The Untold Truth Of Lisa Ling

Investigative reporter Lisa Ling has traveled the world for decades, chasing stories and providing a glimpse into cultures and subcultures rarely explored or exposed. Ling is currently most visible as the host and executive producer of CNN's This Is Life with Lisa Ling, but this show is only one of the many platforms this award-winning journalist has used to share the fruits of her global fact-finding expeditions. 

Her thirst for adventure and knack for identifying stories that need to be told — including some with which she has a strong personal connection — have taken Ling on a career journey with unexpected twists and turns. With stints on ABC's The View, National Geographic Explorer, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN Newsroom, and others, Ling has taken American viewers on a ride through places they never knew existed. 

As of this writing, in addition to This Is Life with Lisa Ling, this media rock star also hosts two web series aimed at informing and educating the public: The Road to a Vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson and documenting the process of developing a COVID-19 vaccine, and This is Sex with Lisa Ling, a CNN Digital series exploring the reality of sexual attitudes and behavior people often fear to discuss due to societal taboo. From war zones to benzos, Ling has shared the stories of countless others, and there are many more to tell. This is the untold truth of Lisa Ling.

Lisa Ling is a first-generation American

Lisa Ling is proud to be a Chinese American, but that wasn't always the case, she told Join the Wall, because of her family's financial struggles when she was a child. Ling's mother, Mary Mei-yan, immigrated to the United States from Taiwan, and her father, Chung Teh "Douglas" Ling, immigrated from China. The couple divorced when she was seven years old, and she and her sister were raised by their father in northern California. 

Ling told the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) she knew she wanted to be on television "from a very young age because the TV was my babysitter ... My dad was always working, so my sister and I would be just home alone with our grandma with the TV on all the time. And we didn't have a lot of money, and so I thought if I could get on TV, maybe I could one day have a better life." 

While Ling came from a broken home, she provides an intact family unit for her two children, Jett Ling Song and Ray Ling Song, with her husband since 2007, oncologist Paul Song.

Investigative reporting remains Lisa Ling's first love

The depth of coverage in Lisa Ling's This Is Life series demonstrates her penchant for rolling around in a story, but Ling has been doing this kind of work since she was sixteen years old. She knew she wanted to be on television but didn't have connections in the entertainment or news industries (via CAPE). All that changed when she was selected as one of four teens to host a Sacramento-based, nationally-syndicated show called Scratch

Three years later, Ling got a job at Channel One News, a show broadcast to high school and middle school kids across America. Ling says getting this job at age 18 changed her life because Channel One News "gave me this incredible opportunity to travel and be immersed in the world. And, so, my desire went from just wanting to be on TV to have a better life to wanting to tell stories and communicate stories to an American audience."

Ironically, the break that introduced Ling to mainstream American viewers plucked her from the field reporting she loved. She co-hosted the sometimes-controversial talk show The View from 1999-2002, but her passion for investigative journalism never waned. Explaining her exit from The View on Larry King Now, Ling said, "I still had this desire to be in the field, and I was kind of constrained to being in the studio five days a week." In 2003, Ling was hired as a contributor for National Geographic Explorer.

Lisa Ling and Paul Song had an "unconventional" wedding

Couples who sing karaoke at their wedding notoriously stay together. What? You've never heard that? Neither had we until we learned about Lisa Ling's wedding to her now-husband Paul Song, and we think it's fabulous! The couple upended norms by singing Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" at the reception.  They wed in downtown L.A. on the South Patio of Union Station and held their reception in the building's main hall. Both of her parents walked her down the aisle. "It was such an unconventional wedding," said Ling, "and that decision really meant the world to [my parents]." The 525-guest crowd was entertained as "California Love" by Tupac Shakur played during the recessional, and even Ling's dress was non-traditional. Her close friend, Connie Chung, told InStyle, "When Lisa walked out in that red dress, I cried."

The event was produced by Empire Entertainment and Pinnacle Event Design & Production. Empire described the decorations as "Asian-themed environment in red, black and gold. In the center of the room long aircraft cables suspended between tall lighting towers suspended a series of large red lanterns across the dance floor. Underneath these lanterns were banks of red and black ottomans, surrounded by a sea of cabaret tables and high tops with matching linens and florals." If this sounds like something straight out of Hollywood, that isn't far off-base. Empire and Pinnacle design large-scale events, including those for major Hollywood studios

She believes in the educational power of travel

Lisa Ling credits her love of global investigative journalism to her experiences while traveling the world reporting for Channel One News. She spoke to USC students, where she studied but "didn't quite make it to graduation" because her career blossomed early. Ling told them she believes the best possible education a person can have is seeing the world. "If there's one takeaway here tonight," she said, "it's to travel ... I'm convinced that you are better, smarter, more marketable as a job candidate if you travel" (via Daily Trojan).

