In 1986, long before Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, Carole Radziwill started her career as an intern at ABC News. Soon after that, she became a reporter for Peter Jennings’s documentary unit, a gig that led her from a shoe-box studio on York Avenue (“I lived on Cup O’Noodles and hard-boiled eggs”) to Cambodia, Haiti, and India, where she covered American foreign policy.
Stationed in Israel in 1991, she reported on the Gulf War, specifically SCUD missile patrol. In 2003, during the war in Afghanistan, Radziwill spent six weeks in Kandahar with an infantry unit of the 101st Airborne Division. Throughout her often-perilous reportage, she’s racked up quite the trophy collection — including three Emmys, a Peabody, a Robert F. Kennedy Humanitarian Award, and a GLAAD Award. Her late husband, Anthony Radziwill, passed away from cancer in 1999, less than a month after the death of their cousins and closest friends, JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette. In 2000, Radziwill left ABC News to write a best-selling memoir, What Remains: A Memoir of Faith, Friendship, and Love.
Now more than a decade has passed, and after a distinguished career in hard news, Radziwill finds herself heading into her fifth season of Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York, which premieres its ninth season tonight. The show’s Manhattan installment has never lacked for drama (see Aviva Drescher’s projectile prosthetic), but season nine, filmed during campaign season, puts Radziwill’s electoral neuroses front and center. Bravo’s resident politico caught up with Vulture to talk Housewives season nine, her ballsy Twitter account, and how Trump is using the reality-star playbook as president.
I saw the trailer for season nine where Bethenny says to you, “It’s all you talk about 24 hours a day, you’ve got to stop.” I assume she’s talking about the election?
I couldn’t talk about anything else. Nothing else seemed as important or interesting to discuss. I’m sure production might’ve wanted me to ease up, but they’ve always been straight up about it being reality, and that was my reality. We start filming in October, so we were three weeks out from one of the biggest elections in my lifetime, if not ever. So it’s not scripted. It was really what we were talking about in these five months that we filmed of our lives. In the next couple episodes you’ll see I go door-to-door canvassing in Pennsylvania with my mom. At that time I was working with a Get out the Vote project. I think the only people in the country who weren’t talking about the election were the six other women on the show.
Do you agree with the criticism that reality-TV culture in this country led to, or made the climate ripe for, Trump’s presidency?
I don’t dispute that. They say we’re the most entertained and least informed country in the world, which seems to be true. We have a man in the Oval Office who’s never held public office, who’s a reality-show star. He’s a businessman, but I like businessmen that don’t file for bankruptcy six times and get bailed out by daddy when the going gets rough. There will be a lot of studies and theories about how reality TV played a part in this election. I think people are just used to that kind of bombast. He really is a great reality star. Recently with health care not going well and also the Russia hearings, what does he tweet out? This insanity accusing President Obama of a felony. This is right out of the reality-star playbook. When you’ve done something that you don’t want people to focus on, like maybe colluding with Russians to steal the election, just throw something else out to divert everyone’s attention and to completely obfuscate and confuse, which he does again and again.
I’m a big fan of your Twitter account. I was thrilled to see one of the Housewives be so brazenly critical of the administration.
I come from many years of covering politics and being in a newsroom where you absorb it all. I worked on the ’92 campaign for ABC. So it never crossed my mind when I started tweeting and trying to get the facts out to counter total bullshit coming out of the Trump campaign. I was watching that rally in Florida when he called on the Russians to hack into the DNC and Hillary’s emails and see what they could find. That is a treasonous act, so I’m thinking, “Okay, this guy’s disqualified himself.” And that’s not what happened. Not to mention calling on the Second Amendment people to take care of Hillary and threatening to lock up his political opponent. This is what happens in a banana republic, and this is what’s happening in front of my eyes. So you can imagine my mood when we started to film.
You started your career at ABC News, right?
Yeah, and just by osmosis, and certainly by covering elections and being in Washington interviewing senators and congressmen and political think-tank types, it’s just in your blood. I guess it’s very unusual for someone 20 years later to be a Housewife on a reality show. I don’t want to be that person on this show because they want to keep it light and bright and talk about cocktail parties and if Luann’s really going to get married. I don’t care about that.
