You may know her from her regular appearances on TV shows like The O’Reilly Factor and Lou Dobbs Tonight or from radio shows such as Imus in the Morning, Legal Lis and The Radio Factor, where she was Bill O’Reilly’s co-host. But there’s much more to Westchester’s Lis Wiehl. A Harvard-educated lawyer, law professor and former federal prosecutor, the mother of two from Yakima, Washington, is also a New York Times best-selling novelist. Her latest literary adventure, The Newsmakers, hits bookstores this month and marks the launch of her third fiction series and 12th novel overall. Recently, we sat down with Wiehl in her Larchmont home to discuss a variety of topics, from her new book and her life as a Renaissance woman to the tempest that is the current election cycle — all under the watchful eye of her plant-eating kitty, Scribbles.
Between being a Harvard law student, federal prosecutor, TV pundit and novelist, which have you found to be the most demanding, especially intellectually?
In a way, each one prepared me for the next one. Certainly, television takes every IQ point you have, and you’re so exposed; you cannot hide. If you’re having a bad day, tough. Buck up, because there are millions of people every day expecting you to do your job and be there for them—because they’ve made time for you. And you’ve got to be right on the facts. People may disagree with my opinion; that’s fine. That’s okay. That’s what we want. But I don’t want them to come back and say, “You were wrong on that fact.” That would just be killer for me. But to answer your question, I’d say federal prosecutor. There, if I don’t do my job right, the bad guy gets away. And as a third-generation federal prosecutor, that idea is abhorrent to me.
How did you wind up in Larchmont?
I came 14 years ago, when I joined Fox News. Let me tell you: It was really scary for me to move my kids here all the way from Bainbridge Island [Washington]. Very scary move. I knew no one here, but I chose Larchmont because it is a nice distance to the city and a really nice public-school system for my kids, and that was really important to me. I love it here; it’s such a great place. When I initially got to know the teachers and administrators at Murray Avenue School, I really felt that everything was going to be okay.
Regarding your new book, The Newsmakers, is there anything here that represents new literary ground for you?
Yes, actually. This is the first time I’m really going inside the industry I’m in, the cable-news industry. I’ve never done that.
Did you have to exaggerate the characters much, to enhance the conflict? The characters really aren’t exaggerated at all, except for the antagonist, who was exaggerated for dramatic necessity. The events are fictionalized, of course, but the personality types and office politics are all very real.
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Ha! That’s when a veteran or senior news personality basically takes a story from a junior correspondent even though the latter may have done all the work to package it.
That really happens?
Oh, yeah. All the time. Everywhere. And there isn’t really much you can do about it.
How did you divide responsibilities with your co-author, Sebastian Stuart?
Seb is such a great writer. I’m so happy he collaborated with me on The Newsmakers. I actually sought him out after I’d read a book of his titled The Mentor. It was a psychological thriller, and it was sooo good. Basically, I came up with the plot, the idea, the characters and basically where I wanted go with it. We brought Seb in, who looked at it from his perspective, with fresh eyes, and he’d go over what I’d written and perhaps rework it or add something new to it, and it works. Now, with someone else, that could have been torture, but with Seb, it was a fantastic experience. Plus, Seb is a New Yorker, so he was able to help with the texture of that part of the story, while I know more about the cable-news industry than he does, so my experience helped texture the story in that way.
Is your protagonist, Erica Sparks, based on a real-life person or people?
Erica is basically unique, and I find her fascinating, though I guess there are a couple of elements that I picked up from other people.
Is there any of you in her?
I suppose so. Erica only wears clip-on earrings because she never got her ears pierced, and neither did I. Also, the way she tend to play Solitaire—especially when she’s stressed—which is something I do in real life.
Who would you have play her—and the romantic lead, Greg Underwood—in the movie version?
Oh, wow, that’s good! See, this is where Bill [O’Reilly] always gets me. I’m pretty bad when it comes to popular culture. I think probably Jessica Chastain would make a great Erica; I think Scarlett Johansson could do a good job, too. [Coyly] I wouldn’t exactly object, either, if Daniel Craig played Greg. He’d be an amazing Greg!
What about your Machiavellian antagonist, Nylan Hastings?
Either Michael Fassbender or Tom Hiddleston would be awesome as Nylan.
Interesting that both have played extremely powerful antiheroes in big-budget movies.
Yeah, that’s true, isn’t it? I guess that makes sense because Nylan is supposed to be a larger-than-life figure of extraordinary ability who basically wants to rule the world. So there are definitely parallels.
Speak of the devil, what about that O’Reilly guy? Is he the same off-camera?
[Laughs] Don’t tell anybody, but Bill is actually a very sweet guy, and I like him a lot. I like to take credit for helping evolve Bill’s on-air persona, though, in the sense that I was his cohost for seven years on The Radio Factor, so Bill improved his skill at sharing the air with someone who doesn’t necessarily agree with him all the time.
Does the current crop of candidates and their polling numbers concern you at all?
[Donald] Trump is hitting the same nerve that Peter Finch did in the movie Network, when his character said, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” I get that. I can see that people are angry and frustrated that their middle-class aspirations are falling, and Trump is hitting on the Peter Finch nerve, and it’s showing up in the poll numbers. Now, will that carry him into the White House? I don’t know, but I don’t claim to be a political pundit.
Between Benghazi and private-server emails, are there potentially serious ramifications for Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, and do the implications of them trouble you?
Well, the two issues are embedded together. But for Benghazi, we would have never heard about the private server. So, they’re enmeshed.
So do you think there is a there there?
Well, maybe, yeah. It’s troubling even just to the point that she’s admitted. But Americans as a whole believe in second chances and like to forgive, so I think these public figures would be much better served, ultimately, if they just admitted to screwing up, apologized sincerely for the transgression and vowed never to make that mistake again. Like they say, the cover-up is always worse than the crime. But time will tell, I suppose.
When you’ve had an especially stressful day, what do you do to relax when you get home? Do you eat ice cream or have white wine or snuggle up in your favorite pair of PJs and a blanket, what?
[Laughs] All of the above, actually. I’ll do all of that and curl up with a great old movie, like Network —or Anchorman! C’mon, man, seriously! I love Anchorman! On TV, my son and I like to watch House of Cards and reruns of The West Wing.
I find it interesting that the romantic lead of The Newsmakers has the same surname as Kevin Spacey’s lead character in House of Cards—Underwood.
Oh, wow… I didn’t make that connection! How interesting! I guess maybe I did have that in my head unconsciously. Well, let’s hope that the name works out as well for me as it did for Kevin Spacey.
The Newsmakers hits bookstores nationally Jan 19. You will find it locally at The Voracious Reader and Anderson’s Book Shop in Larchmont, The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, Little Joe’s Coffee & Books in Katonah, Arcade Booksellers in Rye and Womrath Book Shop in Bronxville. Check your local bookseller for availability.