David Begnaud is the lead national correspondent for “CBS Mornings” based in New York. He joined the Network in 2015 and his reporting has earned him some of journalism’s most prestigious awards.
One of his most notable assignments was his coverage of Hurricane Maria when it hit Puerto Rico in October 2017. He spent more time covering Puerto Rico’s recovery than any other network news correspondent. His distinctive, unmatched reporting resulted in government action, and throughout the crisis, he delivered sustained coverage on all platforms — especially on social media.
In this episode, the dog dad shares how when he started really being himself, his career took off like a rocket ship. Growing up gay in the south and dealing with managing his Tourette’s Syndrome, he felt like he had to hide who he was. Not any more.
If you’ve ever worried that you’re “too much,” this is the episode to assure you you’re 100% perfect the way you are. And, not long after we recorded this podcast, David and I got to anchor together.
Sh*t I Wish I Knew In My Twenties (SIWIKIMT) is a podcast dedicated to helping 20-somethings thrive in their twenties, not just survive.
Host Debra Alfarone knows how tough being in your twenties can be. As a high-school dropout turned-network-TV-correspondent, she learned most of life’s lessons the hard way. She overcame the odds and now covers the White House for CBS News nationally. She’s also a confidence coach for young women in the TV news industry.
David: I tried to soften all my edges so I wouldn’t offend anybody. And in the process, I was losing the essence of who I am.
Debra: Hey, hey, welcome to the latest episode of BEEP I wish I knew in my 20s This week’s guest is lead national correspondent for CBS Mornings David Begnaud. He’s also a Joy ambassador for Oprah Daily. He’s earned some of journalism’s most prestigious awards. And he shares his struggle growing up with Tourette Syndrome. Now forgive the background noise because the man is busy, he was on assignment. And he was joining us from Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood, I promise you, this episode is worth the occasional clatter of dishes. So let’s get into it.
David: I’ll start with this. I tried to hold on to much of who I was for so long. Because someone told me I was a little too much of this or a little too loud or a little too edgy. And, I tried to soften all my edges, so I wouldn’t offend anybody. And in the process, I was losing the essence of who I am. Me being 100% of myself, is when my career kind of took off on a rocket ship. And that was the lesson. That was the validation that I gave to myself because I think a lot of people spend a lifetime searching for validation. Nobody sits still and looks at themselves in the mirror. Because the validation when it comes from within – that’s really the first person who needs to say to you, I love you. I believe in you.
Debra: Are you going to make me cry this early?
David: Well, I just you know, sorry.
Debra: You never be sorry! For so long I tried to be someone I wasn’t. And I had a secret I was hiding. I was a high school dropout, who ended up putting myself through school.
David: Which is a wonderful story. Wow. Yeah. I don’t know that.
Debra: Did I share that with you previously. I don’t think I did. Actually. Yeah, I know. We kind of threw this together. But I love that. As two journalists, we’re just like, Okay, well, let’s go live. We’ll do it live. By the way, everyone who’s listening to this, you’re hearing our new friendship live. Like this is really how it goes? Well, you’re not in real-time. Yeah. And so, I know that I was drawn to you, because I know that you too, felt like me that you had something you were hiding a secret. You’re hiding something in your background that you are trying to overcome. And I too feel that the only time I can access confidence is when I’m okay with me being me. And so I want to ask you about your journey. You are the lead national correspondent for CBS Mornings, you have covered stories all over, you’ve won awards, prestigious awards for your incredible reporting that brought about change in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. I mean, I could go on and on. And that’s just one just one thing. I mean, I look at your Instagram. And by the way, if people aren’t following you, they’re crazy. They need to go follow you right away, because it brings tears to my eyes some of the things that you’ve shared, the young man who had agoraphobia, the woman that you took a shot with, she was 102. I love these stories. And so I want to hear about the younger David, who maybe didn’t have that confidence, and was trying to be someone else.
