Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Kilmeade, cohost of Fox News Channels Fox & Friends, host of the nationally syndicated radio show Kilmeade & Friends, and most recently, co-author (along with Don Yaeger) of George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution. In this book, Brian shares the story of a rag-tag group who became some of the bravest spies of the American Revolution and led to the creation of the United States as we know them. We discussed how Fox has impacted Brian’s personal brand, what made him write this book, and his tips for young people looking to build a successful career. He also shared which hero from the American Revolution he most identifies with!
How do you define your personal brand?
It’s interesting, I don’t know if I really do define it. I work within Fox, I know who I am, but I don’t endorse products. I consider myself a worker in a very good company. I don’t look at “Brian Kilmeade” the brand. Maybe down the line if I had my own show or my own production company like (Johnny) Carson used to, but I am myself both on and off the air, for better or worse. I think that is the best way to look at my brand.
How has Fox impacted your ability to gain other opportunities?
I personally feel, if I can take a leap with my own opinion, that [Fox] is the most pro-American place around, outside of Duck Dynasty. [Fox] is all about the country, and the more we find out about how the country was formed, the more it re-affirms why we are who we are. I thought to shed light on some people who supposedly lived and died anonymous hard-working everyday lives, who had done such extraordinary things around such fascinating people as George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Nathan Hale and Alexander Hamilton, outlines who we are. Because before every superstar in society there are these everyday people. And these guys in my story, the “secret six,” left their lives and families in the middle of a war for a cause. They were outnumbered 10-1 and decided to put it all at risk to learn how to spy in the middle of the war, and they did it in a way that has the CIA still teaching techniques that George Washington used so long ago. I think it’s so reflective of the country, you see today what Seal Team 6 does, and how we still don’t really know who they are or what they do, and they don’t want credit, and they don’t get paid much, that’s very much like 1778-1783, what those guys did. They never wanted credit, in fact only one of them that we can tell ever met Washington. When he went to thank them they didn’t show up. They did it for the country and they didn’t want the praise, they didn’t want to get paid. I think that’s reflective of who we are as a company and a country.
It’s amazing that these principles from hundreds of years ago are still effective. What inspired you to write this book?
I LOVE history, it’s always been a passion of mine. To think this story took place where I grew up and I didn’t know about it, that fascinated me. It was so consequential to the war effort. When I started I kept expecting to learn that this spy ring hadn’t actually done much, but then the more I found out I’m at Langley, VA talking to the CIA, I’m at Mount Vernon, I’m talking to the National Archives, I’m in the small historical societies out in Long Island. I realize how much has yet to be revealed. I think we did some original reporting in this, and I thought they deserved a lot more credit than they have gotten. Washington put in the book letters about “Culper, Junior” and “Culper, Senior” and the indispensable intelligence they provided. Those were all code names. These are Washington’s letters. He said the deal was, “never ask our names, we will never tell them.” And he didn’t, and he wouldn’t. But he kept their letters. That allowed us to piece the puzzle together. Then I’m sitting back and I see stories like “American Treasure,” or “The Patriot.” And I’m thinking to myself, those are great, but I got a better story, and it’s real, you don’t even have to blow it out of proportion. Then I see how fascinating Bill O’Reilly made Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, and I gave the story to Bill who lives on Long Island, and he had never heard of it before. So I decided I wanted to do it. I’ve been looking at it on and off since 1989, I just haven’t had time. I wrote two other books. Then Don Yaeger says to me, “I want to do a sports book with you.” And I told him, “I doubt you will want to do this book with me, I bet you aren’t interested.” He said, “You’re wrong.” Then for two years, we just traveled Long Island, NY recreating and revisiting and talking to experts who were kind enough to share their lifetime of wisdom with us. So that’s how I stumbled into it. Eventually I realized it wasn’t a New York story, it’s an American story.
Also, in the back of my mind, I thought, “Don’t people need another great American story that actually happened?” Sometimes you see all these tremendous people achieving success in the Olympics or the World Series, and it’s great, but you can’t relate to that. But what if I told you that all these guys were farmers, bartenders, and printers? Then there is a woman who went into Manhattan and infiltrated the social scene, not like “Sex and the City,” she had a pro-American plan. And she found out about the Benedict Arnold plot before it happened and brought it back. We can relate to these characters unlike the people who are larger than life like Washington or Hamilton. Paul Revere had one ride. The guy in my story, Austin Roe, was a bar owner who had to go pick up supplies in Manhattan through enemy territory and ride 55 miles back, and he did that for three and a half years without getting caught. It kicks the ass of the Paul Revere story. And he never wanted credit, he was just a bar owner, and the bar still stands today. The British had a message, “you spy, you die.” All these guys lived and died and got no credit for four years. This 8,000-man army defeated an 80,000-man army because they had great spies. That’s the story I wanted to bring to life.
What character do you want to identify with?
Nobody that reads American history doesn’t want to achieve some of the characteristics that Washington possessed. Confidence, fearlessness, leadership. He had the discipline to write down his thoughts knowing that he was a historical figure. The courage to go right into battle and mysteriously never get shot. No one still can figure out how he never got wounded. That’s the guy. In terms of my six, the guy I can identify with most because my family are bar owners is Austin Roe. He’d get the call, put someone else on the bar, hop on a horse, go through the British lines, pick up a message, and bring it all the way back to Abraham Woodhull who would give it to Caleb Brewster. That took courage for four years, and to have that great personality to be unsuspecting to the British who were teeming over the entire area.
You meet Navy Seals, Captains and Privates, they don’t want any credit. At Fox for the past 15 years we have seen all types of soldiers, none of them want any recognition, making little money. The guys back in the Revolution were the same way. They just wanted their expenses covered because there was no credit card back then. They needed to keep their businesses going. I do think if people read this story they will see where we came from.
When survival is your only objective, it becomes easier to make decisions.
What is one piece of advice you would give to young people looking to build a successful career?
I would say to always do a little bit extra. Get in early and leave late. Try and learn from people the best way you can. If you are trying to be a reporter, in this profession you can watch TV and that can be a university. Why do people like Rush Limbaugh? You don’t need a textbook for that. Listen. It’s always OK to write a letter and get some of these people’s attention. Little things make a difference. Send thank you notes to show your appreciation. Be open to learning and let people know that you don’t know everything. If you come in humble, work hard, and try to learn, people will help you out because everyone wants to help a 24-year-old who is driven to make it to the next level. The key is to make yourself that person who someone established wants to help.
You look at a guy like Geraldo, he is as nice to the camera crew as he is to Bill O’Reilly. The higher you get it does not mean you are above the crew or floor manager. The moment you think you are too big to say “hi” to people, you’re in a bad place.
Brian was a thrill to speak with. You can tell the passion he has for this story and for American history in the way he speaks about it.