Claire Shipman '86 has been at the center of news in Moscow
and Washington and is now one of the most visible correspondents in
By Shira J. Boss '93
air, television news correspondent Claire Shipman '86 comes across
as soothing, intelligent and alluringly chic. She is, in fact, the
popular Midwestern girl with an Ivy League education wrapped in an
unrehearsed charm. Many mornings she can be seen on Good Morning
America, which she joined last spring as senior national
correspondent, a plum position that she earned after a decade in
the television trenches.
Shipman debuted as a foreign correspondent for CNN, reporting
from Russia during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of
the Cold War. From there, she spent two terms covering the Clinton
White House for CNN and later NBC, topped off by the extended 2000
presidential campaign. In early 2000, she inspired a network
bidding war and emerged as one of ABC's showcased
already was a star at NBC, but at ABC, it's official. She has
arrived," says Stephanie DeGroote SIPA '88, an ABC News producer in
London who was Shipman's graduate school classmate.
Shipman says that she "fell into television" while pursuing
Russian studies at Columbia. Once having plunged into the industry,
however, she rose quickly, making the most of her opportunities to
climb within a dozen years from unpaid intern to television
personality earning in the neighborhood of $700,000 annually. She
has won an Emmy award and two prestigious DuPont broadcasting
awards, first for coverage of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising in
China and then for coverage of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. In
1999, she was honored with Columbia's John Jay Award for
covered the Lewinsky scandal and the 2000 Presidential election,
but Shipman calls her five years in Moscow during the fall of the
Soviet Union the biggest event of her career.
PHOTO: ABC NEWS
Shipman is one of the most visible female news correspondents,
with a reputation for being stylish and articulate. "She's never a
TV bunny, and she's not a Beltway bandit," says Carroll Bogert,
former Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek, referring to the
aggressive Washington, D.C., environment where Shipman works most
of the time. "She's serious and credible without seeming out of
Shipman is as genteel off-camera as she appears on. In an
inherently competitive industry, she has toed to the top without
having clawed over potential rivals. She claims that she does lose
her temper on occasion, but few can give eyewitness reports.
Mostly, she is adored by her colleagues, producers and sources, not
to mention by a host of friends whom she has never left
"Claire is the whole package. She's kind, loyal, beautiful and
smart. There's not too much you can criticize," says Lisa Dallos, a
friend who met Shipman when the newswoman first interned at CNN's
New York bureau as an undergraduate.
Shipman was a semester away from completing her master's at
SIPA when she landed a six-month internship working in CNN's Moscow
bureau. She couldn't think of a more exciting place to be, in light
of her undergraduate studies. There were few signs then that 1989
would be the beginning of the end of the Cold War and that Russia
was about to turn into the biggest news story of the last half of
Moscow, Shipman was taken on as a production assistant and never
planned to be in front of the camera. When things got busy, she was
offered a paid position as a field producer. "Then it was,
‘When the bureau chief is away, can you do some reporting?'"
Shipman recalls. One of her first stories was on the opening of the
first McDonald's in Moscow. "It was pretty bad from a performance
point of view," she says. "The on-air stuff kind of stunned me." In
mid-May, Shipman was sent to follow Gorbachev to Beijing just
before the Tiananmen Square uprising where she contributed to the
network's award-winning coverage.
was scheduled to return to SIPA for the fall semester. "She called
after a few months and said, ‘They've offered me a job, but I
want to finish my degree,'" recalls Robin Lewis, associate dean at
SIPA. "I said, ‘It's a great opportunity. Don't move; we'll
place you on leave.'" The calls kept coming every time Shipman got
a promotion and the Soviet story got hotter. "It was a fast
ascendancy," Lewis notes.
kept thinking that I should go home, but after two or three years,
it was such a good story," Shipman says. "It was so incredible to
watch the end of an era and be in a place that I'd studied for so
long and to watch it change. First, the early part with Gorbachev
and all the excitement, the great days in '89 when the Berlin Wall
came down, and then it getting chaotic with the coup and Yeltsin
taking over and people ripping down statues of Lenin."
Shipman says that her five years in Moscow were the biggest
event of her career. "The Lewinsky scandal, the impeachment, the
election last fall — they were incredible stories to cover,"
she says. "Especially with the election, people say, ‘That
must have been the most amazing thing you've ever covered,' and I
say, ‘No, actually, Moscow was the most amazing.'
"Communism was falling everywhere, and there was a huge buzz,"
says DeGroote, who was working for ABC News in Moscow. "It was the
epicenter of news for a while and the place to be if you were in
Shipman with her husband, Jay Carney, and their son, Hugo
Shipman's future husband, Jay Carney, was reporting from Moscow
for Time during that period, although she only met him once,
briefly, while there. "There was a real bifurcation there in the
press community. There were a lot of older, seasoned journalists
who didn't speak Russian, and there was a whole crop of young
journalists who were green journalistically but spoke Russian and
needed less help to get around," Carney says. "It let us leapfrog
up the ladder and end up at a place where there was major news and
we worked for major news organizations."
