After William Griffin Jenkins graduated from Memphis University School in 1989, he picked up an English degree from Ole Miss, and then headed for Washington, D.C., where he interned for Senator Don Sundquist. Deciding to stay in the nation's capital, his broadcasting career took off. He befriended Colonel Oliver North, went to Iraq as an "embedded" cameraman, then returned to the states, where he's now a general news correspondent for Fox News. He spoke about his pals at Fox, wearing Speedos on TV, and his longtime buddy, Elvis.
That's quite a leap — graduating from MUS to working for Oliver North.
I really fell in love with Washington, D.C., and got a job there at a radio station. The Colonel had lost his Senate bid — this was in 1994 — and had started a radio show, and I was hired as a producer's assistant.
What was North like?
I really liked him and appreciated him. He brought me on board and that led to the greatest opportunity of my life, when I was asked to go along as Ollie's cameraman during the invasion of Iraq. You got a front-row seat to be around true American heroes, whose sacrifice, dedication, and professionalism was incredible. And your job was to document their daily heroics.
Being in Iraq for three months, you must have had some close calls.
One time a helicopter had gone down behind mine. I had originally been scheduled to be on that one. Ollie didn't learn for hours that I hadn't been killed, and he opened his show by talking about the cost of war, and how his own cameraman had been killed. Then came the relief that it wasn't me, but then came the reality that it was somebody else's best friend who had died.
But you've had your lighter moments in broadcasting. You once went on the air in — Speedos?
Oh no, you never know what they are going to put on your tombstone when you're dead and gone! During the Olympics there was all that craze about [Gold-medal swimmer] Michael Phelps and his super-svelte Speedo, so I put on a Speedo and went outside our building in Times Square and asked people what they thought of it. The Olympics committee later banned the super-skimpy Speedo suits.
Probably after they saw you wearing it.
Oh, no, I doubt it.
We've all seen Broadcast News with Holly Hunter and know the last-minute crises that can happen. Any stories to tell?
In broadcast, you have to be a special, twisted sort of person to deal with the pressure. When they turn that camera on, things do happen, but you gotta go. But Oliver North used to tell me, "It's not a crisis until you hold a dying man in your arms."
Has that actually happened to you?
When I was one of North's producers, we were doing live broadcasts from Iraq. There was a young marine, he takes a shrapnel wound, and our helicopter is evacuating him. We go down in a sandstorm, the marines jump out to make sure we don't get killed, and the medic says, "Just tend to this man. Talk to him, say anything, just to keep him alive." And I think to myself, it's just like Ollie says, and I've got a dying man in my arms. It puts things in perspective.
How did it work out for the guy?
He ended up making it out of there and doing fine. And a year later, when his rotation came up, he was back in the theater.
What's the best part about your job?
I'm just fortunate enough to work for great broadcasters like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren. They are the nicest, coolest people ever. I was in town [in September] for my 20th high school reunion, and friends say, 'We saw you on Bill O'Reilly!' For a kid from Memphis, the pride and smile was as big as the Grand Canyon.
What's next for Griff Jenkins?
My mom says, "Remember that contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you have." I just hope to grow and do things that will help Fox continue to be fair and balanced and the most trusted source of news.
Do you still come back to Memphis?
Not as much as I used to. My parents moved to Florida, so that's where I go for family things. But this summer, I FedEx'd Rendezvous ribs to Washington and my friends were like, "These ribs are incredible." And I have one other link to my hometown, too — my Jack Russell terrier, Elvis. He's my right-hand man. I never go anywhere without Elvis.