When Janice Dean, Fox News Channel’s bubbly senior meteorologist—aka Janice Dean, the Weather Machine—told the story of her life, published in 2019, the book’s title wrote itself: “Mostly Sunny: How I Learned to Keep Smiling through the Rainiest Days.”
Sticking with the weather imagery, maybe the apt title for an update on the most recent epoch of Dean’s life is “When You Walk through a Storm, Hold Your Head Up High.”
Because that is what Dean did when she emerged as the fierce advocate for other families that suffered losses tied to former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s policy of transferring Covid patients to nursing homes. You might say that Janice Dean, for all her storied sunshine, is, more than anybody, responsible for putting that “former” in Andrew Cuomo’s resume.
Dean was galvanized to take on Cuomo, then the golden boy of Democratic politics (who actually won an Emmy for not being Donald Trump during his popular news briefings) by grief over the deaths of her in-laws, Michael—Mickey—and Delores—Dee—Newman, parents of Dean’s husband, Sean Newman. Mickey, a retired firefighter, died in a rehabilitation center in Brooklyn on March 29, 2020 and Dee, who had looked forward to Mickey’s rejoining her in a Long Island assisted living center, died on April 13. Both had contracted Covid. Janice and Sean were stunned to realize that Cuomo’s policy was to require nursing homes to receive Covid-positive patients. This policy was expanded to include assisted living facilities.
Though devastated, Dean did not immediately go public. It was the full-of-themselves Cuomo brothers’ clowning about Andrew Cuomo’s Covid tests on CNN that triggered her activism. CNN anchor Chris Cuomo waved around a series of giant Q-tips—just right for the Governor’s big nose, Chris hilariously observed. The Governor, unable to keep a straight face, allowed that during his Covid test he had not even flinched, he was “a cool dude in a loose mood.” If you saw the Cuomo brothers’ comedy routine with the giant T-tip that evening, it is, alas, probably an image you are unable to unsee.
It didn’t seem remotely funny to the grieving Dean. “That is truly what made my grief turn to rage and that is one of the biggest reasons that I decided it was time for me to speak out. I was so disgusted,” Dean said later. She broke her silence on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
“The fact that there were body bags being piled up outside of nursing homes,” Dean later said, “the fact that we couldn’t have wakes or funerals for my family and thousands of families were dealing with this and wanted answers, and this guy has the nerve to go on his brother’s show and make jokes? That’s the reason why I did Tucker’s show the night after that.”
Dean attributes the calm with which she weathered the Cuomo storm partly to a previous job: working for late shock jock Don Imus.
The Carlson appearance broke a damn and Dean kept on talking. An AP story quoted Bill Hammond, senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center for State Policy, saying that it was Dean who kept the issue alive. “Because she has a certain kind of celebrity, she attracts attention and she has access to the bullhorn of Fox News, and that’s a powerful force,” Hammond told the AP.
Cuomo’s office scrambled to conceal the actual number of nursing home deaths and portray Dean as a ditz brain. “Last I checked, she’s not a credible source on anything except maybe the weather,” quipped Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi. The attempted witticism backfired, as it prompted Dean’s legion of loyal friends and staunch admirers to come forward to defend her. This vocal group included Megan McCain, who called Cuomo “an absolute heartless monster,” and Megyn Kelly, who insisted that Dean “*is* an expert on how Cuomo’s orders killed 6k+ ppl, including her in-laws.”
Was Dean ever afraid during her tangle with Cuomo?
“I guess a little bit,” she admits, adding, “but, if you’re going to do something like this, you can’t worry about being afraid. I had the truth on my side, and I knew what I was saying was just and justified. Of course, in the very beginning, I had a person very close to the Cuomos email me and basically tell me to watch my back, like literally. And I remember forwarding that email to my bosses here at Fox and saying, ‘Just FYI, if something happens, you know about this.’ And I guess I was concerned but I had to do it. I wouldn’t let fear stand in the way of trying to get answers for the thousands of people who lost loved ones in New York.”
Dean attributes the calm with which she weathered the Cuomo storm partly to a previous job: working for late shock jock Don Imus. Working for Imus was one of Dean’s rainiest patches, but it toughened her up for the Cuomo battle. “Don Imus was never reprimanded for the terrible things that he put us through,” Dean told IWF, “but I will tell you if it wasn’t for the Imus job, I don’t know that I would have been able to publicly stand up to Cuomo. The Imus job gave me those building blocks to stand up for myself. I look back on the time with Imus, how abusive it was, and there are a lot of qualities that Andrew Cuomo has that reminded me of that dark time and made me realize that I didn’t want to put up with a bully again.”