The COVID-19 quarantine has been a challenge for Ling — who is always globetrotting for a story — because she is necessarily grounded. She told People she's going stir crazy at home during quarantine, but that hasn't stopped her from working hard and digging for answers to the burning questions of the moment. Ling is hosting The Road to a Vaccine, a web series featuring webcam interviews that document the process of developing a COVID-19 vaccine. She is also training a future journalist, she believes, in her oldest daughter, Jett, by "kind of [interrogating] her about describing, in detail, the colors that she's seeing around her. Like, 'How would you describe that purple color of the flowers that are outside of our home?' Just challenging her to really think about the language that she uses to describe things has been really fun for me." Sometimes, a journey need only be in the mind.

Lisa Ling is sad many women feel they need plastic surgery

Lisa Ling told Zwivel that female television journalists have the same impossible physical standards—and the same insecurities—as Hollywood starlets. "There is absolutely enormous pressure to look as youthful for the camera as possible," she said. This unrealistic expectation weighs heavily on aging newscasters and reflects the societal norm of what is considered beautiful. The pressure to adhere to these standards is thrust upon girls at a young age, and for Asian American women, there is an additional pressure: to look more Western. 

Julie Chen revealed during an episode of The Talk that she had eyelid surgery to westernize her appearance because she thought it would help her career. "In some countries, one in six Asian women have had work done on their eyelids," Ling said. "That makes me really sad. The whole look of Asian women is changing and that is very troubling." Ultimately, Ling's stance on going under the knife is "if that makes you feel better and gives you more confidence, then great, go for it. I just think it (sic) sad when women feel that kind of pressure."

She has received racist messages due to COVID-19

By the time COVID-19 plagued America, we knew the source of the virus was Wuhan, China. Early attempts by a Wuhan doctor to raise awareness of this novel coronavirus were thwarted, and many in the international health community cast blame towards the Chinese government for what is viewed as a failure to contain the virus while it was still local. Sadly, for the xenophobic and racist people among us, this blame has translated into irrational anger against all things China. Verbal and physical attacks against anyone appearing Asian have skyrocketed, which includes Lisa Ling. 

Representative Judy Chu (D-Calif.) told MSNBC hate crimes against Asian Americans are being reported at a rate of roughly 100 per day, while NextShark reported a 900% increase in cyberbullying of Asian Americans. Thankfully, no one has harmed Ling or her family, but some of the messages she received were frightening, including one that wished harm to her children. After having shared some of the hateful messages she had received, she took to Instagram to stand up for fellow Asian Americans. "When I see people who look like me being attacked just because of their ethnicity, I can't be silent."

Lisa Ling has ADD

Sometimes a story is more than just a story. While shooting an episode of Our America with Lisa Ling on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), some of the symptoms she documented for the story really hit home, and she had long wondered if she might have the disorder herself. When asked about how she performed in school, she said she could listen to a lesson for an entire period and not retain any of the information unless it was a topic of interest to her. 

Ling was tested for ADHD on the show (via OWN) and diagnosed as having ADD, which is ADHD without the hyperactivity component. Once diagnosed, Ling said, "I feel a little bit of relief because, for so long, I've been fighting it and been so frustrated with this inability to focus." Getting this diagnosis at age 40 was, while unusual, a positive development for Ling, who said in a statement (via USA Today), "While the diagnosis confirmed what I had always expected, I don't feel inhibited. Rather, I feel I have more clarity."

Her sister Laura Ling was imprisoned in North Korea

For Lisa Ling, one story that came far too close for comfort was an international incident involving her sister, Laura Ling (who is also a journalist), Former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, and Former President Bill Clinton. Laura, along with her Current TV colleague Euna Lee, was arrested and convicted of entering North Korea illegally while reporting on refugees crossing the China/North Korea border in March 2009. They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison. In 2006, Lisa had gained access to North Korea undercover and reported on her experience for National Geographic Explorer, so she knew what kind of regime her sister was facing.

