Maggie Haberman, a New York Times White House correspondent and CNN political analyst, spoke about covering the White House. Among the areas she talked about were the mechanics of the daily press briefings and how information is disseminated by the White House to the press. Recorded July 21st, 2018
complained to a close friend that I hated being on Twitter. It was distorting discourse, I said. I couldn’t turn off the noise. She asked what was the worst that could happen if I stepped away from it.
There was nothing I could think of. And so just after 6 p.m. last Sunday, I did.
.. After nearly nine years and 187,000 tweets, I have used Twitter enough to know that it no longer works well for me. I will re-engage eventually, but in a different way.
.. Twitter has stopped being a place where I could learn things I didn’t know, glean information that was free from errors about a breaking news story or engage in a discussion and be reasonably confident that people’s criticisms were in good faith.
.. The viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism are at all-time highs, with no end in sight.
.. It is a place where people who are understandably upset about any number of things go to feed their anger, where the underbelly of free speech is at its most bilious.
.. Twitter is now an anger video game for many users. It is the only platform on which people feel free to say things they’d never say to someone’s face.
.. During the 2012 campaign, the first during which Twitter was widely used by journalists and campaign aides, I became something of a scold to younger reporters who I thought misused the medium.
.. Pictures of themselves at events, inside jokes and conversation fragments were all there for the world to see. They should treat their feeds like news platforms, I huffed
.. But Twitter has a staccato allure for those of us who need frequent inputs and have grown accustomed to them in the Trump era, with news cycles that last roughly three hours.
.. Many pointed out errors, but most did it respectfully, and I was appreciative.
.. But the medium has changed. Everyone I follow on the site seems to be tweeting more frequently, so I had to check in more frequently. No matter the time of day or night, I felt like I had to plug back into the Matrix, only to be overwhelmed by the amount of content.
.. instead of engaging in thoughtful debates, I found myself spending an increasing amount of time explaining an errant word or a poorly phrased tweet, and coming off defensive as I did it.
.. On Twitter, everything is shrunk down to the same size, making it harder to discern what is a big deal and what is not.
.. Tone often overshadows the actual news. All outrages appear equal. And that makes it harder for significant events — like Mr. Trump’s extraordinarily pliant performance with President Vladimir Putin of Russia — to break through.
.. More significant is the way Mr. Trump has tried to turn everyone around him, including the journalists who cover him, into part of his story.
And people on Twitter have started to react to me in that same way, treating me as if I am a protagonist in the president’s narrative.
.. He creates the impression that the media is almost as powerful as he is in his incessant, personalized attacks on reporters on Twitter.
.. Twitter is a useful and important platform. It’s a good aggregator for breaking news.
.. The downside is that everyone is treated as equally expert on various topics.
Michael Cohen has profited from it, but we’re all Trumpologists now.
Christie argued that pesky journalists and amateur Trump watchers were always getting the President wrong, making it out as if there were some “Machiavellian” grand plan by Trump that could explain many otherwise seemingly unexplainable moves. “There is no strategy,” he exclaimed.
.. Several mentioned White House aides or outside advisers, such as Christie, who seem to have the ability to read Trump’s quirks and offer reliable guidance about what a President who delights in the appearance of unpredictability will actually do. One White House reporter, for example, said that Stephen Miller, the combative young aide who writes many of Trump’s speeches and has helped shape his hard-line immigration policy, was “an authentic reflection of his boss,” citing him as a helpful resource “if you’re looking to decode what Trump is really thinking.” Others mentioned informal advisers including Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, and Christopher Ruddy, the C.E.O. of Newsmax and another regular Trump phone buddy; journalists such as the Times’ Maggie Haberman and the Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti
.. “The truth is, virtually everyone who claims to know what Trump is going to do has been wrong at some point,” one sharp analyst told me. “The best indicator, in my mind, is to go back and read his core campaign pledges and speeches. Those have been far more instructive than anyone in Congress, in the Republican Party, or on his own team.”
.. “All the same traits repeat themselves now,” the correspondent wrote to me. “The grandiosity, the impatience and impulsiveness, the repeated lies.
.. At the time, other observers, less schooled in Trump, wrongly thought that the heavy responsibilities of a job for which he was ill-prepared might change him. Not the Trumpologists. “He’s the same old Trump,
.. What did it mean that the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the leader of Germany’s pro-Russia oppositionists at a time of such tensions with the West, was right there in the front row? That Putin only shook hands with three people—Schroeder, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and a splendidly attired Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill
.. Indeed, the Putin inauguration scene made the former Moscow correspondent in me realize just how much Washington these days feels like Russia.
.. Of course, there’s always an element of Kremlinology in how we cover the White House.
.. But, at least in Administrations of old, there was a process to pay attention to, meetings where actual decisions were made, policy rollouts planned in advance as a result of those decisions. “Process protects you” was a favorite line of Obama’s process-obsessed second-term chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and most of his predecessors, from Republican and Democratic Administrations alike, agreed.
.. Many of this President’s major decisions—from appointing Cabinet secretaries to pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal—are completely opaque and, in many cases, shockingly process-free.
old-school talk therapist, disbursing neutral prompts to draw him out and keep him going.
.. Haberman knows how to conjure it forth: with flattery, simple questions, and boundless patience.
.. also gently calls him on inaccuracies in a way that opens him up rather than shutting him down. When the president asserts (incorrectly) that the New York Times hasn’t covered the Susan Rice story, Haberman replies, “We’ve written about it twice.” Then she transforms his ego-wounded dig into a request for edification: “You mean there’s more information that we’re not aware of?”
.. HABERMAN: Sir, if you could give us more information about Rice. If the administration would give us more information—
TRUMP: No, you have a lot of information. No, you have so much information.
HABERMAN: If you would have given it to us last week, we would have written it. Would you declassify some of the information so that—
TRUMP: I don’t want to talk about that.
HABERMAN: No? OK.
TRUMP: No. I just don’t want to talk about that. It’s such an important story for our country, for the world. What took place.
HABERMAN: Why not talk about it then? With all due respect.
TRUMP: At the right time, I will be... Haberman appeals to the president’s vanity. When he complains that “the highways are in poor shape,” she eggs him on: “What about the airports?” When Trump takes the bait (“I think the airports are a horror show”) and tacks on a self-congratulatory aside (“I’ve traveled the world, I know the world”), she seizes the opportunity to flatter him further. “And, well, you’ve traveled the country,” Haberman notes with admiration. “Tell us what you thought.”