By Scott Shrake
The FOX News Washington Bureau is on the fifth floor in a building with views of Union Station and the Capitol rotunda. Bruce Becker’s office faces the set where on-air segments are filmed for FOX Business Network (FBN), and he has three TVs right on his desk so he can stay on top of things. As bureau chief of FBN, Becker is thoroughly engaged in all aspects of the business, from hiring all staff to approving stories to consulting with FOX News in New York on company-wide direction for Washington coverage.
The onetime Penn English major (C’83) and soccer player credits his degree from the Wharton MBA Program for Executives program with helping him move into this leadership position at FBN, which launched last fall. “I felt that an understanding of how businesses operate would be critical to coverage of Washington for a business channel,” Becker says. He also sought to make himself “more viable as an executive, not only a journalist, in the company.”
His entire career has been centered on Washington news, first on a local level and then nationally. Born in Chicago, Becker grew up in Bethesda, MD, just outside DC. After graduating from Penn in the mid-’80s, he returned to the nation’s capital and worked as a news writer at WTTG-TV, Channel 5. Shortly thereafter, Rupert Murdoch bought the station and it became a FOX affiliate.
Becker moved up to become a producer of, among other things, documentaries and a nightly program called “City Under Siege.” Then he worked briefly at WETA-TV, Washington’s PBS affiliate, until the recession of the early 1990s negatively affected their funding. It was then that he returned to FOX, and rose to executive producer for its affiliate news operation.
He was there for the founding of FOX News Channel in 1996, and oversaw the network’s Washington, DC, editorial newsgathering operation as executive producer, then deputy bureau chief and acting bureau chief. Becker played an integral role in the coverage of news stories from elections to 9/11 and the war in Iraq.
The September 11 attacks stand out for him, he says. “For the first time in my career, I felt that people under my care and supervision were in actual physical danger. We had FOX staffers working at the Pentagon when it was hit by one of the hijacked planes, and there was a real belief that the hijacked plane in Pennsylvania was headed for the U.S. Capitol, where we had producers and camera crews, and which is very close to our bureau… So, under very difficult circumstances, we had the biggest news story of our lifetime unfolding in front of us, and every single person on our staff understood that and performed their jobs extremely well.”
A few years ago, Becker started becoming more interested in covering business, with a particular interest in finance, something he says Wharton does especially well. He says the demands and rigors of the Wharton MBA Program for Executives are comparable to those of a traditional MBA at Wharton, and he appreciated the mandatory maximum completion time of two years.
From May 2004 to May 2006, Becker left Washington every other Friday on a 6:00 a.m. train bound for Philadelphia, arriving just in time for his first class at Wharton. Many of his classmates took the train with him, and now he meets up with fellow alumni about once a month. “It gives us a good forum to bounce ideas around and solve problems,” he says.
Does being from the Washington, DC, area give Becker a special advantage for covering Washington that transplants may not have? Somewhat. He sounds a refrain that perhaps only those who live in Washington can understand: Because of the nature of politics, he says, “Faces change… being here over 25 years doesn’t help.”
But, he says, “Having covered Washington for so long allows me to see patterns developing sooner. Members of the news media often run in packs, and I like to think I can see when the pack is running in the wrong direction and avoid that mistake.” Also, he says, “knowing how these things played out in the past helps you anticipate what might happen in the future.”