CNN’s Tal Kopan, AB’09, says political journalism is her “first and everlasting love.” She recently covered both the Republican and Democratic conventions. (Photo courtesy Tal Kopan) Below: Kopan. (Photo courtesy CNN)
Live from the conventions
CNN Politics reporter Tal Kopan, AB’09, takes you behind the curtain at the RNC and DNC.
Despite wall-to-wall coverage of this summer’s political conventions, there’s quite a bit you probably didn’t see at home—such as the mini Oval Office that traveled to both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. “It became a thing that everyone who was there wanted to get their picture taken in the mini Oval,” says CNN Politics reporter Tal Kopan, AB’09. From the quirky to the historic, Kopan saw it all during an “exhilarating and incredible and exhausting few weeks” covering the political conventions in July. Kopan says her path to CNN was “a pretty classic story of an internship leading to an opportunity leading to an opportunity.” After graduation, the onetime WTTW Jeff Metcalf intern spent two years at Fox Chicago News, then moved to Washington, DC, to cover cybersecurity for Politico. Since joining CNN a year ago, she’s covered the 2016 campaign, as well as cybersecurity and general breaking news—an ideal gig for someone who describes political journalism as “my first and everlasting love.” And fortunately, Kopan isn’t camera shy. “I did a lot of public speaking all through high school and college, and I’ve just never been one of those people who gets nervous speaking in front of a group of people,” she says. “The idea of discussing what is happening in the news and what it means, that’s something my colleagues and I all do every day on a regular basis. It’s a matter of doing that on camera in a way that’s understandable to people.” This interview has been edited and adapted.

What were your days like during the conventions? Did you sleep at all?

Barely. We were up first thing in the morning. The various state delegations all have breakfast together every morning and they have speakers. The speakers will often make news, and we would be covering that. My days would always end with live blogging from five to midnight throughout the entire program. And then I would be doing TV at 1 a.m. for our international audience. It was an all-hands-on-deck, all-the-time kind of experience.

What do viewers at home miss about the convention experience? What’s hard to convey on TV?

After I came home, I was watching John Oliver’s recap with my husband. I was driving him crazy because I kept saying, “Oh, wow, that sounds so different on TV.” Sound-canceling microphones cancel out a lot of crowd noise. This is the origin story of the Howard Dean scream, back in the day. He screamed into a sound-canceling mic, and it sounded like he was crazy—whereas if you play back some video that exists of the ambient noise in the room, you almost couldn’t hear him. That’s what it was like for some of the speakers at both conventions. When you’re sitting in the room and you can hear the energy of the crowd that the speaker is playing off, it’s a very different experience than what comes through on screen. Some speakers just had the crowd on their feet, and they could barely be heard above the roar of applause. At home, they probably just sounded yell-y.

You’ve been following Donald Trump’s campaign since its early days. Why do you think he was able to gain so much momentum, and what do you think motivates his supporters?

A lot has been written about this, and I’m sure books will be written about this. There are certainly the obvious things, the things that keep coming back—his conversations about immigration and putting America first, in some ways closing our borders. There’s a very real fear in America in a lot of ways about what globalization has done to our society, and that plays into it. One of the interesting things is, when you talk to voters who support him, as you start going through his policies, there’s at least one or two where they’ll say, “Yeah, he’s probably not going to do that.” They don’t necessarily support him because they believe in every single thing he says. There’s a very strong belief in him as a person. There are a lot of people he appeals to as “the decider,” as a person who has been very successful in his own life and people believe can be successful as president. There’s a bit of leeway that a lot of his supporters are willing to give him on a lot of the statements that may seem controversial. Some people really want the wall; some people say, “If he doesn’t totally build the wall, it’s OK.” It’s the way his policies are thought through and what he stands for that they like.

Was it obvious at the time that Khizr Khan’s speech at the DNC was going to be such an important moment?

In the moment, it was clear that this was going to be something that was going to be talked about. When he held up the pocket Constitution, the crowd was definitely into it. There are some things that you just feel in the moment. If we’re good at our jobs, hopefully we can tell right away when something is going to be a big deal. The delegates may not have been looking towards that moment on the schedule, but he definitely captivated them. You could feel the energy in the room and you could tell that it was going to be a moment that would live on virally.

You got married this summer (congratulations!). Which was most stressful, covering the election, or planning a wedding?

In his vows, my husband vowed to make no further life-altering decisions in an election year. We actually set our wedding date and made some of our plans before I got the job covering 2016. So we didn’t quite know what we had gotten ourselves into. It’s going to be an unforgettable year for a lot of reasons.