Amy Holmes is a political commentator for CNN and a Republican strategist who spent three years as the senior speechwriter to the former U.S. Senate majority leader Bill Frist. A liberal Democrat in her college days, Holmes and her political allegiances shifted to the right in the decade that followed her graduation from Princeton. She appears regularly on all the twenty-four-hour cable news networks and has a blog space on the Web site for Anderson Cooper 360°, the nightly CNN news program. Roger Ailes, the head of the Fox News Channel, told People magazine that Holmes is "opinionated but not as predictable as most, and when she expresses strong opinions, you don't dislike her. She's got a softly defiant quality."
Holmes was born in Lusaka, Zambia, in 1973 to a father of African heritage and a white mother who was from Seattle. The marriage ended three years later, and the mother and daughter left the southern African nation formerly known as Northern Rhodesia and settled in Seattle. After high school, Holmes entered Princeton University, where she founded Ahimsa, an animal rights group opposed to animal testing. She voted in a presidential election for the first time in 1992, a year after turning eighteen, and later admitted she cast that ballot for Bill Clinton, the winning Democratic challenger.
Holmes graduated from Princeton in 1994 with an economics degree after completing a senior thesis that examined the record-label business. For a time, she lived in Seattle and worked as an assistant on music video shoots, but in 1995 she moved to Washington, DC. There she found a job with the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), a nonprofit think tank founded by conservative women that issued policy papers on—and led public-relations efforts for—proposed reform measures, such as mandatory HIV testing for pregnant women. Holmes's own outlook on certain issues began to change during her tenure at IWF. "I started to realize that I had a lot more sympathy for conservatives than I thought," she told Jennifer Maloney in the Daily Princetonian.
With her training in financial analysis, Holmes became the IWF's economic project director after running its college-campus program. One of her efforts as the economic project director was investigating the reasons for the continued wage gap between men and women in the U.S. workforce. Women still earned less than men, on average, but Holmes argued it was not because of bias against women, as was commonly believed. The earnings gap "was being used as a way to characterize our culture as riddled with systematic sex discrimination," she told Maloney. "That description of American culture didn't hold up."
Holmes had already appeared on both the Public Broadcasting Service panel-discussion show To the Contrary and Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher's late-night chat fest, but she attained minor fame in the spring of 2000 when she was profiled by People magazine for its annual "50 Most Beautiful People" issue. When it hit newsstands, she was advised to find an agent, though she was initially hesitant. In an issue of Newsweek that invited her and several other accomplished, high-profile African-American women to a round-table discussion, Holmes ventured that focusing on an ambitious career goal presented certain challenges. "I think one of the hardest things to do is to say out loud, ‘I want to be that. And I should be there,’" she said. "Particularly when you don't have those role models in the family, because someone hasn't done it before you."
A few months after her appearance in People, Holmes made the decision to leave the IWF and become a freelance political commentator for Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. In the buildup to the 2000 presidential election, she excoriated the Democratic candidate Al Gore for his views on race and the environment, and asserted she would be voting for the Republican candidate because of his stance on educational reform. "Policy-wise, I support George Bush," she told Maloney. "He has a real vision."
During the first Bush administration, Holmes was hired as a senior staff member with the Corporation for National and Community Service, the independent federal agency that oversees national service programs such as AmeriCorps. From there, she accepted a position as the senior speechwriter for the Tennessee senator Bill Frist a few months after he became the Republicans' Senate majority leader in early 2003. She spent three years with Frist's office, and in 2006 she returned to her work as a political commentator for CNN. She appears regularly on Anderson Cooper 360°, Larry King Live, and The Situation Room discussing the day's events and analyzing the major news stories.
During the presidential election campaign of 2008, Felicia R. Lee of the New York Times wrote about the history-making Democratic challengers for the party's presidential nomination, the New York senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Illinois senator Barack Obama, and the effect this had had on television punditry. Lee named Holmes as one of "a handful of contributing commentators from varied backgrounds and perspectives: blacks, Hispanics and women. Whether such moves signal real progress in diversifying the punditocracy or merely reflect the needs of a particular news cycle is the question, some media experts say."
In 2006 Holmes was named by Washingtonian magazine as one of the city's most eligible singles. She has dated Lloyd Grove, the former New York Daily News gossip columnist, and Mickey Kaus, who writes for Slate.com. "I want to be successful in the public sphere, but I also want to be a mom and a wife and honor and cherish those roles in my life," she told Maloney. "I think feminism has made this false separation of the two. I think the new feminism is going to recognize and respect that women want to pursue a number of different roles in their lives and that you can have everything, but not necessarily at the same time."
At a Glance …
Career: Worked in music video production, 1994-95; Independent Women's Forum, campus project director, economic project director, 1995-2000; political commentator for Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN, 2000-02; Corporation for National and Community Service, senior staff member, 2002-03; Office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, senior speechwriter, 2003-06; political commentator for CNN, 2006—.
Addresses: Office—CNN Washington Bureau, 820 First St. NE, Washington DC 20002.
Daily Princetonian, October 17, 2000.
New York Times, April 2, 2008, p. E1.
Newsweek, September 18, 2000, p. 54.
People, May 8, 2000, p. 131.
"Anchors and Reporters: Amy Holmes," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/CNN/anchors_reporters/holmes.amy.html (accessed June 6, 2008).
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