Could She Be the Next Megyn Kelly?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because she’s trying to create a new breed of news.
If BuzzFeed and Breitbart had a love child, that deeply conflicted baby would be a site called Bold, run out of a humble office in midtown Manhattan and headed by a cool and confident 34-year-old named Carrie Sheffield.
Aimed toward groups that the GOP has traditionally struggled to include — women, millennials, African-Americans, Latinos and members of the LGBT community — Bold reaches 20,000-plus followers on Facebook, and the site receives tens of thousands of page views every month. Sheffield, a fearless conservative, is seen by some as the next Megyn Kelly. She has made the talk-show rounds on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and HBO, becoming a TV regular with a penchant for faith-and-family-based politics and deep-in-the-weeds public policy analysis. Today, Sheffield brings that thematic focus to Bold, leading her 11-strong team to headlines like “Students Can Be ‘Armed and Fabulous,’ Unless Campus Gun Ban Bill Is Passed” and “Selling Higher Education Is Sleazier Than Selling a Used Car.” The site features sections like “News” and “Business” alongside “LOL” and “Style,” à la BuzzFeed. Sheffield sees her product as “the Huffington Post for the right,” though Bold can sometimes carry a frivolous clickbait feel.
Sheffield is trying to prove she cuts a different conservative figure than the stereotype. She boasts that Today Show’s Al Roker has joined as a partner-producer and American Idol champ Clay Aiken is her co-anchor. “She is smart, hardworking and entrepreneurial” with a relentless “drive to engage millennials with thought-provoking political commentary,” says Edward Conard, a former adviser to Mitt Romney. On the set of her live-stream show, Bold TV, each Friday, Sheffield wrestles with dicey questions like “Dating Across Political Lines: Is It Even Possible?” (“interpolitical relationships could work!”) and “Can Trump Unify America?” (“maybe”). Her guests range from editors at conservative magazine National Review to policy wonks from more left-leaning outlets like Black Enterprise or centrist Politico. The panels lack the sheen of a high-budget CNN panel, but for many viewers disillusioned with “liberal echo chambers,” Bold’s awkward pauses don’t feel rehearsed or stilted, but honest — like “friendly banter,” says Mary Kirkpatrick, a viewer who tuned in for a recent show.
In 2016, the devout conservative refused to vote for Donald Trump.
Publishers seeking to grab millennial eyes might have better luck going left: According to the Pew Research Center, less than 5 percent of people age 18 to 33 hold any kind of conservative view. But it could be the right moment to convince people to try something new; after all, President Donald Trump is not alone in his distrust of the press. A 2016 Gallup poll found that the nation’s trust of the media had sunk to an all-time low, with only 32 percent of Americans saying they had “a great deal” or “fair amount” of trust and confidence in the press to report the news fairly and accurately.
It helps in her pitch for something different that Sheffield herself is not your average media mogul. Raised partly in Branson, a small Ozark town in Missouri, Sheffield lived in “rural, Bible Belt Trump country” with a “rabble-rousing” Mormon pioneer family who prided the value of family over everything else. Growing up, she wanted to be a Mormon housewife and have 11 children. Instead, she entered Brigham Young University for an undergrad degree in communications. After school, she began writing in D.C. as a reporter covering politics and policy for The Hill and The Washington Times and joined Politico as a founding reporter in 2006. She’s traveled widely, exploring perestroika in Moscow, North-South Korean relations from Seoul, the Beijing Olympics in China, Egypt’s political reforms and the Israeli Parliament. Along the way, she also earned a master’s in public policy at Harvard, worked at Goldman Sachs and Moody’s, and blogged about the political economy for Forbes. “She’s always had great reporting instincts,” says Joel Campbell, Sheffield’s former journalism professor at Brigham Young University. “And she’s a network maven. I’m amazed with all the people she knows.” She’s more at home as the head of a network than she was as a reporter, joining the flock of longtime journalists who left the newsroom to start their own media ventures.
Perhaps most in her favor: Sheffield realizes how tenuous the line between liberal and conservative can be. In 2012, the fabric between her personal convictions and her faith began to unravel when she penned a viral op-ed in The Washington Post about breaking up with Mormonism for good, because she “struggled after realizing that Mormonism’s claims about anthropology, history and other subjects contradict reason and science.” Her dean of religious education at Brigham Young wouldn’t answer her growing list of questions, plus her “idea of heaven did not involve a husband whose love could be shared with many wives.” Her friends shunned her while her parents shut her out of their home. Today, Sheffield is more in tune with Stoicism than with her Mormon roots. “The identities that we choose to accept are a lot more fungible than we choose to believe. You are the master of your own identity. … For me, leaving Mormonism was a painful process, but it was also very liberating,” she says.
Yet at times, Sheffield can sound like a young person in the midst of an existential identity crisis. These days, she’s tackling a different part of her selfhood, the political one. In 2016, the devout conservative refused to vote for Donald Trump, though her family helped host rallies for Trump in Utah and sang at his inauguration. But Sheffield seems prepared to ride the contradiction: “The next four years are going to be a time when Bold will be a translator for America.”
Corrections: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the political position of Bold. It also misstated the length of time Sheffield spent in Branson, Missouri.