could find nothing about his educational background on the CNN site

King’s father's death affected King greatly, and King lost interest in school, ruining his chances to go to college. After graduating from high school, he worked to help support his mother.

Howard Kurtz: I could find nothing about his educational background on the CNN site

Kurtz is a graduate of the University at Buffalo and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Roland Martin: Earned a bachelor's of science degree in journalism from Texas A&M University and is currently working on a master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University

Soledad O'Brien: Is a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in English and American literature.

John Roberts: Attended the University of Toronto

Rick Sanchez: Studied journalism at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and played football at Moorhead State University

William Schneider: Received his bachelor of arts degree from Brandeis University and his doctorate in political science from Harvard University, where he subsequently taught in the Department of Government. From 1990 through 1995, he was the Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Visiting Professor of American Politics at Boston College. In 2002, he was the Fred and Rita Richman Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brandeis University.

Jeffrey Toobin: Earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard College and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review

Ali Velshi: Graduated from Queens University in Canada with a degree in religion

Fredricka Whitfield: Earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Howard University

Gerri Willis: I could find nothing about her educational background on the CNN site, Wikipedia, or by Google-searching on the web

Fareed Zakaria: Earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a doctorate in political science from Harvard University

Suzanne Malveaux: Earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University

Dana Bash: Graduated cum laude with her bachelor’s degree in political communications from George Washington University

Candy Crowley: Earned a bachelor's degree from Randolph-Macon Woman's College

John King: Earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Rhode Island

Jamie McIntyre: Earned a bachelor's degree in broadcasting from the University of Florida's school of journalism and communication

Jeanne Meserve: Earned a bachelor's degree from Middlebury College

Christine Romans: Is a graduate of Iowa State University

Frank Sesno: Serves as a professor of public policy and communication at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia

Sesno holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Middlebury College

Michael Ware: Received a law degree from the University of Queensland



 Principal source:

Phil Griffin (President, MSNBC): Is a graduate of Vassar College, with a B.A. in English

Dan Abrams: A 1988 alumnus of Duke University, Abrams graduated cum laude with a B.A. in political science. He received his law degree from Columbia University in 1992

Christina Brown: Is a graduate of University of Phoenix with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration

Dara Brown: A graduate of New York University, double-majored in Broadcast Journalism and East Asian studies. She also studied abroad through Yale at Oxford University

Mika Brzezinski: Attended Williams College and received a degree in English  

Willie Geist: Graduated from Vanderbilt University

David Gregory: Graduated from The American University in Washington, D.C. with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies

Tamron Hall: Received a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism from Temple University.

Chris Jansing: Graduated from Otterbein College with a bachelor of arts degree in broadcast journalism

Rachel Maddow: Received a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Stanford University; earned her doctorate in political science at Oxford University, which she attended on a Rhodes Scholarship.

Chris Matthews: Graduated from Holy Cross College, did graduate work in economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil

Keith Olbermann: Received a bachelor’s of science degree in communications arts from Cornell University

JJ Ramberg: Graduated cum laude from Duke University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and received her MBA from Stanford Business School

Milissa Rehberger: Graduated from Hobart and William Smith College with a bachelor of arts in communications

Joe Scarborough: Went to the University of Alabama as an undergraduate; went to Law School at the University of Florida

Alex Witt: Graduated from the University of Southern California


Tucker Carlson: I could find nothing about his educational background on the MSNBC site

Majored in history at the private liberal arts Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut

Mike Murphy: Attended the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University

Monica Novotny: Holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA, where she majored in Mass Communications

Norah O’Donnell: Is a graduate of Georgetown University and received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy.  She also holds a master’s degree in international affairs from Georgetown

David Shuster: Graduated with honors from the University of Michigan

He is in the process of completing a Master of Arts degree in International Affairs at Georgetown University

Savannah Guthrie: Graduated cum laude from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism in 1993. In 2002, Guthrie received her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center, where she graduated magna cum laude.

Alison Stewart: Graduated from Brown University with a bachelor of arts degree in English and American literature

Brian Williams: Attended George Washington University and the Catholic University of America.
Tom Brokaw (Interim Moderator): I found nothing on the MSNBC web site on his educational background

Tom Brokaw dropped out of the University of Iowa, where he says he majored in "beer and co-eds" before receiving his B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion in 1962

Andrea Mitchell (NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent; has recently reported on the 2008 Race for the White House for NBC News broadcasts, including NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, Today, and MSNBC; also anchors the 1 p.m. hour of MSNBC Live): B.A. degree in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania where she currently serves as a Trustee, a member of the Executive Committee. and Chairman of the Annenberg School Advisory Board

Chuck Todd (became NBC News’ political director in March 2007; also serves as NBC News' on-air political analyst for "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams," "Today," "Meet the Press with Tim Russert" and MSNBC, including "Hardball with Chris Matthews"): I found no information about his educational background on the MSNBC site.
Chuck Todd attended George Washington University; is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University.


