Peter Doocy was planning on going to law school when Hillary Clinton had a shot of whiskey on the campaign trail.
Captured by photographers, the moment became a shot seen ‘round the world in 2008, and when Doocy saw the picture, he had the perfect setup for a question that would launch his TV career.
Three days later, Doocy, then a junior at Villanova University, took the microphone at a political forum and asked John McCain if he’d have a shot with him. The question, and McCain’s answer, made almost as many headlines as Clinton’s drink did, especially when the media realized who the student’s father was.
He’s a Doocy? That Doocy? Son of a Fox News star, firstborn of a couple known as “Mr. and Mrs. Happy”? The Catholic kid whose dad once joked that his son would have been a priest until he learned he’d have to work weekends? Steve Doocy’s son?
Of course, he was, he is. You can see it in the hair and chin, a family resemblance so strong that even now, a good many strangers — 40%, Steve Doocy estimates — think they’re brothers, not a 64-year-old father and his 33-year-old son.
People talk about the Murdoch family ruling the nation’s most popular cable network, but there’s another first family of Fox, and it’s the Doocys: the elder on the long-running morning show “Fox & Friends”; the younger, the network’s White House correspondent, still making headlines with the questions he asks politicians.
This Father’s Day, however, will be different for Steve: It’s the first one in which two of his three children are married, bringing a daughter-in-law and a son-in-law into the close-knit family.
Peter married Hillary Vaughn, a Fox Business correspondent, in South Carolina in April; his father was his best man. For the speech, Steve delivered a poem he’d composed for the occasion — poetry is a Doocy family tradition, as is, apparently, the practice of poking fun at Democrats. (The speech concluded with a zinger that President Joe Biden unwittingly provided.)
Prior to a family vacation in Florida, the father and son reminisced with the Deseret News about Peter’s childhood (still preserved in the amber of his old bedroom in New Jersey), why they remain close and what Steve learned from his own father about being a good dad.
Tales from the ‘dad side’
Steve Doocy may be the only major news personality who has worked in some capacity for all four major networks — NBC, CBS, ABC and now Fox. His books, however, are not about his career, but his family. They include “The Mr. & Mrs. Happy Handbook: Everything I Know About Love and Marriage” and “Tales From the Dad Side,” which gave Steve the opportunity to tell embarrassing stories about his children. (The “Dad Side” book has Peter and his sisters on the cover, dressed in bathing suits, arm floaties and swimming goggles. Then again, Steve was in pajamas, so in the Doocy household, modesty is reserved for Steve’s wife and Peter’s mom, Kathy.)
In some ways, Steve’s high-profile job set unusual parameters for family life. The children grew up comfortable with their family life being made public. (Although Peter says his dad gave him veto power over some stories in the book.) And because “Fox & Friends” begins at 6 a.m. Eastern, Steve was never home on weekday mornings for much of his kids’ childhood. (On workday mornings, he rises at 3:27 sharp.) But that made him available to be a hands-on dad in the afternoon and evening,
Peter’s earliest memories are not of his dad being on TV, but watching his father work around the house and in the yard. Later, when Peter was in middle school and not getting much time on the field in the town’s youth baseball program, Steve decided to solve the problem by volunteering as a coach. “I was really unqualified to do it, but it seemed like it was the only way he way he was going to be able to play,” Steve Doocy said.
Steve Doocy went on to coach his daughters’ teams as well, but he said in a Zoom interview with the Deseret News and his son that it was the family’s evening meals that were the foundation for their closeness.
“That’s why (Kathy and I) wound up writing cookbooks, because the dinner ritual was so important for the family,” Steve said. “The family would, for the most part, be in the kitchen for at least an hour together. I would do the dishes and the kids would stay at the table. They never bolted out of their chairs to go up to their room and text people or watch a TV show. And that was, I think, the richest family time that we had during their wonder years, growing up, because we would talk about everything.”
Peter, who talks to his dad or texts him every day, said that looking back he sees that this practice and other seemingly mundane routines were a gift. “I was very lucky that my mom and dad were at every baseball or soccer game or practice. They were always early to pick us up. We always knew that they were there.
“So I think, when you think back to being a kid, just knowing that your parents are right there when you need them, to support you or help you, whether you’re at home or not, was very important and it’s something I think of often now,” Peter Doocy said.
Mr. Happy and Mr. Happy Jr.
Not just being there, but being there early, was something that Peter’s mom had been determined to do because of her own experience in childhood of parents being late. (The family lived in Los Angeles, where traffic was often a problem.)
“When you’re a little kid, that leaves a mark,” Steve said. “And from the get-go, Kathy said, ‘I will never, ever be late.’ I show up exactly on time, but I’m only 15 seconds in advance. My wife will be there sometimes half an hour early, whatever it takes to make sure she’s there.”
Similarly, Steve said that some of his parenting decisions were made because of less-than-ideal memories of his own childhood. For example, because he had to move frequently as a child, he was determined to hold moving to a minimum for his children. The family moved from northern Virginia to New Jersey when Peter was in second grade, but Steve and Kathy decided that, like choosing a spouse, they’d pick one and stick with it.
“Where is home? Ultimately, it’s wherever your parents are, but I also felt (moving around) was confusing, so when we moved to New Jersey, we bought as big a house as we could afford at that time and decided we would stay there.
“Being a handy guy, I did all the molding, I painted every room in the house. We have too much sweat equity in this particular house, and too many memories. So why leave?”
Also, a move would disrupt the shrine of Peter, the bedroom that looks pretty much the same as it did when he moved out, Steve Doocy said.
