humble” is the advice Bill Hemmer carries with him in his duties as
coanchor of CNN Morning News. That wise advice, given to him
from his mom, Georganne, has helped the single 35-year-old keep a
level-headed understanding of the world as he experiences it each
day at the network. The news anchor has been at CNN since 1995, and
CNN itself celebrated its 20th anniversary in June.
Originally from Cincinnati,
Ohio, where Hemmer attended Our Lady of Victory grade school and Elder
High School, he remains focused on lessons learned from his family.
That includes being strong in his Catholic faith, remaining confident
and making his own decisions. “I don’t think there was one aspect
of me that wasn’t shaped by my family, whether it was my parents or
my brother and sisters. We were all close in age. We were close at
The closeness remains,
even with Bill in Atlanta, two sisters in Cleveland, and one brother,
sister and his parents in Cincinnati. When his brother was married
on New Year’s Eve, everyone came. It’s no different, Hemmer says,
for the family’s annual week at a North Carolina beach.
Everyone is informed
of the date a year in advance, Hemmer says with pride of the event
known as the “Hemmer Hajj” planned by his parents. “No one has missed
in 25 years.” Some, he admits, have had to cut their time short for
one reason or another, but everyone has always been part of the event.
Education Through Travel
true passion, outside of family, is travel. “There’s no better education
on the planet,” he said in an interview in Cincinnati last spring.
During his college years
at Miami University (of Ohio), where he majored in journalism, he
had the opportunity to take his first foreign trip. Hemmer spent his
junior year in Luxembourg, studying European history and politics.
Since then, he has visited numerous countries throughout the world.
During his trip, he
and some friends decided to go on a ski weekend to Austria. To arrive
back for their morning classes, they took a late-night train. Little
did they know that, on the trip back, they would be taught one of
life’s most important lessons by a German peasant woman.
“We were fast asleep
in our train car trying to make it back for early class the next morning,”
Hemmer recalls, when, “around 4 a.m. the door to our car flew open.
The lights went on, and standing there in the doorway screaming, in
a harsh German dialect, were two woman dressed exactly alike.
“They were obviously
poor, dirty, looking for a place to stay. Reluctantly, we pulled up
our seats and allowed these two peasant women to come inside.” One
woman, he says, was larger and older than the other. Together, “they
carried six huge heavy sacks of something that smelled horrible. The
next two hours, we sat there with the lights on and complained out
Hemmer says he and his
friends continued their critical remarks until “the older of the two
peasants looked me square in the eye and said, ‘Be careful what you
say, young man. You never know who speaks English.’”
In the car, there was
stunned silence, Hemmer says, with only the sound of the “track of
the train below us.”
Later, he and his friends
learned that the woman was traveling with her daughter, who had a
mental disability. “The mother was quite worried about her daughter.
We were, too, when her daughter had a seizure on the train in front
of us.” It was a “rough ride” and a “rough night.”
In the morning, he and
his friends, who never learned what was in the heavy sacks, helped
the women off the train. Before the train left, the older woman returned
to say good-bye and recommend The Razor’s Edge, a novel about
a young World War I aviator, Larry, whose best friend loses his life
while saving Larry’s. The aviator, who returns to his hometown of
Chicago where he works as a businessman, spends years searching for
understanding and education about life.
Hemmer, who recently
finished the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, said that, although he
did not acquire any significant knowledge from the book, he found
that he could relate to the main character, Larry Darrell, who had
a unique curiosity and propensity to learn.
Reflecting on his train
experience with the two peasant women, Hemmer realizes that “sometimes
the greatest wisdom comes from the most unlikely of people....There
is,” he acknowledges, “an enchanting world out there when one takes
the time to explore it. And there’s a wealth of respect and appreciation
that comes with it: respect for the differences we find in other people,
an appreciation for the important things we find in other places.”
That is why, growing
older, he “really had a desire to see the world,” explains Hemmer
in his interview with St. Anthony Messenger. So in 1992, at
the age of 27, he quit his sportscasting job at Cincinnati’s WCPO
Channel 9. The station’s response revealed its respect for Hemmer
and his talents: “Why don’t you sign a contract, and we’ll give you
a job when you come back?”
Hemmer did just that
before heading out on a solo trip to four continents and 15 countries
including India, Nepal, Russia and Vietnam. “These places are fascinating,”
the journalist says. “I really had an awesome time. It was an advent.
It was an epiphany.” The trip, he says, opened his eyes to the different
cultures, different faces, different places.
In video features for
WCPO and in print stories for The Cincinnati Post, he featured
various sites, such as Calcutta, India. There he was able to meet
Mother Teresa and visit her various outposts of missionary work. Hemmer
says Mother Teresa’s work “was quite impressive.” In the Post,
he wrote, “I think I’ll remember her hands the most. She had these
giant hands that could reach out and cover a child’s face like a giant
shroud.” They are the same hands that gave Hemmer three prayer cards,
which he gave to his parents and grandfather.
She is a woman, Hemmer
wrote, who, “with the plain brown sandals and the worn face of wrinkles,
had established an international reputation of love through her work
in the slums of Calcutta.” In the “city where the pollution could
melt your eyes and the poverty could melt your heart,” Mother Teresa
“never posed, never even looked into a camera lens.”
Her disposition led
Hemmer to wonder, in his reflection for the Post, if the woman
religious had an ego. She receives “so much attention” and “so many
kind words” are spoken of her, he wrote. Yet, in her service, “not
once did she go looking for the attention.”
