SE Cupp with a blue, yellow and green colored background and quotation marks floating around her

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On most Wednesdays, S.E. Cupp ’00 is in her Connecticut home, exchanging emails with her editors at CNN. The TV host and political commentator—an outspoken voice of practical conservatism on the network since 2013—is fleshing out what to cover on her next segment of “SE Cupp Unfiltered,” which she records on Thursdays.

“That’s a fun conversation,” Cupp says on a sunny day in rural Upstate NY, where her family has a weekend home. “I want to give them, ultimately, what they want—and they, ultimately, want me to do what I’m passionate about that week.”

On Thursday morning, Cupp writes her script—a roughly four-minute monologue—and sends it to her editors. By the time she’s showered and dressed, her copy is ready; she enters her home studio, adorned with memorabilia including a McGraw Tower statuette and her Cornell diploma.

Cupp looks into the camera, and in one take, she’s done. Hours later, it’s online.

In her videos, Cupp offers her distinct center-right take on the week’s issues in politics and media—often in contrast to the views widely held among members of her party.

Joy Behar and SE Cupp on the View
Alongside Joy Behar as a co-host on “The View.”

In one segment, Cupp opined that criticism of disability-inclusive advertising is antithetical to capitalism. In another, she skewered Florida governor Ron DeSantis for delivering an “anti-wokeness” speech in South Carolina while his state was reeling from severe storms. And in a rare break from politics, she used the platform to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month in May 2023 by talking candidly about her battle with anxiety disorder.

“Unfiltered” is a largely solitary project, Cupp says—and majorly scaled back from its beginnings as a daily program on HLN, then as a Saturday show on CNN (it was bumped in 2020 for the White House’s weekly COVID briefings).

And it’s certainly nothing like her breakout role at CNN in 2013, when she was recruited for a revamped version of the political debate show “Crossfire” alongside former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, left-leaning commentator Van Jones, and former Obama Administration advisor Stephanie Cutter.

(She also formerly hosted “S.E. Cupp’s Outside with Insiders” for CNN Digital, where the avid hunter, fisher, and camper ventured into the great outdoors with political heavyweights like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford.)

A familiar face on TV

Despite the dispatched feel of “Unfiltered,” Cupp is hardly on an island. When she’s not live in the CNN studios for panels, town halls, and political commentary several times a week (and often several times a day), she’s a nationally syndicated columnist, including a longstanding gig with the New York Daily News.

She’s a frequent guest on podcasts and panels, including at Cornell (where she serves as an advisory member of the nonpartisan Institute of Politics and Global Affairs).

Cupp is also a familiar face across other TV networks—including as a former guest host on ABC’s “The View” alongside her best friend, TV personality and author Meghan McCain; as a frequent panelist on HBO’s “Real Time,” hosted by fellow alum Bill Maher ’78; as the lone conservative on a liberal roundtable on MSNBC’s “The Cycle”; and as a host for Glenn Beck’s independent network, GBTV.

Behind the scenes, she has served as a consultant for Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show” (starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon), as well as the Aaron Sorkin drama “The Newsroom” on HBO.

In her decade and a half as a commentator, Cupp has become (as she puts it) a “Republican apparatchik”: a passionate defender of traditional conservatism, the values of which she sees as fixed, regardless of who’s in the White House.

“Fiscal responsibility, strong national defense, self-reliance—those are the things that appealed to me,” Cupp recalls. “It wasn’t social issues, there definitely weren’t cultural wars, and it wasn’t demagogues like we have today. I came up through academic, intellectual conservatism. I believed in Hayek, and Rand, and de Tocqueville. I fell in deep—and, in my capacity as an opinion journalist, I became a cheerleader.”

SE Cupp shakes hands with Donald Trump
On the campaign trail with CNN in 2016.

Cupp was born in California, but her stepfather’s career kept the family constantly moving through most of her childhood. By the time Cupp was 14, she’d relocated six times, but was relieved to be in one place—eastern Massachusetts—for all four years of high school.

“Always being the new kid—always auditioning—was tough,” Cupp recalls, “but it made me pretty adaptable.”

The one constant for Cupp through each move, however, was ballet; she danced from age 7 to 17, and even performed professionally with the Boston Ballet as a teenager.

