Marie Harf had a successful political career during President Obama’s time in the White House, with key roles as senior adviser for strategic communication to Secretary of State John Kerry; national security and foreign policy adviser for President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential re-election campaign; and analyst on Middle East leadership issues in the C.I.A.’s Directorate of Intelligence. In January 2017, shortly after the shift in presidential power, Marie joined FOX news as a contributor — even though her political opinions certainly differed, and still do. She currently serves as a FOX News Channel analyst and co-host of FOX News Radio’s Benson and Harf, for which she discusses the latest headlines emanating from Washington alongside her co-host, Guy Benson.
Describe your journey to your current position, from C.I.A. analyst to White House communications advisor to political commentator. Looking back, could you have predicted this path?
I definitely would have not predicted it. I was in college on September 11th, 2001 studying political science. At that point I realized I wanted to study the Middle East and foreign policy. When I graduated I applied for only one job, at the C.I.A. as an analyst. Luckily I got the job, and moved to Washington, D.C. to start working at the non-partisan C.I.A. After three years or so I wanted a broader look at the agency, so, without any media training, I applied to be the media spokesperson. It was a time when the C.I.A. was trying to do more publicity and become more transparent. Then, since I loved politics, when the 2012 re-election campaign rolled around I left the agency to work for President Obama’s campaign, running the national security policy. I now tell everyone to work on a political campaign. It’s such an amazing experience, if you ever can, to get to go to work every day and fight for values that are important to you. When Secretary of State John Kerry became Secretary, I moved to the state department, and since at this point I had media experience, I became his spokesperson.
How did you know your latest move to FOX was the right step for your career?
I started at FOX the day after the Obama administration left the office, beginning on the TV side, and then earlier this year I started a daily radio show called Benson and Harf. The election of 2016 really taught me that more people needed to hear diverse voices. I thought it was important to have a Democrat with a progressive point of view working at the network, which gave me a platform and opportunity to bring my message to millions of viewers who don’t hear this point of view as often. I think it’s really important for people to hear different points of view, and to not just be in our own news silos. Not only that, more people watch FOX News than other channel, and the audience is not all conservatives and republicans. In terms of reaching an incredibly large audience, which is the reason you get into media and television, for me this made the most sense.
How do you handle the criticism that comes with being in the public eye?
No matter where you are in the public eye you get criticism. What I’ve found is that a lot of the feedback I get from people, people I don’t know, is “I don’t agree with you politically, but I appreciate your point of view and I’m glad to hear your perspective and I’m happy you’re on this platform.” It’s comfortable to be in our silos, but a lot of people now want to hear different points of view. We have a great team at FOX, and even though we may disagree on politics, we’re all supportive of each other. Social media is really important, but when you’re in the public eye you have to have a thick skin, which is okay because these are tough, important issues people care deeply about.
“The fact that I get to play a role in the debate in the U.S. and give my opinion and talk through complicated issues on a daily basis feels like a gift.”
What do you enjoy most about your job? What do you enjoy the least?
Politics is so all consuming right now, the fact that I get to play a role in the debate in the U.S. and give my opinion and talk through complicated issues on a daily basis — whether with my radio co-host, Guy Benson, or my TV colleagues — feels like a gift. Everyone has political opinions but not everyone gets to make their case on a platform like I do. There are times when I wish I could close my eyes and not think about politics. The negative and divisive politics can be hard, and those who came to Washington as idealists are having a tough time right now. But ultimately, it’s okay, it’s okay to say that “this is hard.” We will be okay. Every generation feels worse than ever, but of course that’s not true: in the United States we had the Civil War, segregation, etc, and we’ve come such a long way. The difference today is the impact of social media. We can do amazing things with it, like stream our programs and interact with fans, but it’s also where some of the difficulties of the country become amplified. That’s a challenge today that feels very different and we haven’t figured it out yet. It’s our responsibility to try to make things better.
How do you ensure your voice is heard, in political conversations where men’s voices are often the loudest and historically taken more seriously?
I think the idea that men’s voices are heard more is changing. Starting in the Obama administration, we had a lot of really strong women who played key roles, and their voices were certainly heard and contributed substantially to the conversation. I think that ultimately things have changed on FOX, too — for example, we have so many incredible, strong women on air, including Martha MacCallum and Dana Perino. A lot of women have stepped up to the plate saying, “We belong here and are a part of the conversation.”
What do you hope to be remembered by?
I think my party is going through a generational shift. The Democratic Party in the U.S. has to figure out what’s next, and what values we will represent, whether it be economic opportunity, equality, civil rights, etc. I want to play a constructive role in that conversation, and help the party I love transition into the next phase — how that happens, how we reach Americans and voters, and speak to them about what we represent, which is a reason I’m at FOX. We have a huge, dedicated, loyal audience, and when I meet a fan or someone on the street and they say they don’t agree with me but they appreciate my voice, they see I’m a normal person from Ohio with a family who likes college football. Humanizing the political opposition is important for governing but also for discourse, and I’m proud to play a tiny role in that.