You had a remarkable career in journalism, reporting across the globe, from an infantry unit in Afghanistan to refugee camps in Cambodia. So I get vicariously annoyed on your behalf when the Twitter trolls tell you not to opine about politics because you’re on a reality show.
Just as an American citizen, it’s my constitutional right! Because I’m on TV that right doesn’t exist for me? As though you can only tweet about the Super Bowl if you’re an athlete? There were a lot of trolls, but less and less now because they see what we’ve all seen, which is the collateral damage of what was the most openly racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and hateful campaign this country has ever seen, just littered with lies and falsehoods.
Given your line of work, you must have strong feelings about the administration’s attacks on the press and its legitimacy.
Well, you know I go hard on Twitter. And I could go harder. I understand I’m trying to appeal to a vast audience and try to be mindful about that. But journalism is a constitutionally protected vocation. This is something that our founding fathers knew was important enough that they wrote it into the Constitution. And to see Trump and his cronies systematically, methodically undermine the press and delegitimize it. This is in the Putin, Communist playbook. That is what every dictator does. They come in and they try to marginalize and silence the press so the only person who the nation can listen to is the authoritarian. This is not new. You criminalize immigrants and silence the press and instill fear in the populace. This is as old as Machiavelli. I’m just sad for this country, just as I was sad when it all came out during the Clinton administration. Because then I was in news and I read the Starr Report and I knew that that would take the country in a direction that it shouldn’t be going in. And it’s sad that we have to listen to these hearings about whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russian foreign agents to affect the election. And let me just say on the record, I voted in my real, coming-of-age adult life as a Republican. I voted for Reagan. And I also voted for Bush 41, who I thought was a very elegant man. I actually went to the White House and met him.
Were you there as a reporter?
Reagan was before, but Bush was right at the beginning of ABC. I think it was more that my parents were very staunch Democrats and it was a teenage rebellion thing. As I wised up I got more in line with the Democratic ideology. But it’s not “Democrats are amazing, and Republicans are horrible.” This has now come down to common sense.
Were you with any of the other Housewives on Election Night?
It’s a funny thing about politics. Clearly, I probably know more about the political system than some of the women in the cast, right? It would just make sense. But something about politics makes everyone have to be an expert. Ramona could not admit that I probably knew more than she did. It would be like me debating Andy Cohen about baseball. You know, “you got me!” I don’t know anything about sports so I’m going to learn and listen to people who do follow it and do have a passion for it. As soon as I said I might know more they were outraged. “You don’t know anything, I read the paper, too, you don’t know more than me.” To be honest, it’s not that interesting to follow most of the time. There are lots of players; it’s hard to keep track of all the Supreme Court justices and who are the 27 congressmen from New York. So I get it.
Do you think any of the women on the show voted for him?
Probably! Sonja very openly says that she knows Trump personally; I didn’t want to delve into that conversation any deeper than that. One time she said she was an adviser to the Trump campaign.
Really?! Sonja as an adviser to the Trump campaign needs a spinoff.
She should pitch it to Bravo!
As the Housewives’ resident politico, which of the women would you fill your prospective cabinet with?
Am I the president in this scenario?
Yes, you are.
Oh my god. I have to think about this because I want it to be real and honest. Andy Cohen as vice-president, because I dream about bossing him around. Dorinda is secretary of Defense, because while she likes to make it nice, she is not averse to going to war. Bethenny is secretary of State: good negotiator. Loves to make deals. Willingness to travel. Sonja is secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She’s housed half of Manhattan at her townhouse and has a propensity to take in strangers. Ramona is secretary of Energy: At 60, has more energy than most 30-year-olds and has shown a tendency to “go nuclear.” Luann is U.N. Ambassador. She speaks several languages, is very diplomatic, and shows a willingness to sugarcoat issues. And finally, Tinsley is secretary of Education. As the new girl, she had the biggest learning curve, and still would do a hell of a lot better than Betsy DeVos.