Journalists suddenly had access to sources who had been
secluded during the Soviet days. "There was this tremendous charge
in having access to people who made decisions," Bogert says. "It
had never been true in Soviet history and it didn't last.
Journalists today have nothing like the access that we
all of the action was in the capital. Shipman covered a broad
region and was sent to Afghanistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and the
Baltic States, among other places. "We covered everything from
conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh — the disputed territory between
Armenia and Azerbaijan — to Gorbachev sending tanks into
Lithuania to reindeer herders in Siberia," Shipman
"Shipman was covering events that involved violence and
instability and were at times dangerous, and she was very calm and
cool under fire," says Lewis.
highlight was the 1991 coup against Gorbachev. A week before,
Shipman had married CNN bureau chief Steve Hurst. During the coup,
she had maneuvered herself inside the Russian White House —
one of the few Western journalists there — and she reported
live by talking by telephone with Hurst. "I was wandering around,
talking to senior aides, watching Yeltsin walking back and forth
taking calls from Bush and Thatcher and other foreign leaders,"
Shipman recalls. She got exclusive interviews with Yeltsin right
after the coup, then with Yeltsin and Gorbachev at Christmastime,
when Gorbachev resigned and Yeltsin took over. Before leaving
Russia at the end of 1993, Shipman covered an aborted coup against
Yeltsin in the same fashion, from inside the White House while
tanks were firing upon it.
While the news stories were sexy, daily living in a country
recuperating from nearly 75 years of communism was not. Shipman
lived in a relatively comfortable CNN corporate apartment with
Hurst, though, which she adorned with Russian antiques and domestic
items that she hauled back one suitcase at a time from every trip
abroad. Even while working nearly nonstop, she found time to figure
out where to get furniture reupholstered or have curtains made in a
city with no Yellow Pages and with much worse obstacles. "She knew
how to rush around Moscow and get things done Russian-style," says
Lewis, who visited Shipman on a few occasions while he was in
Russia also was the beginning of Shipman's reputation for
gracious and lively entertaining, her apartment becoming a virtual
hospitality suite for ex-pats. "It seems like I was always being
fed and watered at their place," DeGroote says. Shipman did this
not only in Moscow, but at the couple's rented countryside dacha.
"It was a real social hub, like a literati," DeGroote says of the
summer house and its guests. "People were coming and going, wine
was flowing and there were intense conversations about this and
that. High-powered politicians, top-level journalists, filmmakers,
young American entrepreneurs — it seemed everyone who was
interesting would come through their place at one
the time Shipman was cultivating this new social circle, she
maintained one across the Atlantic. At her Moscow wedding, Bogert
was struck by how many of her friends from home had made the
journey to celebrate the event. "It's easy to let relationships
lapse, but she's a gardener. She's keeping plants alive all over
the place," she says.
the end of 1993, after five years in Russia, Shipman returned home.
She insisted that CNN give her six months between assignments so
that she could return to SIPA and finish her degree, which she did.
From the time she was an undergraduate, Shipman has had an
affection for Morningside Heights. "There's something about
Columbia I really love," she says. "I love the feeling of the
buildings on campus and the possibilities of it all and being
surrounded by all that excellence all the time. I found it very
Shipman spoke of the circuitous route she took, both to
Columbia and to prominence on television, at the 1999 Class Day
PHOTO: EILEEN BARROSO
Shipman's route to Columbia was a circuitous one, as she joked
when she returned to campus to deliver the Class Day address in
1999. She spent single semesters at Ohio State, UC Berkeley and the
University of Michigan before applying to Columbia, coincidentally
the first year that it was accepting applications from women.
Because she came in as a sophomore, Shipman graduated in 1986,
ahead of the first official graduating class that included
Although while growing up in Columbus, Ohio, she ran with the
popular crowd, by the time Shipman settled at Columbia, she focused
on her studies and was not very involved with nonacademic campus
life. "I think I spent more time with my professors than with other
students," she says. "My husband is always teasing me that I was
such a goody two-shoes."
Learning to speak Russian and completing the requirements for
that major occupied a good portion of her time. She would steal
over to the Harriman Institute for its programs and to watch the
Soviet television feed. At that same time, Carney was similarly
immersed in Russian studies as an undergraduate at Yale. "It's
funny because I came very close to going to Columbia and we would
have been there at the same time," he says.
Shipman relocated to Washington after finishing at SIPA in
mid-1994, she encountered Carney again on the White House beat,
which he was covering for Time. When the two had first met,
on Red Square, they did not hit it off, but this time they
commiserated about their Russia experiences and became friends. "He
was really nice and sweet and helped me break into the beat, so I
saw his good side," Shipman says.
