Maggie Haberman on People Inside the White House: 'They Are Scared'
I am incredibly fascinated with NYTimes reporter Maggie Haberman, and I think that others who follow the Trump Administration closely are, as well. A great many of the stories we read about Trump come from Haberman, who is probably the best sourced reporter in the media. She’s probably responsible for thousands and thousands and thousands of us ponying up $10 a month for NYTimes subscriptions, and what’s remarkable about Haberman is that she has remained mostly objective in her reporting (less so on Twitter), throughout the first six months of this Administration. She gets a lot of sh*t from arm-chair journalists who think they know how to do her job better than she does. However, she does a remarkable job of reporting on the President (and not commentating), and it’s all the more remarkable that she’s often Trump’s go-to in the mainstream press because she actually does report “facts,” which are the enemy of the Trump White House. She’s also one of the few in the mainstream press who has been granted sit-down interviews with Trump.
Anyway, as an online writer, I have a ton of reverence for Haberman (even more knowing that she handles the full throttle of her job while also raising kids, which is something I do poorly on some days, and I just sit in front of my laptop all day).
She was on the Longform Podcast this morning. Because she has a lot of insight and because she’s not exactly the kind of person that gives extended podcast interviews, I listened with rapt attention, which is more than I can say for Haberman, who somehow pulled off this nearly hour-long interview while also answering emails, tweeting, and keeping up with the onslaught of news on a busy news day.
For others who are interested in her methods and her observations when it comes to the Trump White House, here is that podcast annotated (if you have a moment, it’s a really good listen):
— She doesn’t want to talk specifically about sources, obviously, but she says that people in the Administration often call her late at night. She considers her conversations with admin officials part of ongoing conversations. They use different phones and other devices to talk to her, and they have been doing so since around “day 20” because “there is a real fear that they are being monitored.” People within the Administration do not feel that the “ground is solid beneath their feet.” “They are scared,” she says. There is a real fear.
She says that officials within the Administration often engage in “skullduggery” in an effort to find out her sources, but she doesn’t fall into those traps. She’s very good at protecting her sources.
Her sources do “ebb and flow.” Sometimes, Trump will “freak out” at something she writes, and a source won’t speak to her again for long stretches of time. “They’re just get afraid and don’t want to talk for a bit.”
— The White House is a like a high-school cafeteria, she says, if “everyone in the high school cafeteria was armed with tins of lye and Freddy Kreuger-style knives. It’s not benign. There’s a degree to which these people do not understand they are playing with live ammo, with people’s lives.” It’s not about “enacting policy,” she says, “it’s about winning.” For a cadre of them, “it’s like a game”; it’s how they are wired. Maggie does not think this is a “game. This is not fun. It’s important. I love my job, but I would not describe this as fun.”
— She thinks of Trump as someone like Harold and the Purple Crayon: He creates his own reality, and bends people toward that reality. “In his view, all reality is subjective and it can be twisted and played with.”
— Trump hates it when people write that his aides take his Twitter away, or when reporters write that he watches too much TV, even though “he does.”
— She was worried after the election that Trump would want to score-settle with her. He hasn’t done so in a major way, but has done so in small, subtle ways that she doesn’t want to talk about.
— She thinks the guardrails are off, in part because he’s “attacking his own government.” He’s attacking the intelligence agencies, his own A.G., and he has no compunction about messing with the special prosecutor’s investigation.
— He is a person who knows what he’s doing; he has a plan; he “just doesn’t care about the impact.”
— Trump talks to the NYTimes because he “craves the paper’s approval,” and he wants validation from the newspaper.
— She does take his attacks on the press seriously, because “most people don’t understand that he’s just playing a game.”
— She feels that the Sessions stuff or Tweeting about pardons has “taken us to a whole new level … this is very different … rule of law is what makes this country what it is, so if we’re no longer acknowledging that the rule of law needs to be observed, that puts us in a different territory … it feels like a sustained assault … this has taken a different course.”
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