Banfield was educated in her native Canada at Balmoral Hall School, a private university preparatory school in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which she left in 1985 (also attended by her mother, Suzie (Holland) Lount, in the 1950s). She went on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and French from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, in 1988 and continued her studies in French at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, British Columbia, graduating in 1992.
Banfield began her career in 1988 at CJBN-TV in Kenora, Ontario, and at CKY-TV in Winnipeg later that year. From 1989–92, she anchored the weekend news for CFRN-TV in Edmonton. She worked at CICT-TV in Calgary, as a producer from 1992–93 and as evening news anchor and business correspondent from 1993–95. Banfield won two Iris Awards in 1994 in the categories of Best News Documentary and Best of Festival.
During her tenure at CICT, Banfield worked as a freelance associate producer for ABC's World News Tonight. She covered the 1991 Bush/Gorbachev Summit in Russia and the 1992 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit in Vancouver.
In early 2000, Banfield was hired by MSNBC. According to The New York Times, she "fit nicely with MSNBC's positioning as the news network of choice for younger viewers" and network executives "also liked her frosted blond hair and trademark Clark Kent-style glasses." Before joining the network, she worked at KDFW-TV in Dallas, where she won an Emmy Award. She also hosted MSNBC Investigates, worked at NBC News, and became a host of HomePage along with Gina Gaston and Mika Brzezinski.
On September 11, 2001, Banfield was reporting from the streets of Manhattan amid a cloud of debris from the collapsing World Trade Center. She was reporting a few blocks north of the site when 7 World Trade Center collapsed behind her. After the initial reporting of the tragedy had ended, Banfield received a promotion, as MSNBC sent her around the world as the producer of a new program, A Region in Conflict. They launched a heavy ad campaign that centered on Banfield, labeling her, "The One." Banfield lost two friends in the World Trade Center attacks and sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder.
During the conflict in Afghanistan, Banfield interviewed Taliban prisoners, and visited a hospital in Kabul. Later entries covered her travels from Jalalabad to Kabul, as well as other experiences in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, she interviewed Father Gregory Rice, a Roman Catholic priest in Pakistan, and an Iraqi woman aiding refugees. After A Region in Conflict, she received the 10pm timeslot with the show Ashleigh Banfield on Location.
In April 2003, in a Landon Lecture Series speech at Kansas State University, Banfield raised concerns regarding media coverage of the conflict in Iraq. She spoke against "cable news operators who wrap themselves in the American flag and go after a certain target demographic" and specifically named Fox News Channel as an example. The New York Times reported that her speech angered NBC management, who rebuked her and lowered her profile. "They just fell in love with a new toy and they played with it and played with it and played with it until the paint came off", said an NBC News correspondent of the network's relationship with Banfield.
I was office-less for ten months ... No phone, no computer. For ten months I had to report to work every day and ask where I could sit. If somebody was away I could use their desk. Eventually, after ten months of this, I was given an office that was a tape closet. They cleared the tapes out and put a desk and a TV in there, and a computer and phone. It was pretty blatant. The message was crystal clear. Yet they wouldn't let me leave. I begged for seventeen months to be let out of my contract. If they had no use for me, let's just part ways amicably—no need for payouts, just a clean break. And Neal [Shapiro, the News President of NBC] wouldn't allow it. I don't know what his rationale was—perhaps he thought I would take what I felt was a very strong brand, and others felt was a very strong brand, to another network and make a success of it. Maybe that's why he chose to keep me in a warehouse. I will never forgive him for his cruelty and the manner in which he decided to dispose of me.
Banfield joined CourtTV (renamed TruTV) in 2005. She was the co-host of the trial coverage show Banfield & Ford: Courtside weekdays from 1 to 3PM ET with Jack Ford. On June 1, 2009, Banfield took over as host of the truTV series Open Court weekdays from 9 to 11 a.m. ET, formerly hosted by Lisa Bloom. Her last major assignment with the network was reporting on the Casey Anthony trial.
Banfield joined CNN in January 2012 as co-anchor with Zoraida Sambolin, of the network's morning show, Early Start. On August 13, 2012, Banfield moved to the 11 a.m. edition of CNN Newsroom in New York each weekday, replacing Kyra Phillips as anchor. On August 6, 2013, it was announced that CNN would rebrand its 11 a.m. hour of CNN Newsroom. The show, called Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield, aired at 12 noon Eastern. In 2014, Banfield was featured in a small role portraying herself in the Netflix series House of Cards. OctoberBanfield joined CNN sister station HLN as host on the legal issues interview program Primetime Justice with Ashleigh Banfield, which airs at 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday.
Banfield was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the daughter of Suzanne Elizabeth (Holland) and John Alexander Banfield. She is known for her "trademark rectangular eyeglasses, the object of countless remarks, pro and con, since her arrival on the national media scene."
In 2004, Banfield married real estate financier Howard Gould, who founded the carbon credit trading company Equator Environmental and is a great-grandson of railroad developer Jay Gould. The couple met in 2002 at Central Park in New York while Banfield was walking her two Westies and Gould was walking his two pugs. The wedding took place aboard a wooden yacht at the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club in Canada.
The couple, who are now divorced, have two sons. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen on October 24, 2008.