Kaitlan Collins’ journey to prime time commenced in Prattville, Alabama, a Montgomery suburb, where she was raised with four siblings.
Early on, Collins displayed an unquenchable curiosity about people, “I was never too timid or afraid to call someone I didn’t know or stop somebody on the street and introduce myself,” she says.
In 2014, having earned degrees in political science and journalism from the University of Alabama, Collins relocated to Washington, D.C., securing an internship at The Daily Caller.
“The conservative news and opinion website was co-founded by Tucker Carlson. I didn’t even know what The Daily Caller was or who Tucker Carlson was,” Collins says.
After a few months, she advanced to the position of staff entertainment reporter. It wasn’t exactly how Collins anticipated starting her career, but “I needed a job,” she says.
Despite her focus on politics, covering the political scene remained her aspiration, and residing in DC was, in her words, a form of osmosis.
“You’re around it so much. You see lawmakers at restaurants and at stores, and it just becomes your life.”
In 2016, Collins ascended to the presidential campaign beat, crafting numerous articles about candidates, including one notable for consistently standing out.
“I was at a conservative-leaning outlet during the rise of Donald Trump,” she says. “We could see the [Republican] party transform from rejecting him…to embracing him.” Witnessing that in real time “made me a better reporter,” Collins adds. “It was very illuminating.”
Upon reaching the age of 25, Collins caught the attention of CNN producers with her straightforward interviewing approach. Making on-air appearances alongside anchors Don Lemon and Brian Stelter, her unplanned conversation with CNN president Jeff Zucker during the network’s annual Sunday brunch in April 2017 ultimately played a pivotal role in securing her position on the White House team.
“I wasn’t angling for a job, but a few months later, I became part of the White House team,” she says.
Collins had officially crossed over to the other side of the political media landscape.
But then, one day in July 2018, she abruptly found herself at the centre of an incident that both secured her status among veteran DC reporters and brought together some members of both political sides of the press.
Collins was the sole representative of network television chosen that day to cover President Trump at a White House event. She fired off a series of questions about his relationship with his former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, and an invitation he extended to Russian president Vladimir Putin to come to the White House. President Trump refused to address them.
“I left the Oval Office thinking nothing of it,” Collins says. “I did my job. He chose not answer. That was his prerogative.”
A little while later, Collins was called to then White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s office. Bill Shine, the White House communications director at the time, was also there.
“They told me—and part of the conversation is off the record so I won’t share that part—but they essentially said that because of the questions I had asked and the tone I had used when I asked them, I wasn’t going to be allowed to go to the Rose Garden event that afternoon, which is insane,” she says.
“You can’t bar a reporter from an open press event just because you don’t like the questions being asked. That’s not how things work. It’s the antithesis to an open and free press.”
Several members of Fox News issued statements expressing solidarity with CNN. “They understood how wrong that was,” she says. “It was a moment of real press unity, because you can’t let the people you’re covering divide and conquer you. It was an important moment.”
Throughout the journey, encompassing breaking news and high-stakes encounters with influential figures, Collins has honed her reporting style over the past decade, a transformation evident in real-time on camera. Reflecting on her approach, she notes, “I’m so careful and prepared when I go on air now,” she says.
“I make sure I know exactly what I’m talking about, because I know the responsibility and the weight that it carries,” she concluded.
Story credit: Elle Magazine