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Interview: Tomi Lahren

Tomi Lahren

(Harvard Political Review) – Harvard Political Review: We’ll start where your show ends, with Final Thoughts. How do you and your team select the topics?

Tomi Lahren: Final Thoughts started a few years ago with my first show, on One America. It was the closing segment, and it came from whatever was on my mind that day. They started out not all being political—it was just things from daily life, things I observed, whatever caught my attention that day. After I went viral with those Chattanooga Final Thoughts, where I laid the smackdown on President Obama, then they became a little bit more political.

Now I write everything that I say. Every minute of my show is written by me. Nobody brings me a topic, nobody brings me words or phrases. It’s all from me, from my heart. So love me or hate me, it’s me. I’m authentic and genuine.

I usually look at Twitter in the morning and in the evenings and I see what people are talking about. I see what infuriates me, or what I’m passionate about and what fires me up, and what I see other people seem to be talking about, and that’s where I draw inspiration for Final Thoughts.

Sometimes that’s a big event, like Colin Kaepernick—that’s something the world was talking about, and I obviously gave my two cents to it. But sometimes they’re small things: Hillary’s the gift that keeps on giving, as far as Final Thoughts are concerned. So it’s the day’s news, and whatever inspires me. That’s where you get Final Thoughts.

HPR: You said you pick the things that get you “fired up.” To that point, do you feel yourself sometimes “turning it up” when the camera is on, or is it pretty consistent between what’s on camera and behind the scenes?

TL: Well, I’m not an actress; I’m not a performer. I will say this: people often think that I must be an angry, bitter person. I must be so upset all the time. That’s not the case at all. To be honest, that’s my catharsis, when I do Final Thoughts. If I’m angry about something, I get it out in two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half minutes, and then I go on about my life.

These things are very close to my heart. I’m very passionate about them. I don’t say things to be controversial. I don’t think of something and then think how I can take it a step further. Quite honestly, sometimes I have to take back some of the things I say in my mind. I don’t say anything to purposely offend people. If I offend people, it’s a natural, organic thing. It’s just not something where I try to push buttons or try to inflame people. Never.

HPR: Whether people agree or disagree with the content [of Final Thoughts], I think they would agree that they are effective. They’re concise, they’re easily sharable on social media. I wondered if you had a process in which you pared your ideas down to that two or three minutes so you could deliver your message a certain way.

TL: I try to narrow Final Thoughts down into one thought or one message. The rest of the show I talk about five other topics, so the Final Thoughts is where I get it down to one thought. It’s easily sharable; it’s easily digestible. You’re going to get a very direct opinion on one topic, one matter. Sometimes it’s multidimensional, but usually pared down to one thing.

Once you’ve said your piece, you start to repeat yourself and you start to ramble. In order to not do that, I make sure that I say what I need to say. Oftentimes I make notes on certain things I want to hammer home, Colin Kaepernick being one. Obviously I saw what he did, I heard his comments, then I started rapid-fire taking bulleted notes on the points I disagreed with and all the points that I wanted to come across with Final Thoughts. Usually that ends up being two and a half to three and a half minutes.

I speak very quickly, too, so that also helps. I really jam-pack a lot into that time.

HPR: Was there a point at which you decided you wanted to go into broadcast journalism?

TL: This has always been my dream. I’ve always been a talker. Public speaking has always been something I’ve been passionate about. I was in debate in high school. I was always very vocal in student government, on the school board. I’ve always had a gift for articulating my opinion and being able to be persuasive. Politics has always been a fascination of mine.

So journalism really is the way I express myself. I wanted to learn to become a journalist and learn how to write, but I always knew that I would not be happy being a reporter. That’s never been my intention. I did it in college, obviously, and I learned how to write better because of it, but I never wanted to be on the local news. I wanted to comment on the news.

I’ve found that I’m effective when I speak—my power comes from my delivery. My emotions are easily read on my face, and people connect with that. So when they get that straight-on, one-camera angle of me delivering my Final Thoughts with my hand gestures and facial expressions, that is a way for them to connect with me. That’s where I’ve found my most power.

HPR: You said you knew you didn’t want to be a reporter. What would you characterize your current position as? A host? A journalist? A pundit?

TL: I’m a talk-show host, but I’m a commentator. I’ve gotten a lot of criticism for my bias, people saying I’m not a good journalist. That’s fine, because I’ve never claimed to be a journalist. I don’t do journalism. I do commentary. I’m unabashed about my feelings and my opinions and my emotions. You know where I stand on an issue. The thing that frustrates me the most is when journalists claim to be journalists, they claim to be neutral, and then I can read their liberal bias in every sentence that they write or speak. I do not beat around the bush with the way I feel, and I think most people who have found my voice to be refreshing know exactly where I’m coming from.

HPR: Who have been some of your strongest influences?

TL: As far as career wise—this is actually interesting, because I disagree with almost everything that she says—but Oprah is someone that I look to, someone who created an empire for herself.

Glenn Beck is another, my boss. I disagree with Glenn on many, many things, especially during this political season. He’s a never-Trumper; I’m a Trump supporter. I have, on numerous occasions, called never-Trumpers crybabies—that’s my boss. I look up to him because he created an empire. He created a network in which a voice like mine would be free and supported.

I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but back when the Black Lives Matter thing, and the Dallas shootings, and there were people in that movement calling for me to be fired. First from Fox News, by the way—which should show you the intelligence of some of those people, since they tried to get me fired from a network I don’t work at—and then they found out I worked at the Blaze, and tried to get me fired from here. Glenn came out in vocal support and said that I might not agree with everything that she says, but I agree with her right to say it. He stood by me whole-heartedly. So he’s definitely someone I look up to in that regard.

