>> A story of love, faith, and resilience this week on "Firing Line."
>> What's this?
>> It's a journal so you can write to your son.
>> What do I write?
>> Tell him who you are.
>> I thought, "What if something happens to him over there?"
I'd love for our son to at least see the words, "I love you -- Dad" on a page.
>> She's a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter who is now the first Black publisher of Simon & Schuster.
Dana Canedy is the daughter of a U.S. Army drill sergeant who vowed never to fall in love with a military man -- until she met Charles Monroe King.
In 2004, King received orders to deploy to Iraq.
Their baby son, Jordan, was just 6 months old when First Sergeant King was killed in an IED attack.
King left behind a journal for Jordan... >> "Dear Jordan..." >> ...with lessons on faith, character, and how to be a good man.
>> "Always be courageous in everything you do."
>> Canedy turned that journal and their story into a bestselling book, and now, this holiday season, it's a major motion picture directed by Denzel Washington.
>> When Denzel and I started talking about this, I said, "The one thing I want you to understand is that there is a real Jordan behind "A Journal for Jordan."
>> With her son Jordan, now a young man, and her story in the spotlight, what does writer and publisher Dana Canedy say now?
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> Dana Canedy, welcome to "Firing Line."
>> Thank you.
Thanks so much for having me.
>> You share an incredibly powerful and persuasive story.
>> Thank you.
>> You grew up in a military family, and you promised yourself you would never fall in love with a military man.
[ Laughs ] >> Tell me how you fell in love with Sergeant Charles King.
>> So, First Sergeant Charles Monroe King.
It's funny -- you make plans, and God laughs, because I met him in the living room of my parents' house in a small town in Kentucky.
I walked in, and I was like, "Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!
He is so cute, and he's a soldier."
But he had such an amazing heart and such character that I couldn't help but fall for him.
>> Let's take a look at one of your early encounters with Charles, as is portrayed in the new movie, "A Journal for Jordan."
He is played by Michael B. Jordan, and you are played by Chanté Adams.
>> Charles, please.
I appreciate the manners, but you can't keep walking on the outside of the sidewalk.
It's New York.
There are too many people.
>> I'm sorry.
I just can't help it.
It's a force of habit.
>> You know what?
No, I'm sorry.
The world needs more gentlemen.
>> What do you think about the portrayal of Charles?
>> I think that, starting with Denzel, our director, and with Chanté and Mike, they did me the great honor of keeping me involved every step of the process, and, therefore, they got to know us as people, not just characters.
And you see that palpably in the portrayals.
And I think they nailed it.
>> Why was it so important for you to have a working collaboration with your director?
Because that's quite unusual.
>> It's very unusual.
Denzel and I've been friends for 13 years.
He read an article that I wrote in The New York Times that led to the book.
I wrote an article in The Times because I thought, "I'm the only national journalist who's had that experience of opening the front door and the soldier's standing there, and they don't even have to say a word.
You know why they're there.
And I wanted people to feel that and understand what that knock at the door is like and the military families who are left behind when a loved one is lost to combat.
So, when Denzel and I started talking about this, I said, "The one thing I want you to understand is that there is a real Jordan behind "A Journal for Jordan."
We're people, and we got to channel that into this film.
And that's what we did.
>> You were rising through the ranks of The New York Times.
You won a Pulitzer Prize for your reporting on race in America, and in 2004, Charles received orders for Iraq.
You then surprised him by announcing that you wanted to have a baby with him.
>> How did you arrive at that decision?
>> It really was one of those "life flash before your eyes" moments, and I had -- He was my Linus blanket.
I had always sort of just taken for granted he'd be there and that we had time.
And all of a sudden, I thought, "Oh, my gosh.
I could lose this man."
And I -- in that moment, I'd been fearful of marriage, frankly.
I wanted to be his wife.
I wanted to have his child.
I just knew it.
>> How did he react?
>> He said, "Absolutely."
Which stunned me.
I said, "Charles, don't you need time to think about this?
I'm not asking you for a puppy here.
How can you make this decision so quickly?"
And he said, "I made it a long time ago."
>> What inspired you to give Charles a journal to keep when he went to Iraq?
>> I thought, "You know, what if something happens to him over there?
I'd love for our son to at least see the words "I love you -- Dad" on a page.
And I -- I didn't think he was going to fill the entire journal, but he did.
He wrote 200 pages, most of it from the war zone while I was pregnant, about the power of prayer and how to choose a wife and about living a dignified, honorable life.
I couldn't believe it.
When I received that journal and read it, I fell in love with him at a deeper level.
>> Charles didn't make it back for the birth of your son but met your son months later.
He took a two-week leave towards the end of his tour, and on October 14, 2006, just weeks before his deployment in Iraq was to end, he was tragically killed by an IED.