Mother Teresa was just
one of the inspirational people profiled in Hemmer’s half-hour video
scrapbook that he has shared with students in Cincinnati and Atlanta.
He also included the Great Wall of China and his bungee-jumping in
New Zealand. For the video that aired on WCPO, Hemmer garnered three
local Emmys for best entertainment programming, best investigative
story and best host. The video’s message to students is that “there’s
a great big world out there waiting for them to discover,” says Hemmer.
Going overseas taught
Hemmer that travel is the school of life. “It is also a very personal
thing” that has provided him with exposure to real-life experiences
that aid in his understanding of stories he covers each day for CNN.
Whether it’s the Middle East or India/Pakistan or relations between
China and Taiwan, the trip has been invaluable in Hemmer’s anchor
work for the cable network.
As an anchor, he is
“responsible for knowledge about every story we cover in our two-hour
period. That includes interviews and live events—whether it’s a live
event from the White House or an interview...on the development of
the Human Genome Project—that’s picking up huge steam—or interviewing
Hemmer, who received
an Emmy for his work on CNN’s coverage of the Olympic Park bombing
in Atlanta, has spent time covering the crisis in Kosovo, the aerial
bombing missions from Aviano Air Base in Italy, the refugee crisis
from Skopje, Macedonia, and NATO developments from Brussels, Belgium.
In covering such a multitude
of stories, Hemmer says being prepared is most important for success.
“If you’re prepared, and you’ve studied the material, and you have
the background, it’s only going to enable you to do a better job with
that interview. You frame questions better, and you’re not going to
be thrown for a loop, depending on the answer.”
Being a quick thinker
and having experience has helped Hemmer in his work. As a Catholic
and a journalist, ethics are a part of his day-to-day work. “In all
fairness, as journalists, we’re supposed to be absolutely unbiased,”
“I will say, though,
that we’re still human beings. As objective as we try to be, it’s
never 100 percent.” He attributes that to everyone growing up in different
worlds. “Our families influence us, our regions, our cities, our states,
our schools, the people we grew up with, the history that we experience,
the politics that are given to us, the religion that is given to us.”
All of this “factors into completing the person as a whole,” he affirms.
“Having stated that,
personally I try as best I can to be fair and balanced and to stay
neutral.” The challenge for journalists, Hemmer emphasizes, is to
ensure that all sides of the issue are understood, whether that be
religious, political or social.
Hemmer, who travels
in his current position covering such stories as news from the presidential
“camps,” remains committed to wanting “to get back on the road” to
overseas locations. Although he is unsure when or how that will happen,
Hemmer says his parents instilled the sense of freedom within him
and his brother and sisters to make their own decisions. They have
allowed us “to fall down on our own” and learn from the experience.
“They were always very glad to let us do what we wanted to do.”
Hemmer’s parents remain
in the forefront of his thoughts as conversation shifts to family,
job responsibilities and future goals. He speaks endearingly of his
father, Bill, a vice president of a mattress firm, describing him
as “a very humble man. That’s not to be overlooked,” the son stresses.
“He has my full respect, and he’s a great man: his humility, his honesty.
He has a general goodness to him.”
Growing up as the middle
child of five, Hemmer remembers the outstanding example set by his
parents. First of all, he says, “my dad would never, ever, ever cuss.”
That trait is one that “says a lot about who he is and who he wants
his children to be.”
Hemmer, who sees his
parents as special influences in his life, says his mom has always
counted on the Church as her source of support. “She’s very strong
in her faith. That’s to be commended.” A member of St. Francis Xavier
Parish in Cincinnati, she has instilled in her children the importance
of having a strong faith.
Hemmer says, “Mom always
wanted me to be a priest.” Although that is not the path he has chosen,
he has always counted on God to be there for him. As a young child,
he would ask God to “help me do this or help me do that.” Looking
back, Hemmer admits that a style of prayer that only asks for things
is maybe not “a very good way to have a relationship with God.”
In the last 15 years,
Hemmer’s outlook on prayer has changed. “It has given me the strength
to accept whatever comes my way.” That means a new attitude and approach
for situations that may be difficult or present a challenge. He says
he uses that strength each day at CNN.
“I love my job, and
I love what I do. If I lose it, I’d be really ticked off, but I’d
be O.K., too. I’d be confident that God would take care of me.”
A speaker at various
events throughout the country, typically at gatherings with international
journalists and American and international college students, Hemmer
enjoys the opportunity to spend time with family and meet other people.
That way, he says, he can stay in touch with people and “get a decent
gauge” of where the world stands.
Although he is in touch
with stories and people across the globe, Hemmer is intrigued by the
sense of duty people in the United States have for their country.
Yet, with his generation being the first one to skip a major war,
he is curious how the sense of duty will develop in future generations.
our country has always responded to the call,” he adds.
For Hemmer, whose innate
sense of adventure has allowed him to bungee-jump, skydive and scuba
dive, the future is unknown. He is not without his desires.
A parishioner at the
Cathedral of Christ the King in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, Hemmer
says, “I’d like to get married. I’d love to have children.” His humble
upbringing chimes in, “If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, I’m not
going to force it.”
As he looks out at the
vast world, though, he has made one conclusion. “In my humble opinion,
the six billion of us on this planet have one main concern: trying
to make our lives and the lives of the people around us better.” Inconsequential
are the color of our skin and our religious denomination, he adds.
What matters is that “our human hearts beat at the same place, one
beat at a time.”
Donna Palmatary is
a former assistant editor of St. Anthony Messenger. Prior to
that, she had served as managing editor of The Catholic Telegraph
in Cincinnati. She graduated from the University of Dayton.