Carney went out of his way to help Shipman get acclimated.
"Washington journalism is very different than doing a story
abroad," Carney says. "It's all about who you know. It's access
journalism and much more complicated." In 1996, Shipman separated
from Hurst, and Carney embarked on a long road to persuading her to
go out with him. She gave in, and friends say it was one of the
best moves she has made. They were married just after the Ken Starr
report to Congress in 1999, and on October 15, 2001, they had their
first child, red-haired Hugo James Carney.
two have never been directly competitive, because even when they
were covering the White House, Shipman's day revolved around
getting breaking news on television while Carney worked for a
weekly news magazine. Now that they're married, she reads his
pieces in Time religiously, and he sets his alarm clock to
watch her on Good Morning America. They often speak Russian
— at home to keep up their practice and in public for
privacy. The couple doesn't avoid bringing work home. "You
understand what the other person is going through, but sometimes
you end up living your job so much. Because we're doing such
similar things, it can be hard to escape," Shipman says. When one
of Shipman's sources called her during the night to tell her that
Al Gore's runningmate would be Senator Joseph Lieberman, giving
Shipman one of her bigger scoops of the campaign, Carney was right
next to her but says he never would have thought of using
addition to writing for Time, Carney appears regularly as a
guest on CNN Inside Politics, The McLaughlin Group, The Charlie
Rose Show and Hardball. "I'll have feelings of being
really proud and a little envious if he has a great story," Shipman
says. "But it's always pride first."
Friends say Shipman never forgets anyone's birthday. Even
during the crazy pace of last year's campaign trail covering Gore,
she would remind her producer of crew members' birthdays and
arrange for a cake. "That's how you should treat people, and it's
so unexpected in our business," says Dan Erlenborn, the NBC
producer who was paired with Shipman during the
Shipman is congratulated by Columbia President George Rupp
as she receives the 1999 John Jay Award for distinguished
PHOTO: EILEEN BARROSO
Shipman's affability, as well as her ability to actively
cultivate the little people as well as the big shots, undoubtedly
enhances her reporting. "When you're out in the field interviewing
people, it helps if you can relate to them and not be coming at
them from an ivory tower or putting them off," says Andrea
Mitchell, chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC. "Claire
really likes people."
Early in last year's presidential campaign, Shipman was able to
get an exclusive interview with the Gore family — including
the candidate's mother, who rarely does interviews — at the
family farm. NBC sent three crews and spent the day there dashing
around with Shipman.
it didn't end when the cameras were turned off. "Then the vice
president said, ‘We're cooking burgers here. Why don't you
stay?'" Erlenborn recounts. "We stayed until 11 p.m. I guarantee
they wouldn't have done that for Sam Donaldson!"
"It's Claire's nature that got her where she is today,"
Erlenborn adds. "She's unrelenting, yet so pleasant that people
have trouble saying no to her."
as wide as her sources are and as skilled a reporter as she is,
Shipman still feels the burn of self-criticism. "You go out to the
White House lawn to do your piece and you get in you ear,
‘Why is CBS reporting...?' Or you read the paper and wonder,
‘Why didn't I have that detail?' It's a lot of
second-guessing. I'm confident in what I do, but I'm conscious of
the potential to goof it up. I tend to feel that I never have
enough time to prepare. I could spend days preparing, which would
be a little obsessive, so it's probably good that I'm in the daily
in point: While Shipman was writing columns for George
magazine, she would pore over them for days and then ask Carney to
edit them, conscious that "print stays around forever compared to
television," she says.
"She's a real perfectionist," Carney says. "She's very hard on
herself and always wants to do better." After reading the news one
morning as the substitute news anchor on Good Morning
America, she inspects the rerun on the monitor in her dressing
room. "I hate watching myself. I'm not a natural ham," she says.
"I'd rather just do it and not look at it, but then you don't learn
is also famously fastidious about her appearance, a preoccupation
that goes back to her high school days. She's not a work-out
devotee, yet she manages to stay trim despite an insatiable
appetite for ice cream. She's known for her jammed closets, and for
pulling endless new outfits out of a garment bag on road trips. Her
smooth brown hair, doe-like eyes and soft peach complexion are
accented by all the right jewelry and makeup, although she won't be
seen preening, making her polished appearance seem
Shipman spent more than six years working for CNN and then for
NBC on the White House beat, which is notorious for being
physically and mentally grueling. Her day sometimes started at 3
a.m. and she was ready to go live with news by 5 a.m. The press
corps spends its days crammed into tiny cubicles in the windowless
press room in the West Wing, emerging only to go on camera or to
attend briefings in a low-ceilinged room that was an indoor
swimming pool before President Nixon had it converted to the "press
was hard. I'd never thought about covering politics. At least with
Russia, I had studied it," Shipman says. "With the White House,
you're expected to be up to date about everything from budget deals
to Social Security to the politics of Iowa to what Milosevic is
Lewinsky scandal, which dragged on for more than a year, was a low
point that Shipman describes as one of her most difficult times as
a reporter. "There was a feeling of, ‘Are we going out on a
brink, and are we ever going to get back?'" she says. "Especially
because we weren't hearing from the president anything resembling
the truth. The pressure to be first with things or match what other
news organizations had — I've never felt that kind of
pressure. You would feel a sense of failure if you didn't have what
someone else had and yet doubt if it was even true."