You're incredibly descriptive about your grief.
And you say it was physical.
>> So what actually got you through?
>> Oh, that baby, our son.
[ Clears throat ] When I got the news, I collapsed onto a hardwood floor, screaming.
And I remember thinking, "How am I gonna get off this floor?"
I didn't think I'd have the energy to get up.
And then I heard Jordan crying, and I had to get up.
He -- He needed his mother.
So that's -- that's -- that's what did it.
>> The military told you that they believe Charles died instantly, and because you're a journalist, you deployed your own skills as a journalist to understand more about what happened specifically in those moments after the explosion.
And you learned about a process -- scrubbing.
>> What is a scrubbing process?
>> Scrubbing is when the military sort of sanitizes the story, but because I'm a journalist, I needed to know what happened to him.
And so I tried to break through the scrubbing to the real story and ultimately did.
>> So what did you learn?
>> I learned that it's still in dispute whether he died instantly or not.
I don't think he did.
I think the soldiers I interviewed were trying to protect me.
>> There were eyewitnesses... >> Yes.
>> ...that said that he didn't die instantly.
>> Yes, yes.
I think he was fighting to live.
He was trying, you know, to live.
But he also was an incredibly Christian man, and I believe those angel wings carried him -- carried him off.
>> Charles is an accomplished artist.
[ Chuckles ] >> And you share some of it in the book, including an angel print that hangs over Jordan's bed.
>> You said you believe those angel wings are what carried him away.
>> I believe that.
I remember when he presented me with a framed copy of the angel, and I start shaking, and I shoved it back at him, and I said, "I don't want this.
This is you.
Do not give me a picture of you as an angel.
You're coming home."
And I put it in a closet, and I was so angry.
But we -- we have that angel print.
And I now know why Charles presented it to me, and I'm grateful that we have it.
>> Many Americans have little or no direct experience with the military.
What do they need to know about military families and Gold Star Families?
>> I think the -- one of the main reasons I wanted to do this movie is so that Americans could more palpably feel what it's like to have a servicemember in harm's way.
And I think what folks don't always think about, and it's understandable if you don't live a military life, is that the entire family serves and deserves our respect.
For every soldier who's off in a combat zone, there is a spouse or loved one who's keeping homework checked and cars tuned up and bills paid.
And while they're doing that, they jump a little bit every time the phone rings or there's a knock -- an unexpected knock at the door.
And so they do it because they want to protect our ideals, our Constitution.
It's the -- It's the most honorable work that an American can -- can contribute, I believe.
And so I hope that through the movie -- We -- We don't speak for any other military family but our own, but I hope that the universal themes of service and sacrifice and what a real patriot and hero is comes through.
>> You said that you were the only national reporter to get that awful knock on the door.
At that time, mm-hmm.
>> At that time.
What was it like working in a newsroom covering the war that your fiancé was fighting in?
>> We had an editor that sat pretty close to me, keeping a tally of all the soldiers who died.
And she -- she would yell out, "I have more dead guys," when a new number came in, and I would flinch every time.
And I -- I'm not a shy person, but I didn't have the heart to get up and tell her or ask her to please stop doing that, because I would have lost it, so I just kept enduring it.
So it wasn't easy, but my colleagues at The New York Times helped get me through it.
There were always teddy bears on my desk.
People would bring tea for me, come by with a kind word, leave a card.
And they really helped me.
>> How about the politics of the war?
>> I stayed away from that completely.
And the reason -- I mean, I had very strong feelings about it, of course, but I thought that was irrelevant.
I'm not a military expert, so that's one.
But I also didn't want the book to be used by either side.
And I thought, "The message here is not about the politics, it's about the people behind these uniforms."
>> We were talking earlier about your collaboration with Denzel Washington, your partnership with him, the friendship that developed between the two of you and how rare it is, frankly, for authors to have really much say at all in their book once it's been optioned, especially to somebody as well-known and respected as Denzel Washington.
Was Denzel Washington sensitive to your feedback?
>> Oh, my gosh.
Very, very much so.
I -- I'd say in the last two months before we started shooting, I probably talked to him a hundred times, literally.
He was sensitive to everything.
And because of that, the movie really is incredibly accurate, very real to life, in terms of both the portrayal of us and the book as I wrote it.
And so you can't ask for anything better than that when you turn your story over to someone and hope they do justice to it.
>> The movie just had its premiere at Lincoln Center.
>> All the stars were there.
Denzel, Michael B. Jordan, Chanté Adams, all on the red carpet with you and your family.
It will be released widely on Christmas Day.
How has your son responded to the story and the book?
>> He is incredibly proud.