HPR: We’ve acknowledged this earlier, but many of your segments have elicited strong reactions from both sides of the political spectrum. Is there a topic you are most proud of covering and delivering a message on?

TL: Law enforcement and the military. Those are two of my most closely held issues. I lashed out at the Black Lives Matter movement because I didn’t agree with what that movement had become. I also believe that that movement has endangered the lives of our police officers—black, white, purple, brown, whatever. That’s why I am so passionate when I speak out against it. I’m also fiercely patriotic. I’m supportive of our military, as well as my country. That’s why the Colin Kaepernick Final Thoughts were so raw and emotional, because I love this country so much.

People look at it and think it’s really cliché, really stereotypical, that I’m America’s Barbie Doll, what have you. I’ll proudly wear that badge. I love this country and it infuriates me when people disrespect it.

HPR: Are there certain issues that you’ve covered, only to have your opinions change later on?

TL: I’m only learning and growing. To say that at 24 years old that I know everything would be ridiculous. That doesn’t mean I don’t stand behind everything I’ve said in the past.

I spend a lot of time researching these things. People don’t realize—every day I do my show, I research every segment that I do. I read multiple outlets, both conservative and liberal, to find my voice. That’s why I stand behind it so forcefully. It’s not just a thing that’s off the top. It’s something that I’m really emotionally invested in. This is my entire life. I make sure that everything I say I believe in.

The last thing I will ever do is be a puppet for something that I don’t believe in. That’s why you don’t hear me talk about pro-life, abortion. I don’t talk about it because I am socially moderate. So I’m not going to sit here and bang the pro-life drum—that’s not really my fight. Or same-sex marriage—I am okay with same-sex marriage. I am very tolerant of same-sex marriage. That’s why I don’t talk about it much, because it’s not one of my core issues. And that’s why you won’t see me get artificially angry about these things.

HPR: Taking a turn into some of the more unfortunate parts about social media, you’ve experienced online harassment following many of your segments. Did that surprise you?

TL: I absolutely expected it. I have more death threats on a daily basis than I can count. I block more people on Instagram than I can count. I have to send more reports to Twitter than I can count. I had more death threats in the last two weeks than I ever have. I was dox-filed not too long ago, where my information and my parents’ [information] were put on social media in almost a “call to action” to seek some kind of revenge upon me. So it’s something that I deal with on a daily basis.

I very rarely will react to it, because most of it is poorly spelled and grammatically incorrect. So usually I choose to ignore it. I laugh it off most of the time.

I would rather say things that strike a chord than dilute myself to the point where I’m holding back. You’re going to get a reaction when you tell the truth. You’re going to get support, and you’re going to get hate. I’m ready for it, and I will take it on because it’s my choice to speak out.

HPR: Do you feel that any of it has been gendered?

TL: I will tell you this—the feminists are often the most disgusting to me on social media—so self-proclaimed feminists. They’re the ones saying some of the nastiest things to me and about me. It’s funny, because the feminists come after me because of my looks. They tell me that I’m a blonde bimbo. These are feminists. They’re supposed to uplift women. But it seems that they only uplift women that agree with them, because they tear me down. They call me stupid. “Oh, you’re blonde, you’re stupid. The only way you got to where you are—you must’ve slept your way there. A man must’ve propped you up. You’re a puppet for rich old white men.” Those are feminists and the “loving left” that are putting that on me. So it’s gendered in that way.

But other than that, the most controversial things that I talk about are when I talk about race. Because that has become taboo in society—you’re not supposed to talk about it. If you’re a white person, you certainly don’t talk about race. I push those boundaries, because there’s a conversation in this country that needs to be had. There are far too many people in the country that are afraid to have it. They’re afraid to approach it and they’re afraid to discuss their feelings. I am an outlet for those people, because I’m not afraid. I will have that conversation.

HPR: That leads into my final, and perhaps, overall question: where do you see your role in the national conversation?

TL: It’s evolving, I think. I don’t say everything to be conservative or to be controversial. I really think, and I feel that this is the honest truth, that I was raised in a very average way. I was raised by blue-collar parents in Rapid City, South Dakota. It was an average upbringing. I was not privileged. I’ve never been wealthy. I’ve worked very hard for everything that I’ve done. I have student loans. I am an average American.

But because I am an average American, I feel that I speak for a lot of average Americans out there that are just doing their damnedest to make it in this world and doing their damnedest to stay above water. So my goal, and my aspiration, is to be a voice for those people that may not have a voice, or may not feel comfortable expressing that voice.

For as many people that say that my fan base is made up of old, white men—pretty much the opposite, actually. I have more young ladies come up to me in a social setting and want to take pictures with me, and want to talk to me and tell me I’m an inspiration. And that means the most to me. Because they say to me “we don’t have conservative women like you, especially your age, that we can look up to, like everyone looks up to the Kardashians and Beyoncé. We don’t have anyone.” So they appreciate my voice. If I can be a voice for people like that, then I’m doing my job and I’m happy. I hope to be able to continue to do that.

HPR: Any final thoughts?

TL: The biggest thing that I want to portray is that I’m not an angry person. I’m not a hateful person. I’m not a resentful person. I’m actually a very sensitive person. I’m actually a deeply emotional person, and I really do care about what I’m doing. My goal at the end of the day is never to hurt anyone. It’s never to tear anyone down. I just want an honest conversation to be had. I feel like I’ve been able to facilitate that.

I’m very appreciative to those who have stood behind me, because this world can be a lonely place. My family’s not here. I don’t have a boyfriend—my ex-boyfriend is overseas, I lost a boyfriend to this career. I don’t have a lot of friends here, because I tend to move every couple years. So this is what I have—my voice, my career, my followers and those that support me. I’m so grateful for that, because they’re allowing me to do what I do.

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