was very tough for anyone covering it, especially for women," NBC's
Andrea Mitchell says. "The subject was so distasteful. It wasn't
like covering a foreign policy issue. But she handled it
brilliantly." At times Shipman's probing questions irritated
Clinton, as when halfway through the scandal she asked if the
president planned to help pay the legal bills of those called
before the Grand Jury, as he had done for colleagues called to
testify about Whitewater.
Another test of stamina was the marathon Bush-Gore presidential
race, the pace of which was exhausting. "With NBC, you have this
insatiable beast to satisfy," the producer Erlenborn explains.
"Claire would get up at 5 or 4 or sometimes 3 a.m., depending on
which coast we were on. Most mornings, [radio talk show host Don]
Imus would call, and she'd talk to him from her hotel room while
putting on her makeup. We did a live shot for the morning news,
then MSNBC would call asking for a 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. shot. Then we
had another show on CNBC at 6 p.m., a half-hour before Nightly
News. A lot of times, they wanted her to do that live, and then
it didn't stop with Nightly. The Brian Williams Show
would be calling to do its 9 p.m. show. Sometimes she also did
Geraldo or Hardball — it was a never-ending
cycle. A lesser person would have crumbled, but she plowed through
it and never complained."
Mitchell says Shipman always kept her sense of humor, even in
challenging working conditions at the political conventions.
"You're in this boiler room atmosphere in the basement of the
convention hall trying to broadcast in the middle of a screaming
mob, juggling this crazy technology and the ear pieces and not
being able to hear and trying to get your stories out, and Claire
was always very collected and immaculate and under control,"
the end of the campaign tunnel, when Shipman and everyone else had
vacations planned and internal timers set to celebrate, came the
election night zinger. The timers went off but work was as hectic
as ever and vacations were canceled. "Nobody knew how or when it
was going to end, or if it was going to end," Erlenborn says. "You
could see that Claire was a little more irritable, but I never saw
her raise her voice or snap at people. You could just sense not to
ask her anything else. That's the extent I've seen any
of Shipman's biggest scoops came when she went live and announced
— before the official announcement — the Florida
Supreme Court decision that ballot recounts could continue.
Breaking that story, the Lieberman one and others surely helped
Shipman's bargaining position when ABC moved to lure her away from
NBC. "I wanted to do something different and NBC was great about
trying to find something for me, but they didn't have this exact
job," Shipman says.
Claire Shipman '86 (far right) and George Stephanopoulos '82
flank Diane Sawyer, Charles Gibson, Emeril Lagasse, Lara Spencer
and Joel Siegel as Good Morning America broadcasts from
aboard a Circle Liner.
PHOTO: ABC NEWS
ABC, instead of having a regular beat and a regular schedule,
Shipman is essentially a roving reporter who pitches stories on
whatever she wants, appears live on Good Morning America two
to three times a week, will do some reports for This Week on Sunday
and have some anchoring opportunities for the Good Morning
America newscast and the weekend editions of World News
her first months on the job, Shipman got an exclusive interview
with President Bush at the time of his decision on stem cell
research funding; did extensive profiles on Bush's counselor, Karen
Hughes, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, head of the Office of
Homeland Security; and put together a long Nightline piece
on the president's first week following the September 11 terrorist
attacks. Shipman also regularly works with political adviser turned
television commentator and correspondent George Stephanopoulos '82.
The two have teamed up for reports on the gap between the rich and
poor in New York City, the stem cell research debate, Vice
President Richard Cheney's energy plan and the Patients' Bill of
Rights, among others.
While she was happy at NBC, Shipman says her current position
is her dream job. "I do mainly what I like to do — a lot of
profiles of people, longer pieces. I get intrigued by people and
figuring out what makes them tick. It's great because with the
morning show, I still get pulled into the daily news. And with the
Sunday show, I still get to do my political junkie
"Claire is one of those people who from the first time I met
her I knew she was going to do something, and she has," DeGroote
says. "And she has done it with grace and style and hasn't pissed
anyone off, which in this business is no small feat."
About the Author: Shira J. Boss '93 is a contributing
writer whose last cover story for CCT was "Technology
and Columbia: A Digital Revolution," a two-part series that ran
in December 2000 and February 2001.