UT hosts NBC correspondent, former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager

Sara Schleede

Jenna Bush Hager said she believes in hope.

“You can’t ever lose hope that your voice is going to be heard because then you’re not living in a democracy,” Hager said.

Hager discussed her childhood, her career and the press at the Belo Center for New Media on Monday for the 2018 William Randolph Hearst Fellows Award Lecture. First known to the public as former president George W. Bush’s daughter, Hager is now a news correspondent for NBC’s “Today,” author, editor-at-large of Southern Living magazine, and Next Generation Initiative chair for UNICEF. She is a former teacher.

“She has an awfully rare perspective of someone who was covered by media … and now with the ‘Today’ show is in media,” said R.B. Brenner, director of Moody College’s School of Journalism.

Hager said she remembers running from the press during her father’s presidency and never expected to work as a journalist.

Hager majored in English at UT and said she was always determined to work in urban education. After graduation, she worked for UNICEF in Latin America and at charter schools with marginalized communities, a job she called rewarding but draining.

“Our culture doesn’t appreciate the job of teaching enough — how hard it is, how dynamic it is,” Hager said. “My job doing live television is less stressful than teaching in inner city Baltimore.”

Since starting at NBC in 2009, Hager said she has been able to satisfy her love for storytelling and interview “extraordinary ordinary people” with perspectives she would not have otherwise known.

“I feel surprised, but it also feels like something that was meant to be,” Hager said.

Hager said the current political climate has created stronger biases and stereotypes, meaning the press’ job to report with an open mind and accurate sources is
especially vital.

“Writing authentic, genuine pieces is more important (than ever),” Hager said. “That’s sad — that I have to say telling the truth is important. That should be something that goes without saying.”

At the age of 36, Hager said she is still expected to have similar political opinions to her father but said it is natural for views to evolve over time. She values her role as an unbiased journalist.

“She changes that conservative view that everyone thinks her father has,” public relations junior Haley Williams said. “She’s a little bit more open minded.”

Now a mother of two, Hager said she wants her daughters to create change and feel empowered outside of their parents’ beliefs.

“The easier way of parenting is to make little clones of yourself,” Hager said. “The braver thing to do is to raise kids to have their own voice.”

Hager said her parenting is inspired by her own parents, who did not hold her to a standard of perfection and gave her the freedom to develop her own opinions
and interests.

“Nothing lasts forever,” Hager said. “It’s really important to make mistakes. Don’t feel like you have to be so married to the image you see of yourself in the future.”