The BBC’s Katty Kay has been in Washington since 1996. She’s become a fixture on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and other talk shows, and she made her debut earlier this year on “Jeopardy!” as part of its Power Players Week.
She spoke with The Hill about how she’s surviving this election cycle and the outside perspective the BBC brings to its coverage of American politics. She can be seen on BBC’s international 24-hour news channel BBC World News and on public television.
The back-to-back conventions were brutal. I’m too old to go to bed at 1 a.m. and be up at 5 a.m. to be on again in the morning.
Beyond that, you always survive it because the adrenaline keeps you going. I guess there’s something slightly depressing about this campaign. 2008 was so exciting — it was like candy for all the political journalists; it was like crack. I think this time around, everybody feels like we’re slightly going through the motions. Something is making this a slightly depressing campaign.
Q: What are you paying closest attention to this campaign cycle?
In terms of the horse race, and in terms of the actual race, I still keep looking at those “right track-wrong track” numbers and how people feel about the economy. The economy is not going to change very much between now and November. We sort of know that the economy is going to bumble along between now and November, so it’s really about perceptions of economy at this point. So whether people feel like the economy is going to get better, that’s an interesting indicator of how things will shape up in November.
I do think this is an election about big issues and the trajectory of the country in this new century. Can America still be No. 1 in the 21st century in the way that it was in the last century? And the policies that Washington enacts, to some extent, are going to determine that. And are the politicians on either side up for that?
Q: What do you think your audience cares most about in regards to this year’s elections?
I think our American audience watches out for a slightly broader take, a big-picture take on American politics and some sense of what the world thinks about American politics.
The international audience finds American politics fascinating. Nobody does it bigger or more exciting or more expensive or longer than America does.
The decisions that 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. makes have ramifications around the world in a way that no other country does.
That’s why the BBC bureau here in Washington — we have Portuguese speakers, we have Spanish speakers, we have Arab[ic] speakers, we have Russian speakers, we have all those language service correspondents based in Washington because their audience wants to know what’s going to happen in Washington. What’s decided here is so critical to our audiences around the world.
Q: Is your audience interested in congressional races? Are you?
I’m very interested in congressional races. I’m certainly interested in the balance of power between the House, the Senate and the White House in terms of how decisions get made but also in terms of where the country is. What happened in 2010 in the House was reflective of where the country was. I think that’s very interesting.
I don’t think our audience is particularly interested in Georgia’s 1st congressional district. I don’t think they’re paying that much attention to congressional races.
Q: Have you been out on the campaign trail?
I went to both of the conventions, I went to the [GOP] primaries … now I’m not so much going with the candidates; I’m going out to do stories in the swing states. I’m going to Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, Florida.
I went with the candidates a lot in 2008, but I do find that you get trapped in the bubble of the candidate’s schedule. I find it more interesting to take on issues and go out and talk with people. So I’ll pick a state and a subject, like housing in Nevada.
Q: What are your plans for election night?
I’ll be in Washington. The BBC does a special program. We’ll be broadcasting all night. One of our main anchors flies over from London … I was with John McCainJohn McCainFather of slain Navy SEAL wants investigation A stronger NATO for a safer world Drug importation won't save dollars or lives MORE in Phoenix last cycle.
Q: You’re a regular on the Sunday morning talk shows. How do you approach those appearances, and what’s your secret to getting invited back?
I try to think of the two or three things that I might have to add that other people perhaps don’t add, and really kind of consolidating the things I want to say. You also have to be flexible to listen to the questions and seeing where the discussion goes and thinking on your feet when you’re in there.
Q: How’d you start getting booked on the shows?
I remember very clearly, I was sitting in my kitchen and the phone rang, and it was a producer for “The Chris Matthews Show.” It was before the invasion in Iraq, and they’d seen me on the BBC. I’ve been going on “The Chris Matthews Show” ever since — 10 years this year.
And now I go on “Meet the Press,” “Morning Joe” and the other shows in the NBC family. And Bill Maher occasionally.
Q: I know you’ve been here for about 15 years now, but is there anything about the way Washington works that still strikes you as odd?
There are myths about America that are perpetuated in political classes that aren’t really true. The idea that there is greater social mobility here than anywhere in the world, for instance — yet we know from the numbers that that’s not really true. We know from the numbers that there is greater social mobility in Europe at the moment.
I see part of the challenge of what the BBC is doing here [as] holding a mirror up to America during a critical time, but doing it from the perspective of a friend. And sometimes that means debunking some of these myths.