David: So the younger David, I remember vividly wanted to project an air of perfection. I wanted you to think that I was so buttoned up and there was nothing to work on. It was a defense mechanism. And the reason I needed a defense mechanism is because I was gay and I had Tourette Syndrome. And it made for a tormented childhood. And when I would come home every day, and my parents would ask me how school was every day, it was just terrible. And I remember, they would say, how was it? And my answer was always the same. It was great. It was fine. Because I masked everything. And then I was about 17 when my high school speech coach said something to me that brought about a change that I think I’m still on, or a journey that I’m on. She said what are you running from? And it was the first time somebody had asked me that. And I’ve always been an open book, but I’ve never been an easy read. And so that opened up and bless her heart, I think she got more than she wanted to hear. And we’re still dear friends today. 20 some odd years later, and she helped me see that the castle I had built around myself to protect myself was really me protecting other people from me, but why did I need to protect myself from me.
So anyway, I go on this journey where I basically, and in hindsight, it may sound kind of easy. But it took me 30 or so years, took me 24 years to come out. It took me probably 35 years until I was unabashedly myself on camera, and the story that I believe gave me the confidence to be 100% myself was Puerto Rico. And here’s why. For most of my career, I wanted to be who I thought people needed me to be, I would look at other reporters. And I would say, I need to talk like them, track like them, or stand like them or lean my shoulder like them, I mean, oh, my god, Debra.
I remember being in my 20s. And I would sit and watch, oh, my god, local news reporters from all kinds of stations around the country. I mean, I could name them like fan girls, and I would watch them, I would watch the live shot after live after live. And then finally, at about 35, when I was at the network, or so Puerto Rico, my career took off, there was this moment where like, my social media jumped by hundreds and hundreds of 1000s of followers. And I realized that people were liking and appreciating me for being 100% of myself, because there was no good lighting, and I had bags on my eyes, and my hair wasn’t fixed. And I thought, Okay, wait a minute. And that had a profound effect on me in terms of dropping whatever facade was left. And, that really parlayed into my work. And my bosses at the same time saying, if you just let David be David, it ends up being really special. And with that permission, and the confidence I had in myself, by that time, I am really who I am on camera. And like, I want people to say about me what they say about Gayle, Gayle is exactly what she is on camera off camera. And it’s so true. And so I aim to be that, not Gayle. But that same thought of the same on and on.
Debra: So many of the young people who I coach and mentor who want to be confident on camera want to be really good on camera. It’s that they’re trying to be something they’re not. They’re trying to be someone they’re not because they want to be over here. It’s like you got to walk the walk, you’ve got to be in market 150. You’ve got to be in market 70, market 50, market 20. And you’ve got to figure out who you are, it’s the greatest honor you can have is to be yourself. But we don’t know that we’re able to.
David: But let me say this, we also live at a time when it is more permissible. Because 25 years ago, we weren’t working with news directors who were like, Oh, come in and just be loudly yourself. No, no, no, no, no, there was a box and they would pigeonhole you. And that’s when I was coming up. Like it was like, you know, I was worried that my tick with my Tourette’s might interfere and I don’t think it ever did. But definitely, I was so worried about being too gay. Oh, Lord, don’t be too gay. And I don’t think, I know that there have been encounters over my career, where I think people looked past me and overlooked me because I was gay. That’s okay.
My point of bringing it up is if you are young today, take a moment to be grateful that you are living at a time when the business has been forced, in many ways to throw out those news directors who wanted to pigeonhole you and weren’t really permissive of people being loudly themselves. And we’re now coming in with a place of like, hey, listen, I think there’s a woman wearing a hijab in the Midwest, who’s a reporter, go girl, right? Where’s our future trans reporter who is trans and wants to be a reporter. And let’s, I’ll never forget, we were at a conference, the gay Journalism Conference. And there was a guy in the back of the room who I remember saying to me, in front of a roomful of people, he said like he was complimentary about my work. And then he said, but you present as just butch enough. And somebody like me could never get the job that you have. And I was like, oh, damn, and a couple of people wanted to cut him off. And I was like, no, no, no, no, no, let him go. And he hit the nail on the head in that, yeah, sure, we say we’re open. But are you ready for someone who is gender queer? Who dresses like a woman? Or what we think is a woman you know, like, all of these things that may be? My parents or other viewers might look at and judge. How open are we really? And so if you’re young, it’s a good time to be alive. It’s a wonderful time to be alive. And we’re still young, Miss Debra. I believe that if you’re just starting in the business, it’s a hell of a good time I think to start in the business.
Debra: We’ll be right back. If you’re an author, a business owner or just to have a mission and a message and you know you have to be on camera to promote yourself, and you seem to always find it excuse suddenly like, oh, I don’t like how I sound, I don’t like how I look any of these sound familiar? Why don’t you invest in yourself right now? With my confident on-camera digital course, learn from an award-winning pro, and let me stand for your greatness. It’s within you and the world needs what you’ve got. Hit up https://shitiwishiknew.link/confident
Debra: I saw the video where you met Oprah – you are a Joy Ambassador, I use the word joy all the time. I don’t want to be happy. I want to be joyful. And I don’t know if that’s because I am a disciple of Oprah. And I read everything she puts out. What’s it like to be a joy ambassador? And how the heck did you become one?
David: Before I talk more about that – happiness, I believe, is a stationary standpoint. And joy is a verb. To me, joy is an action. It’s a vehicle, right? So I can be happy. I am happy in this moment talking to you. But it is giving me joy to tell you what I’m about to tell you.
Okay, so Gayle and I were on the Drew Barrymore show. And when we got off the set, Gayle said to me, David, you seem to really enjoy that, you were really good, like, would you want to do more of this? And without going into a whole backstory there’s not enough time for, I said, Yeah, I’d love to do it. And we should talk about it. So I go to my dressing room. She goes to hers, she takes off and I call her later that afternoon, and I go, so listen, what if we were to do some stuff with Oprah Daily? Because she’s the what is she… she basically runs the show day to day. So I said, What about something, you know, joy driven? And she goes, I love it. What do we call it? And I go, What about a joy ambassador? So the next day, I get a message from Joseph Zambrano who anybody who follows Oprah will know, he’s her social media person. And he’s got such a fun social media presence. And he texts me, we’re on the morning call. And Gayle just pitched the idea of you being a joy ambassador. And he said I unmuted my phone. And I said, Hell yeah. And so the rest is history.
For me. I am a disciple of Oprah in that The Oprah Winfrey Show changed my life. I remember the very first episode I ever watched was the start of the your best life season, Debra. And there were these jib shots of cameras going through like a garden, it was all kinds of pastel colors. And I was 18 years old. And I was in my apartment by myself. And I thought this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. And by the end of the episode, I cried, clapped, jumped up and down and ran around the house. And the joy that I felt from watching that hour was unlike anything I’ve ever felt in my life. And so until the last episode in that pink dress when she walked around that stage, and she said, all people want to know, do you hear me? And does what I have to say matter? I watched the very last episode. And so for me to be a part of this new series that we started calling, which we call project spread joy is an honor. It’s an honor to be affiliated. So I’m the one who volunteered. And it’s turned into a real thing.
Debra: You know, there is something to that. If there’s something out there, you want to do volunteer, create it, you don’t have to wait. And I think in our 20s or younger, I didn’t know, I had no idea what I wanted to be, I didn’t know how to get there. But just keep walking in that path and put your hand in the air. And you can create incredible things.
David: It’s because the people who have the power to say yes to you are too busy. I’ve learned that if you sit around waiting for the people who can say yes to you have to say yes to you. It’s a waste of time. What I’ve said to the yes people is let me go do this, then see what you think that’s been my entire life. Just let me go do this. And then next thing you know, they’re like, We love it. Go do some more. Oh, you’re off to the races.
Debra: I have to pinch myself where I am yesterday. I was at the White House. It’s a very tough job. But people see the shiny things. They see you doing the live shot. They don’t realize a lot of what has gone on behind the scenes. So I want to share that stuff. How did you get to be at CBS News?
David: I started in Lafayette, Louisiana, my hometown as a teen reporter right out of high school. So that’s my hometown. That’s where I grew up. And the CBS affiliate gave me an opportunity as a teen reporter. And what happened was they hired like 18 teen reporters. And once people started doing reports, they realized how much work it was. And they started saying like, no, no, thank you. So they would call me regularly like, Hey, do you want to do another teen report next Sunday night next day aired on Sundays at 10 pm. So I had gone to this thing called Louisiana Boys State. There’s girls’ state and boys’ states around the country. And I was the governor of Boys State. And so I was thinking of going on a legislative scholarship. But I also went to Catholic school my whole life. So I was looking at Loyola, but I had New Orleans in mind. So we went to toward the School and on the way home, my daddy said to me, if you stay in Lafayette, we’ll buy you a car and my dad controlling as he is, won me over and bought me a car and I remember going to talk to the Vice President of news and I said, Can I just do an internship? And she goes, Yeah. And she said, I say, What? What have you done videotapes. So if you saw your kid on the news, like, let’s say color the weather, you’d call the station, you’d ask for a video, I’d make you a VHS tape, and I’d send it to you. Your cost $30.
I parlayed that into getting on the air. About a month later doing some report, she hired me as a part time reporter. I started anchoring the weekend evening news. If memory serves me right before my first day of college because I remember walking into my English 101 class and the late Jackie Fourcade. My professor said to me, in Cajun voice, she goes Mesha did I not see you on the TV last night. I said Yes, ma’am, that’s me. So I would anchor the news, the weekend morning show which she started. I was the inaugural anchor of the weekend morning show. And I would anchor the weekend evening news through college. So I did that through college. And then when I finished, I went to Shreveport, Louisiana. Then I went to Sacramento. Then I went to Los Angeles, then I went to Entertainment Tonight for a year.
So I figured out that is not my joy doing entertainment reporting on the radio. But I did it for a year, glad I did it. And then I went to CBS. And I came in freelance initially. And they didn’t have I think any freelancers, but I was a rebel. I mean, listen, when I came in the door, let me tell you something, they thought I spoke a different language. They thought I had three heads. They were like who the hell is this guy. He is not very CBS. Okay, walking and talking on live shots. And he’s probably too dramatic and uses his hands and all this business. And they sent me to Miami, it’s like a trial. And then I became staff. And I was in Miami, then Dallas, then New York, and I became the lead national correspondent and the same people who doubted me are my biggest supporters today. And something I’m most proud of.
Debra: So yes, this is an incredible story. And I understand because I’ve wanted to work at CBS for a long time, but I wasn’t ready yet. I always thought I was just a little too much. I was told you’ve got a great personality. Okay, well, that isn’t gonna work. That isn’t going to work in this company. But it does. Little by little, little by little, it has more, more and more, I have gotten more opportunities. And people like working with me because I’m happy and kind and nice and thankful and grateful.
David: But understand that being too much for some people is okay. At the end of the day, if people come to appreciate who you uniquely are, they will like you, I guarantee you there are viewers that think I’m probably a little too much. But they’ve come to see my work in my record and they go, I like that Begnaud boy. I like that. It’s true. And that’s what I’ve learned is that we’ve given this moniker of it’s something bad to be too much, you are going to be too much for somebody. But guess what? They may still watch you. Without naming who I’m talking about. I had someone say to me recently, that person is too much, but man, I’ve come to love them. But man, I’ve come to love because people fall in love with someone who is unabashedly themself.
Debra: You give permission to others to be themselves. Yeah, along that journey, you must have had some failures, and also some great highs. Is there anything you learned along that journey? One lesson that you can share with us.
David: I, in Sacramento, California got taken to HR first, and the only time I’ve been taken to HR by a cameraman who was uncomfortable because I kept putting my hand on his shoulder. And it would happen while we were in the car, I’d be excited about something, I reached out and I put my hand on his shoulder. And he complained once and they talked to me about it. And then he complained again. And it became an official HR complaint. And I remember going to HR and I was probably 24 years old and they were really kind to me and I think they thought at the time that you know, it was you know us Louisiana people we use our hands to talk okay, if you cut off my hands, I think you’d just see me constantly doing this (shakes body) because I’d be trying to use my hands, and I ended up being called to the general manager’s office after that.
And the general manager was calling me in to basically make sure I was okay. And what I learned in that moment was that I was very lucky in that the discrimination I faced for being gay was mostly directed behind my back. And, and it never led to a confrontation, so to speak, like me going to HR. And I was too naive to see what the HR people saw, which was, he just don’t like the facts because the guy is gay. Anybody else can touch his shoulder, but like, you know when this guy touches. And the general manager who’s now retired, Bruno Cohen. God love him, called me just to check on me. And I will never forget that kindness, and that he was in that meeting where I thought, Oh, I thought you were maybe calling me in to fire me that it dawned on me, wait a minute, he’s calling me in to check on me. Anyway, long story short, when I left the job, years later, I had a news director, who was a director at the time who said to me, David, we all wanted to hug you and hold you and tell you that. That’s why – it was because he was uncomfortable with you being gay or whatever. But we couldn’t. So we had to go through the process and just make sure that you didn’t feel too offended by it. It was a powerful life lesson. That correlated to me being 100% of who I am. So I don’t know. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you ask that question.
Debra: What’s the best piece of advice someone has ever given you?
David: You’ve got these questions. They’re so good. I never have good answers in the moment.
Debra: That’s okay. Because I know that whatever comes to your mind is going to be a gift to someone else.
David: So let me say this to you. When Oprah met me. She said to me, when I met you, my heart did a little happy surge. And she was trying to figure out what it was. And she said, it was what it always is, you being 100% yourself. And then she said, she later sent me a text message. And she said when the show was syndicated in the 1980s, a woman in Ann Arbor, Michigan wrote to me and she said Oprah, seeing you be the best of yourself makes me want to be the best of mine. And so what I want to say in wrapping up this question, is my hope with every story and intention, is that something about the story I’m telling, people at home see something of themselves in the character whose story is being told because I’ve taken a bit of a pivot in my career. I don’t do so much breaking news and day-of-air stuff as I used to, and I really focus now on features. Because for me, the feature driven stories that make you feel mad, sad, glad are what fulfills me. And I hope fulfills other people. And that’s what I’m after these days. So it was the advice from Oprah of you being 100% of yourself, is the reason Oprah believes I have been as successful as she thinks.
Debra: And when you are 100% yourself, you’re giving people permission to do that too in little ways, and in big ways. And I am so, I’m really touched right now, when you said that her heart kind of did a little happy flip flop. That’s that’s what I’m feeling right now. I think it is because I am being myself, you’re being yourself. And I feel I feel okay to be myself. And it’s really great to talk to someone who works at CBS, because there is this imposter syndrome of going to the White House and standing there as a CBS freelancer,
David: Which I’ve never done. And I have always wanted to do one day. I’ve got to go stand on that lawn and do a stand up.
Debra: Oh my gosh, you have to. I will come there and I’ll take pictures. I’d love to. Oh my gosh. Okay, so we’re going to do that. So let me ask you this question which I ask everyone worst date, worst outfit, worst haircut, in your 20s. You can pick one, or you can give me all three.
David:So the worst date was the first date of the relationship that I’ve been in for 11 years. I was late. I was too cheap to pay for the valet parking at the hotel. So I went back to the station and walked. I showed up with makeup. I think I had Kleenex stuck to my beard. And I had a bad haircut. And my partner is a hairstylist. And the first date was so bad that I thought why not? Okay, I’m here. So like, let’s talk about things that interests me. So we talked about politics. We don’t agree on politics. We talked about religion. We don’t agree on religion. We talked about everything you’re not supposed to talk about. And when I dropped him off at home, at the end of the night, I thought okay, well am I gonna hear from him, but it was like, it was a really interesting, riveting conversation. And he texted me before I got home and that was 11 years ago. So that was the worst date but it’s, you know, a worst date can not always be the end. What was the other thing?
