When Shannon Bream was a little girl growing up in central Florida, she would get out of bed at night and tiptoe down the hallway to the living room where her mom and stepdad were watching news on television. Especially during elections.
“My parents would stay up late on election nights watching the returns coming in, and I’d be sneaking behind the couch wanting to see who was going to be the next president,” she says. “I had such a curiosity about it.”
In her dad’s eyes, though, journalism was not a serious profession, so after getting her business management degree at Liberty University, she followed his advice and went to law school at Florida State.
But after two years as an attorney in Tampa, she couldn’t get journalism out of her system. So she asked a friend to introduce her to a local news anchor, and against many odds, she wound up getting an internship and eventually a night shift job at that television station.
Now at 52, Shannon is chief legal correspondent at Fox News and anchor of Fox News Sunday.
She still has to pinch herself sometimes.
“I think, Who am I? A kid from Tallahassee, who wore my cousin’s hand-me-downs, going to talk to millions of viewers on live television? Or at other times to interview the president of the United States, or to cover the Supreme Court.”
But Shannon’s climb to the top of her profession is more about whose she is than who she is. The words humbly grateful are never far from her mind. “It’s my mantra,” she says. “It’s a good reminder to me to be thankful for everything, and to know that God is the source of all that I have.”
Shannon speaks openly about her faith. It’s a constant refrain when she is being interviewed, and it’s woven throughout her memoir Finding the Bright Side, as well as her three Bible Speaks books, all of which have been on The New York Times Best Sellers list.
Everything about Shannon embodies Christian values, says Fox political commentator Brit Hume, who helped bring her to the network 17 years ago.
“She lives it every minute,” says Brit, a believer. “She’s unfailingly gracious. She is kind. She is generous in her assessments of people. Around Fox, there’s a joke where people refer to her as ‘Evil Shannon Bream’ because she’s so much the opposite.”
As a child, Shannon never thought of herself as cool or popular. With her Coke-bottle glasses and handmade clothes, she tagged along with her classmates like an unwanted little sister. “I was bookish and nerdy,” she says. But her schoolteacher mom made sure her strong-willed little girl who loved books read the greatest Book of all and understood that she was loved by its Author.
“My mom was a baby Christian herself,” Shannon says. “And as she was growing in her faith, she ended up taking a job at a Christian school. So, then, she and I both were immersed in the Word and had a really strong church community, which was such a blessing.” Shannon made her own profession of faith at a summer camp after seventh grade, a decision that undergirded her with a firm foundation for life and for times when her faith would be questioned—like the summer after high school when an FSU psychology professor criticized a paper she wrote about her love for God.
“Upon reading the essay, my professor chose to level a withering critique about being in love with a boyfriend who didn’t exist,” Shannon wrote in her memoir. “When I went to her office to discuss it with her, she looked at me with what felt like a mix of pity and amusement. ‘You’ll grow out of it,’ she said.”
It wasn’t the first time someone had mocked her faith.
“But I was 17 years old, and I thought, Do I really want four years of this? Or do I want to go somewhere like Liberty, where I can get four more years of spiritual roots, and then come back and have these kinds of conversations with adults in a secular setting?”
The decision was easy, and one she never regretted. It was there, at Liberty, during the fall of her senior year that she met a 6-foot-3 baseball player from Pennsylvania named Sheldon Bream. By February, the two were dating and during Shannon’s second year of law school, Sheldon proposed. He particularly liked the fact that Shannon shared his faith, and within a few months of their engagement, they found their faith being tested in a big way.
Sheldon called her one day at her part-time job with the Florida State Legislature.
“Shan, I need to come see you in person,” he said. Sheldon had been complaining of an earache that wouldn’t go away, even after several rounds of antibiotics. He’d finally gone to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who had performed a series of tests.
“My heart began to race,” Shannon wrote. “No, tell me right now” she said.
Sheldon spoke calmly. “I’ve got a brain tumor the size of a golf ball wrapped around my hearing nerve.”
Shannon felt like she couldn’t breathe. “You’re going to be OK,” she willed herself to say. But when they hung up, she closed the door of her office and began to sob.
“We were young and in love,” she said. “But real life was intruding in a way we never could have imagined.”
Sheldon’s story spread well beyond their immediate families and friends. “People we didn’t even know were sharing our burden,” Shannon said. And God answered with a miracle. Sheldon had surgery, the tumor was benign, and though a long recovery lay ahead, they were able to become husband and wife as planned, in December 1995.
But Shannon’s greatest test was still to come. Shortly before her 40th birthday, she woke up in the middle of the night with searing eye pain. A few nights later it happened again, and then it became more constant and excruciating. The pain continued for months, with doctors unable to give her a diagnosis. For two years, she lived in misery, with unbearable pain at night and exhaustion during the day. All the while continuing to work.
“I really didn’t know if I wanted to go on living,” she says. Finally, she prayed to God: “If You’re not going to heal me, I’m just begging You to send me somebody who can help me.
“Literally, the next day, I started over with the search for a doctor and found one here in D.C., and he was able to diagnose my cornea condition. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that this was a miracle.”
The condition is genetic and there’s no cure. But the doctor was able to help her manage the pain with medication and eventual surgery.
Shannon has always been able to see God working behind the scenes in her life. On a whim, she entered the Miss Virginia beauty pageant when she was at Liberty University and the Miss Florida pageant when she was at FSU. She won both titles and was able to pay for her education with the scholarship money she received. And God’s hand was clearly evident all those years ago when she made the leap from attorney to journalist. One of her greatest lessons of humility was being fired from that first broadcasting job in Tampa when the station changed hands.
“You’re the worst person I’ve ever seen in TV,” the new manager said. “You should go back to being an attorney.”
“It reminded me that my identity was not in my job,” she says. “But I also had to acknowledge that my boss was right that I had a lot to learn.” She and Sheldon began to pray, and in less than a year, she landed a job at a CBS affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina. Then on to an NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., and then to Fox.
Shannon believes strongly in truth and balance. “Polling shows us that Americans are losing faith in a lot of institutions that are at the bedrock of our society, including the media. That’s why it’s important to always present multiple viewpoints on any particular issue, so our viewers can hear arguments from different sides. Our viewers are intelligent. They can decide for themselves what and who to believe.”
Shannon starts every day with Jesus. “I love to be in the Word and praying. I like journaling as well. It helps me to see what I’m learning and how God has been faithful. That’s my morning investment, which is really a gift to myself because it centers me, so that whatever tragic thing I’m going to have to report on, I feel equipped to at least walk into that situation and meet people where they are.
“And it gives me hope for eternity. If I felt like this world was all there was, it would be a bleak place to try to work and report on these most difficult things. I know whatever struggles I face moving forward, I can see His faithfulness in the past and I can rely on His faithfulness wherever I land.” ©2023 BGEA
Photo: Courtesy of FOX NEWS