Broadcast legends and steadfast friends.
When Judy Woodruff’s daughter Lauren gave birth to a son recently, Andrea Mitchell rushed to the hospital, arriving even before Judy’s husband, journalist Al Hunt. As we sit to discuss both their work and their friendship of 40 years, the two women are fawning over photos of the baby. “Here he is! He’s pulling himself up,” Woodruff says as she shows Mitchell a picture on her iPhone. “Oh my gosh!” exclaims Mitchell—twice. “This is so exciting!”
The enthusiasm is genuine and the friendship runs deep. The two women met while covering Jimmy Carter’s White House for NBC News in 1978, and have been each other’s biggest cheerleaders ever since.
They’re also at the top of their game professionally — Woodruff is managing editor and sole anchor of “PBS NewsHour” and Mitchell is chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News and host of the daily program “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC. And although the busy journalists graciously put their phones away as we spoke, they were both standing by and ready to rush back to work amid rumors President Trump would fire his National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and other senior staff, but the President would leave that for another day.
Washington Life: Has there ever been competition between the two of you?
Andrea Mitchell: You know, I cannot think of any competition between us. And in fact, when I was assigned to the White House to be a correspondent with Judy and our great friend John Palmer, Judy and John would look for any opportunities for me to do a “Today Show” piece. I was the number three and was primarily doing radio because, let’s just say I had a bump in the road.
WL: What happened?
AM: The then-president of NBC News did not like one of my “Today Show” moments the day John Hinkley was transferred from a helicopter to a motorcade for his arraignment. I was about a mile away and could not come up with any great description of what was happening because I couldn’t see anything. Anyway, I was demoted.
Judy Woodruff: But it lasted just a nanosecond …
AM: Well, it felt pretty bad. But Judy and John Palmer came to my rescue and rehabilitated me.
JW: She didn’t need any rehabilitation. Everybody knew that Andrea was and is a phenomenal reporter and we wanted to give her a chance. But you’re right, in our business there is a lot competition, even within one shop.
AM: That’s true, but when I see interviews Judy has that I didn’t get, I’m not envious. Instead, I think, “Wow, look at what Judy just did!”
JW: And vice versa, I feel the same way. We’ve just known each other so long, I cheer her on. I retweet when she’s had a great guest. I mean, I’d be glad to be her biggest promoter. But our relationship is somewhat unusual in our business. There’s just a bond that has lasted all these years and I get a little emotional when I think about it, because Andrea has been there for me, for my family, through thick and thin and those kinds of friendships are rare in this city.
AM: I’m the proud godmother of Judy and Al’s daughter and that has been an amazing relationship for me, not having children of my own. I am close to all three of her children. They’re just very special to us. My husband (former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan) and I have spent every Christmas morning with the Woodruff-Hunts since …
JW: Since the mid-’80s! We would have Andrea over for Christmas breakfast and then it just became this tradition.
AM: Now they can’t get rid of us!
JW: We never want to get rid of them! We can’t imagine Christmas morning without Alan and Andrea.
AM: And in fact, I’ve always felt that was the reason why Alan proposed to me. It’s not a coincidence that he decided that we should get married after coming back from Christmas morning with Judy and Al. The first thing he said to me when we got home was what kind of wedding did I want to have? And I think it was because of being with this family and seeing what a good marriage is.
WL: What is the secret to your longevity in this business?
JW: Well, for me it’s just that I love what I do, I love journalism and I just keep going.
WL: You’re not tired?
JW: I’m not as tired as Andrea should be, given her schedule! She never displays being tired.
AM: Yes I do!
JW: But I love what I do and I feel so lucky to be doing it after all these years. It sounds corny, but I have to pinch myself to think I’m still doing it. It’s interesting, it’s crazy, it’s unpredictable and yes, sometimes it’s exhausting, but it’s gratifying. I like to think that the work we do, I know it does – it makes a difference.
AM: It gives me energy. I’m learning all the time. And there is an element of public service and responsibility that I know I feel and Judy feels. It’s very complicated right now because there is so much coming at us and it’s changing so dramatically minute by minute. The people who would normally be my sources at the State Department and other agencies can’t really speak authoritatively — no one can because no one can speak for the President. We need to be much more cautious and double check sources to make sure we do not get something wrong. The cardinal sin right now, when the media is frankly under attack, is to leave anyone an opening to say that we were wrong. The stakes are just too high.
Judy and Andrea’s Style: “I can describe Andrea’s style, which is elegant. She always looks perfect,” gushes Woodruff. Mitchell shakes her head at her friend and laughs. “We both like fashion,” she interjects, adding that they wear mostly solid colors because “solids look better on camera.”
How has the dress code evolved for female reporters over the years? “During the Carter White House we wore a lot of pantsuits, but the Reagan press corps had more of a dress code because the first lady’s style translated down,” says Mitchell. “That’s true,” agrees Woodruff. “You tend to follow the tone set by the office.”
This story appears in the April 2018 issue of Washington Life Magazine.