She majored in art history on the Hill, but was bitten by the journalism bug her freshman year when she joined the Daily Sun—“where I got my real degree,” she quips—as an arts and entertainment writer and editor.

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Fiscal responsibility, strong national defense, self-reliance—those are the things that appealed to me.

“I had zero plans to be on camera or radio,” Cupp says between sips of a cocktail slushie at a restaurant, as her husband and 8-year-old son play catch nearby. “I saw myself sitting in a smoky New York City apartment with a glass of rosé, a clove cigarette, and French music playing—writing either the next great American novel or mediocre press copy.”

Her first job out of college was for a publication called—“which was as fun as it sounds,” she deadpans—before the dot-com crash sent her packing after four months.

A year of freelancing later, Cupp landed a stable (albeit nonbylined) job in the New York Times’ index research section, where she spent her days rewriting sports articles into condensed versions as a resource for researchers.

SE Cupp and Jimmy Kimmel
On “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in 2018.

Cupp worked at the Times for eight years while earning a master’s in faith studies at NYU in the evenings. But the September 11 terrorist attacks altered her trajectory, flooding her with a sense of patriotism and instilling a desire to be of service.

Her instinct was to enlist in the military; her parents urged her to reconsider. What about the NYPD? Again, her parents’ protective instinct took over.

“I had no skills other than writing—but I wanted to do something,” she says. “Suddenly, politics were very important. Pretending the grownups will take care of it, and that I could just ignore it and focus on sports, movies, music, and pop culture, seemed ludicrous after 9/11. So, I said, ‘Well, the only thing I can do is write.’”

A voice for conservatism

Cupp says she got “sucked into the news” of the post-9/11 era, and—especially in NYC—felt compelled to wear her politics on her sleeve. Her friend and fellow alum Brett Joshpe ’02 felt similarly—and, as the only right-leaning friends either of them had in the city, they joined forces.

“We were used to defending our politics and explaining ourselves,” Cupp said on CSPAN in 2008, “and confronting people who were shocked to learn that they had been working with, or living next door to, or attending a Met game with Republicans.”

In pockets of time between work and grad school, the duo penned 2008’s Why You’re Wrong About the Right: Behind the Myths—The Surprising Truth About Conservatives, which led Cupp to her first big break: a spot on CNN’s “Morning Joe.”

The calls kept coming; Cupp appeared anywhere that would host her, from MSNBC to Fox News to Al Jazeera.

“Being a young, conservative female in Manhattan, I think I was looked at as something of an exotic zoo animal,” Cupp says with a laugh. “That was a curse, too, because I had to prove that I wasn’t just a novelty—that I had some substance, some depth. That I could be free-thinking and criticize my party when it deserved it.”

SE Cupp and her son on the beach
At the beach with son Jack.

Her second book, Losing Our Religion: Why the Liberal Media Want to Tell You What to Think, Where to Pray, and How to Live, came out in 2011. In it, Cupp—who identifies as an atheist in the introduction—makes the case that left-leaning media outlets have marginalized the Christian-based values held by most Americans.

She’s currently at work on her third book, again using her platform to shine a light on what she sees as a misunderstood topic: this time, mental health.

In summer 2021, Cupp says, she had a “total mental breakdown.” After years of suffering from intrusive thoughts that the atrocities she wrote and spoke about at work—genocide, war, mass shootings—were certain to happen to her family, her anxiety came to a dramatic head.

I had to prove that I wasn’t just a novelty.

“Being a journalist is tough, because I’ve seen too much,” Cupp observes. “Someone could never say, ‘That’s never going to happen to you.’ Well, how do you know? I’ve covered it 20 times.”

Cupp immediately sought professional help—and made her personal crisis the focus of her next column. She then took an extended break, while pledging to remain open about her struggles.

“My journey is nowhere near complete—but I’m not going to hide it, because it’s not something to be ashamed of,” Cupp says. “There are so many people who need help, and don’t feel like they can ask for it.”

Top: Illustration by Seung Yeon Kim / Cornell University. All images provided.

Published May 30, 2023


  1. Jim Euchner, Class of 1978

    Great profile. What an interesting journey. I helped found the College Republicans at Cornell, way back when, and that was lonely, as well.

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