MSNBC’s Banfield thrives in post-Sept. 11 spotlight

Sep 9, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Ashleigh Banfield could use some rest.
“I am seeking out a very plush queen-size bed. I could sleep for a year,” she said with a snigger as she walked along Las Vegas Boulevard, cellphone in hand. Ms. Banfield and her crew visited the city recently as part of her cross-country road show to gauge American sentiment approaching Sept. 11.
Down time has been hard to come by for the well-traveled MSNBC anchor. In the past year, Ms. Banfield has reported from the United States, England, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the West Bank. She has trekked by jeep through the Afghan mountains and hunkered down in a bullet-riddled warehouse in Ramallah. By any measure, it’s been a whirlwind year for the 34-year-old Winnipeg native, who lost two friends in the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Personally and emotionally, I have changed exponentially since Sept. 11. It has been very difficult leading up to the anniversary, but I have tried to keep myself as busy as possible,” she said. “When you work overseas, the time zones dictate that you work all night broadcasting live, and work all day covering the news and doing interviews.”
Ms. Banfield has made a name for herself since being thrust onto the national scene during the 2000 election campaign. Some critics have labeled her as brash and unorthodox, a badge she wears with a certain degree of pride.
“There is no need to put up a false front as a newscaster,” she said. “I decided to take a lot of the broadcaster’s pretense out of what I do, to show a lot of raw material rather than the pristinely edited product.”
Ms. Banfield launched her broadcasting career in her native Canada, working in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver before traveling in Europe and Asia for a year as a free-lance journalist. She landed at KDFW-TV in Dallas in 1995 as a reporter, and later co-anchored the station’s evening newscasts.
In 2000, eschewing what she termed a “meager” offer to renew her contract, she decided to peddle herself to the networks. Rejected by ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox, she caught a break while meeting with NBC News Vice President Cheryl Gould.
“I had not been there 10 minutes when she said, ‘I think we should work together,'” Ms. Banfield recalled. “The network took a huge chance on such an unusual style.”
The NBC cable nets have done their best to build Ms. Banfield into a franchise player, giving her valuable exposure as anchor of “HomePage,” an afternoon women’s show, and as co-host with Lester Holt on the early-evening “Newsfront.” Both shows fell victim to low ratings.
MSNBC created “A Region in Conflict” and “Ashleigh Banfield on Location” to capitalize on her association with Sept. 11. Then, last month, the network dispatched her on a 17-city U.S. tour leading up to the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
“I left America a fairly anonymous person and came back with an MSNBC identity,” she said.
Ms. Banfield takes issue with some of the media attention directed at her, especially from those more taken with her choice of eyewear than her journalistic abilities. A spokesman at a rival network recently dubbed her “the Anna Kournikova of TV news.”
“I’m no idiot,” Ms. Banfield said. “We make our bed and we lie in it if we work in television news. But I am deeply offended with the disproportionate amount of time paid toward women and their image than toward men. That’s where I get angry and that’s what I find unacceptable.”
With a little more than one year left on her NBC contract, Ms. Banfield has given little thought to her long-term future.
“I believe that if you work hard, and are willing to make some sacrifices, you will always have work. I can’t see myself doing anything else,” she said.
Vital stats
Job: Managing editor, MSNBC
Age: 34
Born: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Career: Anchor/reporter, KDFW-TV, Dallas, 1995-2000; producer/anchor, CICT-TV, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 1992-1995; free-lance producer, ABC News, 1991-1992; weekend anchor, CFRN-TV, Edmonton, Alberta, 1989-1992.
Lives: Manhattan
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political studies and French, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada