The prosecutor-turned-journalist who today co-hosts one of the most popular daytime talk shows opened up this month to a Greensboro audience about lessons learned rising to the height of professional success from humble origins in a Bronx housing project.
Sunny Hostin recognizes that as co-host of ABC’s The View, her opinions will upset some people who disagree with her. But that doesn’t mean she wants to avoid people who hold different opinions.
On the contrary. Hostin prefers to find what she has in common with other people, to engage them in conversation, to explain her positions without getting angry.
“And that’s where your law degree will help you,” Hostin told her downtown Greensboro audience during Elon Law’s second Distinguished Leadership Lecture of the 2022-2023 academic year. “Facts trump emotion every single time.”
Hostin visited Greensboro on February 9, 2023, for a wide-ranging conversation with Professor David S. Levine where she regaled her Carolina Theatre audience with behind-the-scenes stories from a career in both the law and media, reflections on current events, and advice for students and community members alike.
She even spent time going through the exhaustive process she follows every night in preparation for co-hosting America’s most-watched daytime talk show. Working together with producers, the co-hosts help narrow a list of 60 potential stories or hot topics each night down to four that will be discussed on the show.
And each morning, a few short hours before their show is recorded, the co-hosts convene to finalize the topics they plan to discuss. “We don’t talk out the issues because it’s (supposed to be) spontaneous,” Hostin said. “But we should know what each other is going to say, and then we have one hour of hair, makeup and prep with our producers before we have to go on air.”
Hostin also reflected on the power of mentorship. Citing her friend Carla Harris, Hostin said that “every single decision made about your career, whether it be education or otherwise, is made when you’re not in a room.” Decisions on whether you would be hired for a position, accepted into law school, or afforded other opportunities almost never occur in your presence, Hostin said.
“What you need is a champion that’s in that room,” she said. “And the champion doesn’t have to look like you, doesn’t have to be an Afro-Latina, doesn’t have to be anything like that. But it does have to be someone who has power, political power within that setting.
“And that person must be willing to spend that power on you. … I realized so much of my success has to deal with those champions that, for whatever reason, spent their political power on me.”
Prior to her current role with The View, Hostin served as a host and legal analyst for CNN, a fill-in co-anchor for ABC News, and a prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, where her knowledge made her an invaluable part of the CNN morning team during and after the historic election of President Barack Obama.
She has covered many of the nation’s most prominent legal and political stories, including the George Zimmerman, Casey Anthony and Conrad Murray trials, Bernie Madoff, Elliot Spitzer, the FLDS polygamy case, the Michael Vick dog fighting ring, O.J. Simpson’s civil trial, and Brittney Spears’ custody and mental illness battles.
Hostin has published numerous popular and scholarly articles in many outlets on topics including securities fraud, Ponzi schemes, sex crimes, crimes against women, foreclosures, and everyday financial legal issues. She received her undergraduate degree in broadcast journalism & communications from Binghamton University and her law degree from Notre Dame Law School.
Levine is a professor of law at Elon Law and an affiliate scholar at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. He served as a fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy from 2014-2017 and is the founder and host of Hearsay Culture on KZSU-FM at Stanford.
In 2019, Levine co-authored “Information Law, Governance, and Cybersecurity”, and he has been published in leading newspapers, academic journals, and websites in the United States and Europe while advising governmental and non-governmental organizations on trade secret law and cyberlaw.
Hostin’s evening program was preceded earlier in the day by a visit to Professor Steve Friedland’s criminal law course for first-year students. Friedland and Hostin share mutual connections through their previous work as assistant U.S. attorneys for the District of Columbia – and both are graduates of Binghamton University in New York.
Hostin expanded on some of the memories she shared in her 2020 memoir “I Am These Truths.” She told students how she ultimately decided to pursue a legal education after serving on a jury in a New York murder case where she was “riveted” by the courtroom process and how prosecutors were “the people with the power.”
“They were excellent, these prosecutors,” Hostin said. “And interestingly enough, we found (the defendant) not guilty by reason of insanity, the first time that had happened in New York in decades. But it was that experience that I thought ‘I want to do that’ and I applied to law school shortly thereafter.”
And the journalists and the lawyers she holds in high regard? There are a few. “Barbara Walters was probably one of the best journalists of our time … I worked with her, so I knew her preparation. She interviewed everybody, from Castro to movie stars, and she was able to ask questions that are very hard to get answers to. She was very disarming, and I got to learn from her.
“And in terms of attorney, I don’t like to name drop, but I’ve become friends with Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor. … I own a restaurant in New York, and she spent her 60th birthday there. Her cousin is a cop and we have a lot of cops come to our restaurant. I saw the G-cars outside – the big black cars – and I asked who was inside? That’s the Secret Service! Someone said it’s Justice Sotomayor, so I ran home, I got her book and came back and explained how I was one of the owners of the restaurant and she invited me to sit with her.
“Our stories were very similar. We both grew up in the South Bronx projects. We weren’t supposed to be lawyers. We weren’t supposed to be successful. And I had top security clearance, so when she went on her book tour, she asked me to do her tour with her … so I’ve managed to spend a lot of time with her.”
Her strongest piece of advice for the dozens of students in the room?
“I think it’s such an honor to get a law degree. It’s really an honorable profession,” she said. “What’s important to do with that law degree, while I know many of you probably have loans and it’s difficult to see past that, it’s important to combine your passion and your purpose. You spend so much time at work. You have to love what you do, and this is the time to find out what you love. It really is.”