And so it surprises people to know that, up until about two weeks ago, when he could no longer contain it, he hadn't told a single person in his school, not his teachers, anybody that he knew Michael B. Jordan, that Denzel is his Uncle D, as he calls him.
He didn't tell them about the movie at all.
And I said, "Jordan, why -- why did you make that decision?"
And he said, "Well, Mom, first of all, I didn't want to feel like I was bragging."
And he said, "And I wanted to make sure the people who are friends were my real friends."
But he's very, very proud.
The funny thing is, Denzel flew to New York to screen it for us privately first.
And there are some difficult moments, and so I would tap Jordan on the shoulder and say, "Let me let you know what's coming up," and he said, "Mom, all I want to know is when the love scenes are coming up so I can close my eyes and ears."
>> 'Cause that's gross.
>> That's a 15-year-old boy.
Nobody wants to think about their parents being romantic.
[ Both laugh ] >> You just told the story about how Jordan didn't tell any of his friends until two weeks ago that this movie was coming out, that has his name in the title and is about the story of his providence.
It strikes me that that's very much channeling the values of his father.
In fact, even more so, if I might say.
The first day we went to set, I said, "Jordan, I'll let the school know that you won't be attending classes today," and he said, "No, Mom, I don't want to miss algebra."
And I said, "Jordan, you nerd."
[ Chuckles ] >> Sounds like the journal worked.
And so he refused to miss school, so he only came for his lunch hour.
The journal is still working.
>> How much to heart does he take those bits of wisdom that Charles wrote down?
>> It's -- The journal itself is now a family heirloom.
The words are very personal, and I tell them all the time, "You're having an active conversation with your father, an ongoing conversation with him, that many boys and girls whose parents are living don't have."
And there are times Jordan will ask me something, and I'll say, "Go see what your father had to say about that," and he'll pull the journal out and read it.
The journal will mean different things to him at different points in his life.
You know, his favorite entries now, at 15, and that'll be different when he's a father or on his wedding day or when he's facing something difficult in life.
So it's an ongoing conversation with his dad, and he cherishes it.
>> Faith is a powerful theme in the book, in the movie, in Charles's life.
Talk about the power that faith carried in Charles's life and in your life.
>> Charles was a very deeply religious Christian man.
He was the only man I ever dated that I felt comfortable praying with, and we would pray together.
We prayed that we would be able to have Jordan, for example.
My faith was less conventional, and I always assumed -- because I'd never had -- I'd never lost anyone in my life -- that I'd be angry with God if I lost someone, and the exact opposite happened.
I felt the power of his divine embrace around me, and it helped get me through it, in very palpable ways.
You remember, we started this with me saying I didn't know how I was gonna get off the floor.
Look at where we are now.
I couldn't have done that on my own.
>> "A Journal for Jordan" is a really patriotic movie... >> Yes.
>> ...in a time of pretty intense polarization in this country.
Do you think that's an important message to convey right now?
>> I really do.
>> It reminds me that we're all Americans, and we're in this together.
Charles didn't fight for Black people.
He didn't fight for Asian people.
He fought for all of us, for our Constitution and our ideals.
We need -- We need to remind each other of that.
But I think the big takeaway is what an honor it is to be an American and to see servicemembers giving everything they have for us, but also doing it so that we, the family members, can continue to love each other.
That's a big part of the reason I did this, and it's certainly the reason that Charles fought so hard.
>> You're the first in your family to graduate from college, and you earned a degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky.
What drew you to journalism?
>> My two favorite things are writing and asking why.
And so when you combine those things, journalism was just obvious for me.
But I also, going back to your question about my faith, believe deeply.
I started writing when I was 12 years old.
I was called to this, and when I got my first job out of college and all the way through, when I was working at The New York Times, I used to put my hands on the computer keyboard and pray and say, "God, you gave me this amazing talent.
Please let me use it for your good."
And I have written articles that were regarded as important over time, but I said, "This isn't it.
This isn't it."
It was the book, and it was the movie, I feel, is in service to God.
Denzel feels that way.
We've talked about this a lot.
And that's how I want to spend the rest of my life is doing God's work.
>> Does Denzel feel it was in service to God?
>> Oh, my gosh.
Every time he says what I'm about to say -- and he said it in an interview yesterday -- I cry.
He said this is the most important thing he's done in his entire career and that he was called to this.
Everything he has done in moviemaking was to lead to this moment.
>> You worked at The New York Times for more than 20 years as a reporter and later in senior management.
And so many sources are telling us now that trust in mainstream journalism and media continues to erode.
Social media has provided echo chambers that amplify false stories.
What can be done to restore trust in journalism?
>> I think a big part of the problem is there's -- there's confusion between legitimate journalism and everything else.
