White House ‘cloud of secrecy’ frustrates journalists

Press struggles to stay focused on the tough questions

According to a recent report from Muck Rack Daily, a digest of journalism on Twitter that is written by journalists, over 60 percent of journalists said doing their job is more difficult under the Trump administration than under the Obama administration.

“It’s very unpresidential. It’s unpredictable — a reality show,” said veteran White House Correspondent April Ryan, whose White House reporting career began during the Clinton administration and who was this year’s “NABJ Journalist of the Year.” She and other Washington correspondents, reporters and producers spoke to Black journalists, including the MSR, last month in New Orleans during the 2017 National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) annual convention.

Ryan was a panelist on “The View from the Press Room.” She described how frustrating it is covering President Trump since he took office in January. “When America chooses a president, they choose someone they believe is smart. He’s not in the vein of what we’ve seen in past presidents.”

Fellow panelists agreed: Associated Press White House Reporter Darlene Superville added, “It’s way more creepy than you think.”

Adrian Carrasquillo, White House reporter for Buzz News, said Trump’s oft-repeated “fake news” charge against the media and the White House cloud of secrecy makes it harder to get stories out.

Washington Post White House Reporter Abby Phillip said briefings are important because of the president’s social media use. “We need to be there and ask questions. Everything happens at hyper speed.”

Nonetheless, Trump’s tweets can’t be ignored because of their news value. Carrasquillo said Trump often adds policy, so the press has to follow his tweets.

As a result, “We have to be ready to check these folks at every turn,” said Astread Herndon, who began covering the White House earlier this year for the Boston Globe’s Washington bureau. He later told the MSR, “I think we have to question everything that comes out of their mouth. That should happen in the first place, even if you are in the presence of the Obama administration, the mayor or the city council.

April Ryan Charles Hallman/MSR News

“You should always question [elected officials] at every turn. It shouldn’t be new or difficult to us, even in the Trump administration,” Herndon said. But the Trump White House, up to this point, has forced journalists to do even more questioning.

Superville reiterated the importance of fact-checking the President of the United States: “You have to do it in real time, while it is happening.”

“Our job is to report the truth,” said Reuters White House Correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. “I don’t think there’s much more I can do.”

The president’s spokespeople seem to relish picking verbal fights with some reporters during White House press briefings. “Our ability is being challenged,” said Carraquillo to the MSR. He shared how difficult it is for the press to do their job when the president calls the press the enemy of the State. “When they are attacking us it’s hard, but you have to stay focused on your job.”

Ryan, on several occasions, has been verbally “attacked” at these briefings. Last month, a television campaign ad labeled her and several other journalists as “the president’s enemies.” President Trump closed the ad declaring, “I approve of this message.”

“It comes from this president,” she continued. “There are people who are listening to that. I believe we have to continue to do the job and not worry about that… We can’t feed into this mess they are putting on us. It’s a distraction, but what do you do?

“We do what we do because we are great at what we do,” said Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks (AURN) since 1997. She proudly described herself as specialty media. “Specialty media in that room is anyone who is the Black Press or heritage papers…anyone who is not mainstream.

“I’m there to do a job. I’ve been there for 20 years. I’m not going anywhere,” Ryan continued. “My job is being a reporter. Every time I stand up and ask questions, it becomes an issue. They [the White House] don’t want me there.

“They are attacking me because I am not afraid to ask” tough questions, stated Ryan. “We don’t know what [the president] will do from one day to the next. We are stressed. Your head is hurting.”

Still, despite the challenges, each White House reporter wouldn’t leave it for another beat. “It is an awesome job” to cover the White House, Shawna Thomas, the Washington bureau chief for VICE News, told the MSR.

“It’s chaotic, but it’s a blessing to cover the White House,” said Phillip. “It’s [a] historic period.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.