Forget reporting trips to Afghanistan or tête-à-têtes with presidents; Bret Baier’s toughest challenge involved the flawed ticker of his six-year-old son, Paul.
Baier, a Dunwoody native, launched Fox News’ Atlanta bureau from his Buckhead apartment in the 1990s, and has since risen to anchor Special Report, the top-rated cable news program in its time slot. His TV career started early: While at Marist School, Baier interned at WSB-TV, working with Ernie Johnson Jr. and Monica Kaufman.
When Paul was diagnosed with five congenital heart defects at birth, subsequent surgeries and hospital stays put the newsman’s career on hold. Baier chronicles the family’s sojourn into the world of pediatric heart disease in his first book, Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage, and Love. (All author proceeds go to pediatric heart research.)
Baier lightens the mood with anecdotes about covering Beltway politics, where he says he employs a skill he learned on Marist’s golf team: “I keep it down the middle, something that—as a news guy—I’m always aspiring to do.”
His first book began as detailed emails he sent to friends and family, reporting on his son’s chances of overcoming congenital heart defects. The book-writing process took about a year and included several revelations, such as how difficult it is for a news reporter to write about himself.
You name-drop the Varsity in your book. What are some other can’t-miss spots when you’re visiting town?
You know, things have changed so much since I was there. The Atlanta bureau, the Southeast bureau for Fox, started in my apartment, right behind the Three Dollar Cafe in Buckhead, in the Concorde apartment building. All those places around Buckhead have turned over, and it’s a much different spot now. So I don’t know if I know all the “in” spots currently.
During your travels, have you been an ambassador for Atlanta?
[Laughs] I always speak highly of Atlanta. I don’t know if I’ve been an ambassador. I always enjoyed my time growing up there and then working there. Covered the Olympics in Atlanta and then unfortunately that ice storm during the Super Bowl. But Atlanta’s a great place—great people.
Have you gone through great pains to scrub away your Southern accent?
I don’t think I ever really had one. I think [being raised by parents from the North] kind of balanced me out there. When you’re down there for a long time, you can throw a little drawl now and then.
How did the process of writing this book compare with interviewing world leaders or reporting from war zones?
It’s funny; this process for me was actually a lot tougher. It’s personal, so you’re dredging up feelings and stuff that you’re not sure whether to put out there. In the end, I thought it was better. It was kind of cathartic for me to put it all down on paper. And hopefully this book is going to help other families, or people that are dealing with tough times.
You’re donating all author proceeds to pediatric heart research. What do you hope those funds will achieve?
One of the main things the money’s going to go to is discovery. A lot of states don’t have this simple test that hospitals can do to enable doctors to know whether there’s a congenital heart defect. A lot of babies are sent home with undetected congenital heart defects. We’d like to make this simple test something everybody does so that nobody wakes up one day with a blue baby.
What’s your son’s prognosis moving forward?
He just finished his third open-heart surgery. He’s growing like a weed, the tallest in his class. He’s just fantastic, bouncing around. His prognosis is great. We’ll probably have to have another open-heart surgery in six to eight years. One of the fixers for his heart is a connector that doesn’t grow with him: a donated aorta. He’ll have to check in with a cardiologist the rest of his life, but he can pretty much do everything any other kid can do. Maybe not football.
Portions of this article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue under the headline “From the Heart.”