White House correspondents had a candid conversation of what it means to cover the White House in the Trump age.
“I think we are living in challenging times,” said CNN Senior Correspondent Jim Acosta,”Forgive me if this sounds a little too much, but at times there are attempts to twist what is being said. Our sense of reality is being warped.”
Acosta was part of a super session at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in Anaheim, California. Columbia Journalism Review Editor-in-Chief Kyle Pope moderated the super session “Work in Progress: Pressing the President”, giving the audience an intimate look at the daily lives of journalists who cover the White House. CBS News Justice and Homeland Security correspondent Jeff Pegues, Bloomberg News White House reporter and White House Correspondents Association President Margaret Talev, BuzzFeed News White House correspondent Adrian Carrasquillo and Los Angeles Times Assistant Managing Editor for Politics Christina Bellantoni were also part of the session. These journalists were not shy about sharing their feelings on covering the Trump White House.
Pope opened the conversation noting recent coverage of the president’s mental health, combative style and the 2016 elections.
“Trump is a better story for journalism,” said Bellantoni about the election results. She says Trump boosted journalism into the forefront of the American public and said subscriptions to newspapers are up. She also said Trump in the White House gives journalists an opportunity to talk about politics differently than the old and comfortable ways.
Meanwhile, CBS News’ Pegues says that Russian intervention into America’s electoral process is a serious concern and that it must remain in the news until Special counsel Robert Mueller finalizes his investigation.
“We run into too many people these days who dismiss this story,” Pegues said.
The panel also focused on the repercussions of being called “fake news” by the president. Acosta said if you want to be liked, to choose another profession.
“It is not normal for a president to say journalists are the enemy of the people,” said Acosta. He says journalists should wear that as a badge of honor because journalists are not the enemy, but the voice of the people.
“So what I say to all the journalists who are in this room is to stiffen your spine; keep doing your jobs,” Acosta said.
Acosta noted the attacks on the media are indeed taking a toll on trustworthiness. He says this divisive culture can hurt people when dealing with major issues such as the recent hurricane readiness and recovery.
“Fake news can get pretty real when reality sets in,” Acosta said.
Pope asked the panel how they dealt with burnout in the workplace. Bellantoni responded she would have felt energized after returning to work from maternity leave having missed the first 100 days of reporting on the White House. She said that in 10 days’ time she was already exhausted.
“It’s something we have to think, do we want to take the abuse and endure?” Bellantoni said.
Carrasquillo of BuzzFeed shared the story of the harassment he endured from the public while covering the President.
“I went to look at my phone to check if what he was saying was true and these guys who were standing next to me started yelling at me ‘Oh look what he’s doing, he’s fact-checking him,’ as if fact-checking was something bad,” Carrasquillo said.