Debra: Oh yeah, worst date, worst job, worst outfit, worst haircut.
David: Worst outfit I wore on a date with a guy who I was just Oh Lord I had puppy love for and it was a blue jean thing. It was a blue jean top and a blue jean bottom and he and his brother took a picture to make fun of me. And it wasn’t until they took the picture and showed it back to me that I was mortified that I had gone out in public looking like this. Anyway, God bless me. And what was what was the other one?
Debra: We said worst outfit, worst haircut, but I think you said you had a bad haircut on that other date. I think you’ve covered you may have covered them. Okay. We did not cover worst job. Did you have a job in like high school or something?
David: Oh, girl. I was a waiter for six months. And my friend’s parents restaurant. And I was such a horrible, horrible waiter because all I wanted to do would visit with people and I would forget who needed a Diet Coke and a fork. And when I finally quit to go work in television, my friend’s mom threw me a party because she was so damn happy that I was leaving, because she didn’t want to fire me. But she couldn’t wait to get rid of me. So my worst job, I was a horrible server. I just want to say I started by telling you how I wanted people to think I was perfect. Yeah, I now spend my days sharing the stories about my warts, because what life has taught me is that not all of us connect with each other’s triumphs. But every one of us connects through struggles. So I’ve realized that my warts and all are actually what creates conversations and lets me have a rapport with someone on the side. So I don’t want to be perfect. In fact, I want to be really loud about how imperfect I am and what I struggle with. Because it’s relatable.
Debra: Absolutely. My speaking coach once told me people do not connect with your success. They connect with your mess. I love it. I have to ask you like what was your significant other’s Idea of that date? Did he think it was a bad date? Did he think it was good?
David: No, no, no, no, no, he’ll tell you, he’ll tell you. But he’ll say he texted me because when I left, he was like seeing a couple of other people at the same time. And this was our first date. And he goes, I found it refreshing that like he was so forward. And for the first time, Debra, I was 100% myself. Had the date gone well, I would have been like trying to be who I thought he needed me to be. But because the date was a disaster. I was like, Well, fuck it. I’m not wasting my time. Right. So that actually showed him on day one my damn true colors, because I didn’t think I’d see the joker again. And it was 11 years ago.
Debra: I just had my fifth anniversary with my husband. And also I just was done. At that point, when we met, I basically said do you want a relationship or not? Because I am not carrying my clothes in a bag to another person’s house.
David:One more story two weeks in, he played this thing of like, you know, you can’t call the person you just met every day. And as I told you, I’m an open book. And I tell just like this podcast, I mean, I have just bared my soul because the idea of like choosing and picking and but like I don’t if I call my show up, and I give all. So he hadn’t called in a few days. And he’s like three or four days. And so he called me and I had my thing already prepared. I said to him, you know, I haven’t heard from you in four days. And I said this, this just doesn’t work for me. And I remember him saying, what doesn’t work for you? And I go, like not hearing from me for four days. I’d like to talk more. But I didn’t want to use a you statement. I want to use an I statement.
So yeah, he said, he said, Okay, he goes, Well, I’m going to a five year old’s birthday party tomorrow if you want to come and go. Yeah, sure. I’d love to. So we go to the birthday party. And the story he tells is that, at one point, David’s hula hooping, and then he’s throwing the kid up in the air. And he goes, my friends are looking at him, like, Who the hell is this guy? And Jeremy said, I looked at my friends and I was like, I don’t frickin’ know. But here we are. And that was 11 years ago. Hey, listen, this has been a pleasure for me. Just know that I am proud of what you’re doing. I really am. I’m glad you’re working with us. And I’m proud of what you’re doing. And I hope me being 100% myself, encourages someone to be 100% of them in some way. That would that would make me so happy. So I hope that’s what somebody gets from this.
Debra:Hey, if you’ve gotten that from this, you let us know. That is some BEEP I wish I knew in my 20s. David Begnaud, thank you so much. My new BFF My heart is flipping.
David: Congratulations on the podcast.
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