Canadian-born Dean was working at a radio station in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, when the Imus offer came. When a program director for Imus called, Dean thought, “Holy crap. New York is calling!” “The airfare for New York was outrageous,” Dean wrote. “So, I decided to drive there. When I look back on this time in my life, I am in awe of my carefree attitude. Of course, I was going to drive myself to New York!” Bernard McGuirk, then Imus’ producer, asked her in her interview, “So, have you heard of Imus, and why on earth would you want to work for him?” Dean laughed nervously.
The job was a nightmare. Dean was assigned to write the “scum report,” which was a news report on celebrities, but Imus wanted it to be scummy. Imus belittled the staff. One time, when Imus was promoting an electric toothbrush, he ordered Dean to come on camera and fake an orgasm with the tooth brush. When a fitness trainer came on the show, Imus asked Dean to stand in front of the cameras, while he critiqued her body. “Don’t you ever want to meet a guy? You can’t find someone looking like that,” Imus told her on camera. “Well, according to my latest Weight Watchers meeting,” Dean gamely essayed. “I’m well within the guidelines for my height and being healthy.” Dean drove home crying most days.
“And I remember forwarding that email to my bosses here at Fox and saying, ‘Just FYI, if something happens, you know about this.’”
Imus couldn’t have been more wrong about the attractive Dean’s meeting a guy, however. Through a series of coincidences, she met New York firefighter Sean Newman. “Well, how we met is an amazing story actually. I think it deserves to be on the Hallmark channel or something because it’s so incredible,” Dean tells IWF. Dean had written a letter to an old friend in Canada, Lianne Laing, to say how moved she was by a piece Laing had written about her father, who had suffered a heart attack and was not able to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. Laing replied that she and her husband, Tony, had met a really nice New York City fireman on their wedding trip to Hawaii, and Dean ought to meet him. The newlyweds had met Sean through another series of coincidences: Sean had always had a dream about surfing and, to deal with the after effects of 9/11, when he had breathed in the toxic air helping people, he booked a trip to Hawaii. A giant squall nixed his surfing (weather really is a Janice Dean theme, isn’t it?) and he serendipitously met the couple on a hike.
Dean knew she was too demoralized to launch a romance, but she agreed to meet the firefighter. Since she had never seen the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, Sean was going to show it to her. When the Rock Center Café was closed, they had their first date instead at the Prime Burger, a nostalgic diner across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Dean liked everything about Sean: his Brooklyn accent, that he was taller than she is, and his beautiful eyes. But neither was smitten. “We both agree that it was not love at first sight,” she wrote. “I am grateful for that, to be honest. We weren’t looking for a romantic relationship. I had had a string of unsuccessful boyfriends and Sean had recently broken up with someone he had dated for years.”
In her professional life, Dean was at her wit’s end. In the course of doing freelance broadcast work, as an on-air traffic reporter, to supplement her Imus salary, Dean, who heretofore done her own hair and make-up, became friends with a “wonderful make-up artist.” “She said ‘I work part-time over at Fox and, I’d love to let them know about you if you want to give me your tape and resume.’ So, that’s how that happened. My resume and tape ended up on Roger Ailes’ desk, and that’s how I got the interview.” When Dean was asked if she had ever done weather reports, she could say, well, yes, as a matter of fact, she had.
“I started doing the weather in my early 20s, but back then you didn’t need to have the meteorology experience that you need now. So, I was a weather presenter. And so, when I came to Fox and they were trying to look for a role for me, my boss asked if I had ever done weather before because Fox needed a daytime weather person. And I said, well, as a matter of fact, I had started my career doing some weather and that it had been now almost 18 years. But when I realized that weather was going to be my career here at Fox, I went back to school.” Dean completed all the required courses to become a broadcast meteorologist from Mississippi State University, earned her AMS seal and belongs to the American Meteorology Society.
Dean started her career at Fox in January of 2004. She is senior meteorologist for FOX News Channel and also for Fox & Friends on weekdays. She is so identified with weather reporting that she has been dubbed “Janice Dean the Weather Machine.” Dean has covered devastating hurricanes and other weather events and written a series of books called “Freddy the Frogcaster” to explain weather to children. Dean contributed all the earnings from one of the Freddy books to Team Rubicon, which helps people affected by natural disasters.
