Former CNN and ABC anchor Aaron Brown is the Walter Cronkite Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University. Before moderating a panel on Phoenix’s future, he sat down in the green room to talk about life after being on the news, why he wants to go back to South Africa, and keeping quiet in the morning.
Q. What’s your biggest pet peeve?
A. People who don’t listen.
Q. What surprises you most about the news business today?
A. How little news there is on the news-how particularly cable has become actually an entertainment vehicle, a kind of talk show vehicle, as opposed to a journalism vehicle.
Q. If you were any animal, what would you be?
A. I am an animal! That’s like a Barbara Walters question. I’d be a golden retriever. … I just said that because I had one.
Q. Who were your childhood heroes?
A. Hubert Humphrey and Walter Cronkite. I was fortunate to know them both.
Q. How do you react when you’re embarrassed?
A. Honestly, I did television-it’s really hard to embarrass me. Almost by definition my world was embarrassing. Somewhere along the way I figured out, it doesn’t matter. I’m not important. So if I do something stupid like trip, it doesn’t matter. My wife’s still going to love me, my kids, the dog. I don’t worry about it too much.
Q. Who’s your favorite Beatle?
A. John Lennon, because he could write.
Q. Where do you go to be alone?
A. My study.
Q. What do you like to cook-if you cook?
A. I am the cook. I like to open a book and sometimes randomly see where my finger lands. I like the process of it. I don’t think I’m good at it, but I like to do it.
Q. What do you wake up to?
A. Silence. I do not talk in the morning. I want people to be quiet. My wife and I actually signal each other.
Q. What’s the best part of no longer being on camera regularly?
A. I’m a private person again. I used to say I loved the work and hated the job-I’m just the wrong person to be a public person. I’m very shy. But I love being a reporter, so if I wanted to do both I had to do it-you don’t get to pick. I like having my anonymity back to some extent.
Q. If you could take only one more journey, where would you go?
A. I want to go back to South Africa-to Cape Town. I spent some time there before South Africa became free, and I was there when Mandela was released, and when they voted. It was an amazing experience to be in a place where it completely changes-it goes from totally oppressive to a kind of scary but free place. And I think it’s the prettiest place I’ve ever seen. I want to go back and see what they’ve done with their lives and write about it.
*Photo by Felipe Ruiz-Acosta.