MSNBC legal analyst, author, podcast co-host and alumna Jill Wine-Banks to speak at Media Convocation

Jill Wine-BanksJill Wine-Banks (BS ’64, journalism), MSNBC legal analyst, author, and podcast co-host, is excited to return to the University of Illinois to serve as the alumni speaker at the College of Media Convocation ceremony on Sunday, May 14—marking her first visit back to campus in 44 years. 

“Obviously the University has changed a good deal since 1979 and so I’m very much looking forward to seeing the physical campus, walking around to see what’s happened to my sorority house, to the library, Kam’s, and Greg Hall, of course,” Wine-Banks said. “But mostly I remember my friends and professors.”

She also plans to visit Krannert Center for the Performing Arts as well as the Alma Mater statue and the Quad, just a few of the many landmarks that come to mind when she recalls her time on campus.

“Those are the kind of things that I think of, but I also think of all the doors that the University opened for me,” Wine-Banks said. “If it hadn't been for a good education at UIUC, I wouldn't have gotten into an Ivy League law school, I wouldn't have become a journalist now, or a lawyer before that. I’m grateful for the education I got.”

Wine-Banks says after graduation, gender discrimination was prevalent in journalism, and she was only offered jobs to write for the “women’s pages,” so she decided to attend the prestigious Columbia Law School in New York to improve her chances of being considered for more hard news opportunities. 

“I ended up in law school to get a better job in journalism, and it worked 50 years later,” she said. 

Wine-Banks started her notable law career as the first woman to serve as an organized crime prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Less than five years later, she was named one of the three Assistant Watergate Special Prosecutors, and the only woman, for the obstruction of justice trial against President Nixon’s top aides. She became a major player in the Watergate tapes hearing that preceded the trial, cross-examining Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon’s secretary, about the 18 ½-minute gap in a key White House recording.

She also had a couple of female role models who inspired her, including an early pioneer in television journalism, Nancy Hanschman Dickerson, whom she heard speak during her freshman year at the University of Illinois. A couple of years later Wine-Banks represented her sorority Iota Alpha Pi at a national convention in New York and visited the United Nations where she saw UN correspondent Pauline Frederick. Seeing these two women excelling in their exciting careers had a big impact on Wine-Banks. 

“I’d have to say that both of those women influenced me, as did [Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and New York Times columnist] Anthony Lewis,” she said. 

Her legal career also includes service as the first female General Counsel of the U.S. Army where she helped integrate women into the Regulate Army by eliminating the Women’s Army Corps, and into West Point; as the first Solicitor General of Illinois where she argued in the U.S. Supreme Court and first female Deputy Attorney General; and as the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the American Bar Association, the only woman to have held that position. 

In addition to her post at MSNBC, Wine-Banks is also co-host of two Politicon podcasts: #SistersInLaw with three other MSNBC contributors discussing the hottest legal issues of the week, and iGen Politics with a 21-year-old college junior bringing an intergenerational approach to political issues, interviewing leading politicians, cabinet officers, activists, and journalists. 

She describes her podcast iGen Politics as a dream come true because “anybody who I can think of [to interview] I can call, and they say yes.” Some of her most memorable interviewees include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof, along with numerous senators and Congress members. 

The Watergate GirlWine-Banks is also the author of a memoir, The Watergate Girl, that was optioned by Katie Holmes to become a movie, and is beginning work on a second book that looks at the Trump administration through her pins, a tradition with its own hashtag: #JillsPins. 

Wine-Banks wears a different pin that has topical relevance and posts a photo on her website and social media in advance of her appearances on MSNBC. 

“I have always loved brooches as accessories. You will see in my high school yearbook, I’m wearing a pin. If you look carefully at the Watergate pictures [taken during the trial], I’m wearing pins,” Wine-Banks said. 

During her first appearance on MSNBC to discuss an op-ed piece she wrote, she donned a pin of an eagle holding a shield. 

Viewers went to Twitter, which was new to her at the time, to ask about the pin and Wine-Banks realized simply wearing the pin had the power to send a message. Now she finds pins at flea markets, antique shows, Etsy, and frequently receives them as gifts from her followers.

For the Media convocation ceremony, Wine-Banks has already set aside an “Illinois” pin to wear.

—Kelly Youngblood