Dean was born in Toronto and grew up in Ottawa. As a child, Janice was always sticking pretend mics in people’s faces and conducting “interviews.” But Dean had a number of jobs before broadcasting. “Well,” says Dean, “I always tell people that it’s important to get experience in any job that you do, and with young people getting into the business, I always say it’s important to have experience with broadcasting but that the jobs that you did before that are also important. And so, I’ve always been somebody who’s wanted to work. At 14, I wrote up a resume to work in a clothing store. I was a salesperson. I worked selling shoes and at one point I was selling menswear at a men’s clothing store, and I worked at City Hall for a number of years in the summertime. My mom was the one who actually clipped out a job description for a student to work in an office in the bylaw enforcement department. I like to describe it as any job that the police officers don’t like to do. Like you know, the barking dog calls, the long grass calls, I think we wrote up marriage licenses and that kind of thing. So, I started there as a part-time job in the summer. They always say I got my radio voice from doing the dispatch calls, like bylaw base to car 16, we have a 10-69 on the loose. So, I did that for a number of years, and at one point become a bylaw enforcement officer for a month while trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I decided to go back to the job when I realized I hated catching dogs and issuing parking tickets.”
Dean graduated with honors from Canada’s Algonquin College, where she studied broadcasting. After Algonquin, Dean landed a job at Ottawa’s CHEZ-FM where she served as a morning show co-host, reporter and DJ. She spent four years in Houston, where she experienced a traumatic house invasion that made her suddenly realize that she needed to re-evaluate her career and life decisions moving forward. That is when she decided to go back to Canada to recover before applying to the Imus job.
Janice and Sean were married at New York’s City Hall in 2007 and renewed their vows at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in 2017. They have two sons. When Dean is asked why she fought so hard for her in-laws, she answers simply: “People have asked me what were the things that I loved the most about Mickey and Dee, and I always come back to the fact that they raised the greatest man I’ve ever known, my husband Sean. So, you know, of course I’m going to fight for them. Sean and I have been together for almost 20 years now. When I came to New York, Sean was one of the first people I met and from that day forward, my fairytale life began. If it wasn’t for Sean, I wouldn’t have the beautiful family, the two boys that I have today. I remember meeting Mickey and Dee shortly after Sean and I met and knowing that this was a family I had to have in my life.”
Dee, who loved her grandchildren and never missed a birthday, worked in the neighborhood in a dentist’s office for 20 years as an assistant, but she was mostly a homemaker. Sean’s father was a member of Brooklyn, Engine Company 323. “The one thing about being part of a family of firefighters is you know they are there for you,” says Dean. Almost a year and a half after their deaths, a memorial was held for Mickey and Dee Newman. Resplendent in his dress uniform, Sean Newman spoke about his parents. The memorial was organized by New York Engine Department 323 in Brooklyn, where Michael had served for 23 years.
Dean’s many fans know that two years before she and Sean married, Dean had experienced one of the darkest times of her life, triggered by being diagnosed with MS. “You get a diagnosis like that and it’s devastating,” Janice recalls. “I thought Sean might leave me and I saw a wheelchair in my life. I didn’t know enough about the illness. I tried to find a good doctor as well. I went through a couple of doctors that I didn’t love, who weren’t giving me the answers that I needed. I felt very sorry for myself. I worried that Fox was not going to keep me. I was lucky that I found somebody that I worked with that also had M.S., and that’s Neil, Neil Cavuto.
“Neil was really beneficial in turning my life around because I went in and I told him what was going on, and he was somebody I looked up to. Neil said, ‘Hey, you’re working at a good company that’s going to support you, even if it is building, you know, wheelchair ramps for us. And I’ll never forget that day. Neil was kind of like the sunshine that came out after the storm, basically saying to me that I was going to be okay. I always say that being diagnosed with M.S. was a blessing because, again, it kind of grounded me and made me realize the important things in life as opposed to the things that I was always trying to do, climbing the ladder and the career, and the fancy clothes, and the nice apartment in Manhattan. I’ve been – knock wood – healthy now for over 15 years, I’ve done relatively well, I’ve had a lot of bumps in the road. But I also appreciate every single day that I wake up and know I am alive.”
When Cuomo was forced to resign, it was alleged sexual abuse of female staffers that brought him down. Does it bother Dean that the deaths of people like Mickey and Dee didn’t figure more into the end of Cuomo’s gubernatorial career? “I’ve always said I didn’t care what ultimately pushed him off the stage which he loved so much. I think he loved being in the spotlight more than he loved leading. And what was ultimately his downfall was his pompous bullying, wanting everything to be about him. It’s all part of the same thing. He treated people badly, whether it was people in nursing homes or the women that worked around him. I don’t really care what ultimately took him down.”
IWF is honored that brave Janice Dean will receive IWF’s Woman of Valor award at our November gala.