Last week, a panel of six prominent political journalists — all of whom were alumni of the News — spoke candidly about covering the Trump White House. Participants in the panel, which took place at the Yale Club of New York, included reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME and Politico.
Moderator Ruth Marcus ’79, Washington Post deputy editorial page editor, led a wide-ranging discussion on topics that included President Donald Trump’s adversarial relationship with the mainstream press, a lack of dependable sources within the White House and how best to cover the administration’s false claims.
Washington Post White House Bureau Chief and former News editor Philip Rucker ’06 said it has been difficult to keep up with the pace at which Trump creates news and to allocate sufficient resources to every key storyline. With readers unusually engaged in “the story of a lifetime” and unreliable sources within the administration, Rucker added that he consults a wide range of officials for each piece.
“We have to work hard to find the truth,” Rucker said. “It is challenging but it makes us more rigorous and our readers benefit from it.”
The unique challenge that Michael Barbaro ’02, managing editor and host of The New York Times’ audio show The Daily, said he faces is how best to respond to factual inaccuracies emanating from the White House. A former editor in chief of the News, Barbaro said reporters give all of Trump’s remarks significant weight since he is no longer a presidential candidate, but America’s head of state.
Barbaro added that his podcast aims to give voice to stories beyond printed pages and wishes to address the nuances in “the grayest zone in politics.”
“It’s an attempt to embrace the complexity of the moment,” Barbaro said. “The purpose of the show is to acknowledge that there were too many simple narratives during the campaign. And the biggest mistake we can make is attaching simple narratives onto it.”
The panel underscored that the current administration has pushed journalists to be as careful in their reporting as possible. Like Rucker, TIME White House correspondent and former multimedia editor for the News Zeke Miller ’11 said internal inconsistencies within the White House have led to greater caution in reporting.
Miller, who inaccurately reported that the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office and subsequently apologized for the mistake, said White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s public criticism of his error was only meant to convey toughness. Days after attacking his credibility, White House staff promptly returned his e-mail inquires and connected him with helpful resources, Miller said.
“This is their tactic to treat the press,” Miller said. “It is designed to rile up their base and work it to their own end.”
The cautionary tale behind reporting in the Trump era, according to Jia Lynn Yang ’04, the Washington Post’s deputy national security editor and former editorial editor for the News, is to go to great lengths to affirm the veracity of a story. Refuting Trump’s narrative that anonymous sources are easy to acquire, she cited the Post’s coverage of former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, explaining that the story took a tremendous amount of sourcing and editing.
“To me, it has been a testament to journalism and how it gets done,” Yang said. “You would never want to feel rushed.”
The panel concluded with several questions from the audience, all of whom were either alumni or current editors of the News.