Lisa told NPR she used every connection she had to try to gain her sister's release. She called upon diplomats and other journalists—anyone who could help raise awareness of the situation or possibly have influence via diplomatic channels—and she and her family did a media blitz for weeks, appearing on national news and talk programs in hopes of elevating the profile of the case. It worked, and a public campaign erupted for the prisoners to be released. After they had been imprisoned for several months, in August 2009, President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang and secured their release. Lisa and Laura co-wrote Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home about the harrowing ordeal.

She has rubbed elbows with some big names in the news business

Ling was a field correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show (via OWN) from 2005-2011, when the show went off the air. But, as we all can imagine, it's hard to quit Oprah! Ling followed Winfrey to her OWN network and hosted Our America with Lisa Ling there from 2011 to 2014. "Everyone wants to be Oprah," Ling told Dolce, adding that Oprah had been her "champion" and was very supportive of her career growth. 

Ling is now Executive Producer and Host of This Is Life on CNN, but it is not her first time working alongside colleague Anderson Cooper – the two worked together at Channel One News (via Anderson Live) when their careers in international reporting were just beginning to launch.

As an Asian American, Ling had few media role models growing up, and she particularly admired Connie Chung. Ling told the Center for Asian American Media that when she joined The View as a co-host, she received a congratulatory note from her childhood idol, which Ling kept on her corkboard during her entire tenure at ABC. The two have since become great friends.

Lisa Ling is a feminist

In an essay for CNN, Lisa Ling wrote, "I have always been a fiercely independent woman. I learned from my grandmother — the breadwinner in her marriage — that there was nothing that a woman couldn't do as well as a man." And, boy, did she take that lesson and run with it! 

In addition to her hard-hitting exposes, Ling has always carved out time to address issues specific to women and girls. She hosted Oxygen's Who Cares About Girls (via ABC News), which dove into issues young girls face. Ling also co-wrote (with Joanne Bubolz Eicher) the 2006 book, Mother, Daughter, Sister, Bride: Rituals of Womanhood, which examines connections women make with family, friends, the community, and themselves. Her CNN essay revealed her mindset about money and personal relationships, "A die-hard feminist, my desire for self-sufficiency didn't stem from a movement: It was personal. A child of divorced parents who always fought about money-related issues, and with my grandmother's words etched in my mind, I told myself at a young age that I would never rely on a man or anyone to take care of me." 

With a career as illustrious as Ling's, indeed, she does not need to rely on anything but her own earning power. She wrote of her husband, "Even though we're equal partners in our marriage, it's important for me to maintain my own identity, career and finances. 'No matter what,' my grandma always said, 'have your own money.'"

Lisa Ling filmed an episode of This Is Life in the nude

Lisa Ling often dives deeply into subcultures and fringe segments of society, and this time she dove in wearing her birthday suit. During an episode of This Is Life entitled "Sexual Healing," Lisa Ling decided, in the moment, to disrobe for a tantric sex class while the cameras were rolling. The entire class was in the nude, and Ling is glad she had the full, authentic experience by removing all of her clothing. 

Ling told Inside Edition, "At that moment, I just felt compelled. It did make me feel better about my body. After having two kids, it was hard to look at myself. And then it got to the point where I [was] like, 'I birthed two humans, why should I have hang-ups about my body?' I should feel proud!" Ling pointed out that while sex is promoted everywhere we look, we as a society find it a difficult topic of conversation. Ling's openness might help diminish the discomfort for some of her viewers.

She did ultimately build a more comfortable life by being on television

Lisa Ling told Fast Company reporting on subcultures is "an interesting niche that I really love." They say do what you love and the money will come, and there must be something to that because Celebrity Net Worth estimates Ling's total net worth at $10 million. Still, her impoverished childhood affects her perspective on money and career. She told Fast Company, "I think as someone who grew up without a lot of money, you always think the bottom is going to be pulled out from under you at some point." She continued, "I think there's always a little bit of fear in me that, like, 'You can't turn things [like red-carpet interviews] down!' But I have gotten to a place where I don't want ... to do something that I would like to not have to do."

The Los Angeles Times featured her home in Santa Monica, Calif. showing the personalized features she and her husband added to the dwelling, including a two-person tub that fills with water falling from the ceiling. But more important than architectural features is the feel and function of the home. Ling says the house "represents what's most important: family and relationships. It's a place for us to all come and be together." Ling told the Tim Ferriss Show that one issue she has with money is avoiding being manipulated. When you're wealthy, it's sometimes hard to tell who your real friends are.