PRINCIPAL SOURCE: The navigation bar at, giving the programs

AMERICA'S NEWSROOM,2933,133828,00.html
Megyn Kelly: Earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Syracuse University and a J.D. from Albany Law School
Bill Hemmer: Is a graduate of the Miami University of Ohio

LIVE DESK,2933,116020,00.html
Martha MacCallum: Earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence University,2933,1189,00.html
Trace Gallagher: Is a graduate of the University of San Diego, and received his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration

STUDIO B,2933,1260,00.html
Shepard Smith: Attended the University of Mississippi

Neil Cavuto: Is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and the recipient of a master's degree from American University

Brit Hume: Is a graduate of the University of Virginia

FOX REPORT,2933,1256,00.html

BILL O'REILLY: Has a Bachelor's degree is in History from Marist College, a Master's in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University, and another Master's Degree in Public Administration from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government,2933,1242,00.html
Sean Hannity: I found nothing about his educational background on Fox News
Described as "an indifferent student",[4] Hannity dropped out of New York University and Adelphi University for financial reasons,2933,1223,00.html
Alan Colmes: I found nothing about his educational background on Fox News
Colmes is a graduate of Hofstra University.

ON THE RECORD,2933,42016,00.html
Greta Van Susteren: A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Van Susteren received a bachelor's degree with distinction in economics. She earned a Juris Doctor from Georgetown Law in 1979 and a Master of Law from the school in 1982. Van Susteren was the first Stuart Stiller Fellow at Georgetown Law Center and was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Stetson Law School. She served as an adjunct professor at the Law Center from 1984 through 1999.


Principal source: The navigation bar at, which lists the various programs

Marysol Castro: Attended Wesleyan University and also holds a Master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism
Bill Weir: Has a degree in journalism and creative writing from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California
Kate Snow: Is a graduate of Cornell University and holds a master's degree in foreign service from Georgetown University
Ron Clairborne: Received a BA in psychology from Yale University in 1974. Earned an MS in journalism in 1975 from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Charles Gibson: Is a graduate of Princeton University; now serves on Princeton's Board of Trustees

Martin Bashir: Completed a first degree in English and post-graduate research at Kings College in London
Cynthia McFadden: Graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Bowdoin College. She received her law degree from Columbia University
Terry Moran: Graduated from Lawrence University in 1982


Principal Source: Navigation bar, giving links to the various CBS News programs. CBS Bios are at listed at:


HARRY SMITH: Received his B.A. degree in communications and theater from Central College in Pella, Iowa
MAGGIE RODRIQUEZ: Attended American University in Washington and graduated from the University of Miami in 1991 with a degree in broadcast journalism and Spanish
JULIE CHEN: Attended the University of Southern California and graduated in 1991 with a major in broadcast journalism and in English
RUSS MITCHELL:  Graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism in 1982
DAVE PRICE: Graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial and Labor Relations, and from Columbia University with a master's degree in organizational psychology.

Erica Ruth Hill: Graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Journalism from Boston University
MICHELLE GIELAN: Graduated cum laude from Tufts University in 2000 with a bachelor of science degree in Computer Engineering. Studied at the University of Sydney in Australia and did graduate work in broadcast journalism at UCLA


Principal Source (Bios):
STEVE KROFT: Graduated from Syracuse University in 1967 with a bachelor of science degree. Earned a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
Lesley Stahl: Gaduated cum laude in 1963 from Wheaton College
Bob Simon: Graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University in 1962 with a degree in history
Scott Pelley: I found nothing about his educational background on the CBS News site
Attended the journalism school at Texas Tech University
(Katie Couric; see above)
Lara Logan: Holds a diploma in French language, culture and history from the Universite de L’Alliance Francaise in Paris
Charlie Rose: Graduated from Duke University in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in history and from the Duke University School of Law in 1968. Also attended the New York University Graduate School of Business
(Anderson Cooper: see above)
Mike Wallace: Graduated from the University of Michigan in 1939 with a B.A. degree
Andy Rooney: Attended Colgate University until he was drafted into the Army in 1941
Jeffrey Fager (Executive Producer): Graduated from Colgate University in 1977 with a B.A. degree in English


Principal source:
Bob Schieffer: I could find nothing about his educational background on the CBS News site
An alumnus of Texas Christian University
Carin Pratt (Executive Producer): Graduated from Harvard University in 1978

Meg Oliver: Graduated from the University of Montana in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism



Image: Phil Black, CNN (Winner, Live Journalism - TV) with host Matthew Amroliwala by AIB (Association for International Broadcasting) / CC by 2.0

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