And anyone now can call themselves a journalist and go online and write.
That doesn't make you a journalist.
>> What's legitimate journalism?
>> I think people who are trained in the art of storytelling but also adhere to the rules of journalism.
We need to be as transparent as we possibly can be, with our sourcing, with our methods.
And I think the trust in journalists -- journalism ebbs and flows.
Certainly having a four-year campaign by the previous administration, you know, chipping away at legitimate journalism and calling it fake news didn't help.
But The New York Times has been here for 200 years or something like that.
It'll continue to endure.
There have been other times in history where faith in the press has waned, and I think we just keep going.
I mean, it really is all you can do.
>> The Times series that you worked on, which won the Pulitzer Prize, entitled "How Race is Lived in America," is about discrimination and racism in America, and Charles writes about discrimination.
He challenged your son, Jordan, to go beyond race, beyond religion, beyond class.
He writes, quote...
So from your perspective, what changes, for better or for worse, do you see about how we live race in America?
>> I see my son and his friends, and it gives me hope.
Every generation we get better at this.
I feel like we're all in a long-term relationship in this country, and any long-term relationship has pressure points and has painful moments.
We have to keep going.
But when you look at the rainbow that -- that is my son and his generation and how hopeful they are and how open they are, we're making progress.
I mean, a generation ago, I wouldn't have been publisher of Simon & Schuster.
There's a time that if I was in The New York Times newsroom, it would have been empty the trash can.
So we're getting there.
It's just slow, and we have these pressure -- pressure points, but we'll be okay.
>> Well, you know, in 2017, you left The New York Times.
You became the administrator of the Pulitzer Prize.
You're the first woman and also the first person of color to have that job.
And then, in July of 2020, you were asked to become a publisher of Simon & Schuster, making you the most powerful woman of color in publishing.
>> But what struck me is that you said when you got the job -- you acknowledge that the CEO of Simon & Schuster had pursued you years earlier.
>> And you're quoted as saying, "I wouldn't be taking this job if I thought he just wanted a Black publisher."
>> That's right.
And, no, I don't want to be the Black anything.
I'm not the Black publisher.
I'm the publisher.
The fact that I'm an African-American woman, I take great pride in that, and it does inform some of my decision-making.
And, for example, I want to diversify the authors we bring in and the stories we tell.
Of course I do.
But when I wake up every morning and decide what I want to put my clout behind, where I should -- where we should be spending our time, energy, and money, I'm approaching that as a businesswoman.
>> You write about how you came to The Times and the need you felt at that time in your career to really prove yourself.
And did race play into that?
>> Oh, 100%.
There weren't very many Black people at The New York Times.
I felt as though if I screwed up, maybe that door would close for people behind me, and there was a lot of pressure in that, but I welcomed it, because I was in the door, and as I've said to young women, you know, who think about things like glass ceiling -- "Well, glass breaks -- shatter it.
But in order to do that, you have to excel, and you have to be all about excellence.
You have to learn your craft and execute day in and day out, year after year."
And I tried to do that.
Doesn't mean that I didn't make mistakes or don't make mistakes now.
But excellence trumps everything, really.
If you are all about the work and you bring passion and -- and you work hard, you'll excel.
>> As a publisher, you decide which choices to amplify and which voices not to amplify.
>> Publishers are increasingly facing pressure to drop authors like Woody Allen.
>> Jordan Peterson.
>> How do you think about this -- this set of pressures that publishers are feeling to cancel certain writers?
>> I really think that, in terms of canceling a book, that's a last resort.
And you have to have very strong reasons for wanting to do that.
I also know that, as a leader, I'm not gonna satisfy everybody, and I'm not particularly concerned about that.
As long as I'm motivated by the right factors, I'm comfortable with any decision I make, even those that I know are going to draw criticism.
>> One that drew criticism was the acquisition of Vice President Mike Pence's book, and I, for one, applaud your decision to stand by that acquisition.
>> Thank you.
>> Despite many, many voices within your company and outside of your company wanting it to be canceled, why is it important to hear, again, from a variety of voices, including conservative voices?
>> Because we're one America.
We're not a red America or a white America.
We are literally called the United States, and if we don't live up to that, then we might as well change our name.
It's as simple as that.
We have to understand each other.
We are in this together, like it or not.
>> Well, it's Christmas season.
>> It's a time of blessings, which is a word you apply to Charles and to Jordan and to this entire experience, despite all the grief.
What is Dana Canedy's Christmas blessing this year?
>> Oh, gosh.
It's the same every year.
Just -- Just that my son is healthy and happy.
When I hear that boy either giggle or snore, it's all I need in the world.
>> Thank you for joining me on "Firing Line."
>> Thank you for having me.
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> You're watching PBS.