“Peter, I’m going to embarrass you a little, but the Curious George (stuffed animal) that you grew up with and took to college is upstairs in a plexiglass box; just like Buzz Lightyear and Woody in ‘Toy Story,’ he’s up there guarding your childhood, surveying your childhood.”
Peter Doocy neither confirmed nor denied that Curious George went to Villanova, too. But he agreed that stability was a large part of why his parents are known as “Mr. and Mrs. Happy” and that it’s a legacy they passed on. “I grew up in a house where I got to see my parents every day. They set a really good example for my sisters and I, and I got to see that every day until I left for college.”
How kids figure out life
The event that inadvertently diverted Peter Doocy from law school was rich with irony since it happened at a forum sponsored by MSNBC, one of Fox’s rivals in cable news.
Three days after Clinton was photographed drinking a shot of whisky at an Indiana bar, Doocy, then 20, was among students at the network’s “Hardball College Tour,” which brought candidates to interact with students. Doocy was one of two students who made McCain laugh when he said, “I was wondering if you think that she’s finally resorted to hitting the sauce just because of some unfavorable polling. And I was also wondering if you would care to join me for a shot after this.”
The then-presidential candidate said, “I did not see the clip of it but I certainly heard about it, and whatever makes Sen. Clinton happy is … is certainly, uh, certainly. …” He paused, and added, “You know, I’ve had two of the best questions, or the toughest questions, that I have ever had in the last two questions.”
Politico did not identify Doocy in its report the next day, but other media outlets did, and Steve Doocy interviewed his son on “Fox & Friends” about the humorous exchange. (He said he knew his son was going to the event, but didn’t know about the question until he and Kathy watched the broadcast at home.)
The next year, after his graduation from college, Fox News offered Peter a job as a general assignment reporter. Over the years, his coverage has included the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing, and he was the first reporter to interview Robert O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who says he fired the shots that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
In January 2021, he was named a White House correspondent, an assignment that seems almost predestined given the family photographs that show him as a baby on the White House lawn and, as a teen, posing in the White House press briefing room. (Also, he was born at George Washington University Hospital, just a few blocks from the White House.)
At Fox, Peter’s coverage has included the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing, and he was the first reporter to interview Robert O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who says he fired the shots that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Lately, he’s made headlines with the questions he asks President Joe Biden.
While the father sometimes talks about his son on the air — as when Peter got married in South Carolina in April — their work life is solidly separate, and they live in different cities: Steve in Bergen County, New Jersey; Peter in the Washington, D.C., area. “He and I are in different departments, and by the time I get in most days, he’s already home, and I have different bosses than he has, and different sets of producers and editorial people,” Peter Doocy said.
That’s not to say that his father doesn’t sometime offer career advice, which he has done, especially when Peter was starting out in a profession he’d not intended to enter.
Steve’s career, too, looks like a straight line ascending. He became interested in journalism in high school, developing what writer Mark Oppenheimer called “a strong vocational crush” on famed Watergate reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. While studying journalism at the University of Kansas, he started working in radio, then got a gig at a local television station, doing weather and general news. Subsequent jobs led him to a short-lived news network called America’s Talking, run by the late Roger Ailes. When the network shut down, Ailes landed at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, taking Steve Doocy and others with him.
Doocy has been part of the network’s flagship “Fox & Friends” since it started in 1998. When he started on the show, Peter was 9.
‘What do dads do?’
“This is how kids figure out life: They watch their parents,” Steve Doocy said, remembering how how he loved going out with his own father on sales calls on Saturdays when he was a child.
We were talking, sans Peter, on the phone.
“We’d get in the pickup truck and go out to these farms … and then we’d go to lunch at some joint in Kansas, and then we’d have more sales calls, and we’d wind up the day at Riley’s gas station and we’d have Dr Peppers and put salted peanuts in the glass bottles and then we’d shoot the breeze with the guys at the gas station.
“And I learned so much about what it was like to do my dad’s job. What do dads do? They lead. He led by example, and he was a good man and I loved him to pieces.”
He dedicated “Tales from the Dad Side” to his father.
All of Peter’s grandparents have now passed, but at his April wedding, he said he chose his father as his best man because, “We are very close, and I wanted him right there by my side as I made this next big step in my life.”
But first, there was the pre-nuptial merriment, which included the reading of the multipage poem that Steve had written with characteristic wit.
“We have this tradition where if it’s a big birthday or something like that, rather than buy a card, you have to write a poem. Because it takes some effort rather than going down to the grocery store and buying a $3 card,” Steve said. “What I wrote — it was kind of a roast. Peter, is it OK if I read the last three lines?”
Given the OK, he read from his phone:
“The thing about you and Hillary is, your jobs open your eyes to what is important and real in life and what is the prize
“You’ve seen riots and wars and pandemics and strife. And if you can survive that, it’s easy to be husband and wife.
“Hillary, we know Peter simply adores you, that’s no baloney
“And Hillary, welcome to the family of America’s favorite one-horse pony.”
(Last year, Biden mixed his metaphors when complaining about Peter Doocy’s questioning and called him a “one-horse pony” instead of a one-trick pony.)
The night before Peter’s wedding, Steve said he asked his wife is there was anything she thought he should tell their son.
“And she said, ‘He’s been watching you his whole life. He knows what to do.’ And she’s right.”
And Steve has learned something from his son, too: not to stand too close to him in public.
“I wish he would not stand next to me in a photograph because he’s now a good 6 inches taller than me,” he said. “I’m 6 feet. He’s like 6’5 or 6’6 — he’s gigantic. I think I’ve gone 1 inch in the wrong direction.”
According to Peter, he’s 6’5. In this regard, like father, not like son.