NBC News’ Peter Alexander is one of the hardest-working men in the news business, regularly chasing down presidential candidates and reporting both for “TODAY” and for “Nightly News with Lester Holt.” He has interviewed world leaders like Fidel Castro and George W. Bush, and covered numerous international stories — from Iraq’s historic 2005 election to the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the tsunami in Indonesia. He has filed reports from Afghanistan, the Galapagos Islands, Gaza, Israel, Laos and Mexico. Recently, he’s been busy traveling the country reporting on the presidential campaign, hitting the trail with several candidates.
But watching him walk down the sidewalk of his Arlington neighborhood, singing “Off to See the Wizard” while holding his 2-year-old daughter Ava’s hand, it’s clear he lives by his words, “Family first. The rest is details.”
Alexander is one-half of a Washington news power couple, married to WJLA Anchor Alison Starling. Not that Alison was on board from the start. When asked how they met, he admits, “Alison and I met while we were reporters for competing stations in Seattle 15 years ago. She blew me off for most of a decade before I finally wore her down.”
When he’s home with Alison and their two young daughters, Ava and 1-year-old Emma, he makes a point to just be present. His advice to other working parents: “Put your phone down. Easier said than done, but being truly present for 20 minutes is better than being distracted for an hour.” He also plans daddy/daughter days spending one-on-one time with his girls, and sometimes it’s the little things they enjoy the most. “Ava’s big on driving around with the windows down saying, ‘More wind, Daddy!’”
We asked Alexander about how he stays connected with his family despite campaign travel, long hours and constant deadlines and how fatherhood has changed his perspective on the events he covers. And do Ava and Emma watch mom and dad on TV? “Not really. Sprout is way more entertaining.”
Q&A with Peter Alexander
When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in journalism?
I remember watching the evening news at dinnertime when I was growing up in the San Francisco Bay area and being mesmerized by the correspondents reporting from all over. I thought, “What an awesome way to see the world!” As a high school freshman, I cold called the local news stations for an English project, and before you know it, my parents were dropping me off at a station once a week to gather scripts for the 10 o’clock news.
If you weren’t a reporter, what job do you think you’d have?
Play-by-play for the Cubs or [acting as] Hamilton (I wish).
Who is your role model?
David Bloom. He passed away shortly before I joined NBC News, but to this day, he remains the journalist I have most tried to emulate.
Do you have a favorite story you’ve covered over the years?
For most memorable, it’s a toss-up between two: Interviewing Fidel Castro during Hurricane Ivan and interviewing Yao Ming on the stadium floor to wrap up NBC’s coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Before the ceremony, I asked him how I’d find him. His answer: “Just look up!”
But my favorite? That’s an easy one — sharing my sister’s story. Rebecca has Usher Syndrome, Type III, a rare degenerative disorder causing her to go blind and deaf. To this day, she’s the most impressive person I know – a psychotherapist, extreme athlete (who recently climbed Kilimanjaro) and the kindest, funniest sister and aunt (to my girls) I could ever wish for.
What’s been more of a challenge: Interviewing candidates on the campaign trail or wrangling your daughters at bedtime?
Bedtime is actually the best. Although with our 2-year-old, every night is a negotiation for an extra 15 minutes of story time or lying in mom and dad’s bed.
With two high-profile, busy careers, what support system do you have in place to help out?
This year’s been tough, especially with a relentless campaign to cover, often taking me away from home. Alison is a rock star. She’s really carrying the load for our family. We also have a terrific nanny, and we’re fortunate to have great parents routinely shuttling in to help.
How has fatherhood changed your perspective on the events you cover?
I’ve probably covered my last warzone for the foreseeable future. As for perspective, juggling work and fatherhood has given me a much greater appreciation for all working parents. Similarly, my ability to empathize has grown dramatically since I became a dad. I feel the stories I’m telling much more deeply, especially about the sacrifices families make for their children.
Especially with the “unique” campaign season that’s unfolding, do you have any humorous on-the-job anecdotes?
At the news conference following Trump’s Michigan primary win, I asked him about an ad highlighting the profanity that sometimes punctuates his rallies and how parents should explain it to their kids. His reply: “Oh, look at you! You’re so politically correct. You’re so beautiful. You’re so perfect. Aren’t you just a perfect young man? Give me a break.”
My wife had that quote put on a pillow.
Do you have any family traditions?
My dad always took us to the Oakland A’s games, and Ava just got her first Washington Nationals wiffle ball and bat. Still, I’m not sure how nine innings will go with the girls just yet. We’ve already taken Ava to Annie and The Wizard of Oz at The National Theatre. I’m hoping that tradition sticks.
How would you feel if your daughters decided they wanted to pursue a career in politics?
Class president, absolutely. Beyond that, we’ll have to talk.
What do you do to decompress? Other hobbies or interests?
Sleep. Anywhere. After the election, I hope to play more tennis. I played competitively in California growing up.
What do you like most about living in the D.C. area? Least?
I have a lot of early mornings in this job. Still, I never get tired of driving into the District at dawn and watching the sun rise behind the monuments.
Least? Here, in D.C., you can’t escape the 24-hour news cycle. Sometimes it feels as though you’re living and breathing politics or media all day. Every so often, you just want to escape.
If you could live anywhere, where would that be?
I’ll always be nostalgic for the Bay Area, since it’s where I’m from, but Alison and I feel fortunate to call one of the country’s greatest cities our home.
Do you have a favorite date-night spot? Or other local restaurants or attractions you like to frequent?
Rasika [for date night]. We also love The Italian Store, Peter Chang’s and Jumpin’ Joey’s.
Any predictions on who will win the presidential race in November? (Sorry, had to ask!)
My money’s on a Democrat…or a Republican.
Text by Debbie Williams and Colleen McGrew
Photography by: Bri & Wes Photography