Fox News Anchor Martha MacCallum Talks the 'Completely Different Environment' of Virtual Convention
"I think that one of the things about this business that I've learned over all these years is that you never know what's around the corner"
Even with four political conventions and nearly three decades of reporting under her belt, nothing could have prepared Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum for the likes of 2020.
Usually reporters are out “interviewing people in diners and on street corners” ahead of a presidential election, MacCallum tells PEOPLE, but because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic everything has changed course for those covering the election between incumbent President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
“It's a completely different environment,” says MacCallum, 56. “I think that one of the things about this business that I've learned over all these years is that you never know what's around the corner, and you have to be flexible and you have to adapt to it.”
So that’s what MacCallum did.
Typically, she hosts The Story With Martha MacCallum every weeknight from the Fox News studio in New York City. But as the country grappled with how to contain the coronavirus, she was forced to make do and tape her nightly show out of the basement of her home in New Jersey.
While MacCallum says it "goes against every reporter instinct in my body to be in New York during this election season,” she nonetheless “pushed aside the ping pong table and put up a screen” in her family’s basement in order to continue filming her nightly show.
“I always wanted it to look as close as possible to our studio, because I felt that people at home wanted the stability of turning on the TV and seeing something that looked as close to normal as possible,” she says. “So we tried to maintain as much of that as we could during those early months.”
After a few months of remote work, MacCallum is now back at the network’s N.Y.C. office and things are starting to “normalize” for her, though social distancing has kept some restrictions in place: MacCallum can’t have guests on set for interviews.
“I miss that interaction with people face to face,” she says. “Although we are back in studio and it is very close to what it was, that's the biggest missing factor for me.”
This week’s Democratic National Convention and the following week’s Republican counterpart will mark the fifth time MacCallum has covered the convention season, which marks a presidential election turning the final corner toward November.
But covering this election cycle has been a “180-degree” turn, MacCallum says, given all that’s changed for her and all that’s on the line for voters amid a public health crisis and national demonstrations against injustice.
“This is a very big crisis that the country is going through,” she says. “On the other hand, I think people do benefit from keeping it in historical perspective and knowing that as a nation, we have been through very difficult times before and we will go through them again, and there is always some light at the end of the tunnel.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed at least 170,100 people in the U.S. and infected more than 5.4 million people across the country as of Monday, according to a New York Times tracker.
Social distancing precautions have forced both major political parties to turn their conventions into mostly virtual events, with no supporters gathering to rally their party on ahead of the election cycle’s final three months.
The Fox News anchor says she’s managed to stay somewhat connected to voters through other reporters who are still on the ground covering the lead-up to the election, though that process is still not the same.
“You don't feel that you have as much access to people as we did before,” she says. “So much of it is social media and interacting online.”
Some of MacCallum’s anchors to reality have been her family and colleagues, including Fox News host Bret Baier, with whom she’s hosted election coverage throughout the year.
The two co-moderated a virtual town hall with Trump in front of the Lincoln Memorial back in May, where the president predicted: “We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people,” because of COVID-19.
While the number of U.S. coronavirus deaths has almost doubled since MacCallum and Baier spoke with Trump, the anchor says she tries not to be “alarmist” on her show and tries to maintain that at home with her family.
MacCallum spent the first few months of the pandemic quarantined with her husband, Dan Gregory, and their three kids at their New Jersey home, where she spent time watching classic movies and playing sports with her kids outside.
“It's a sad time in the country and I think every generation goes through these experiences,” she says. “That's what I've been trying to explain to my kids: to be resilient and to be strong, and to always remember that nothing lasts forever.”
As an avid sports fan with one son, Reed Gregory, playing football at Notre Dame, MacCallum says the family spent a lot of time playing tennis and pickleball — doing “anything we could to get some of that COVID anxiety out.”
The lack of live sports was also a downer, MacCallum says, adding with a laugh that she and her family watched an entire NASCAR race one Sunday which, she notes, “is not something I typically watch.”
“But it was so exciting to see something live. At this point I would watch curling very enthusiastically,” she says.
Her time at home has been a “silver lining” in an otherwise unpredictable and restless year. But now that she’s back on set in N.Y.C. and Election Day is less than three months away, it’s time for MacCallum to recalibrate.
She and Baier will co-host a special episode of "Democracy 2020" each night of the DNC this week, starting at 10 p.m. ET.
“It will be nice be back on set together,” she says. “I think we're all looking forward to that.”