In this onstage recording of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Kara visited the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas, to interview two people who are more accustomed to conducting the interviews: Maggie Haberman and David Fahrenthold. Haberman writes about President Trump for the New York Times; Fahrenthold writes about Trump for the Washington Post. The three discuss the kind of exhaustion reporters experience when covering a difficult subject (and Trump can be very difficult) and also take questions from the audience.
You can read some of the highlights here or listen to the entire interview in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Today we’re going to play an interview I did at the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas. I spoke to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times and the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold. They’re two of the biggest stars among journalists in the Trump era, with Maggie reporting on the chaotic Trump White House and David investigating stories like Donald Trump’s sometimes dubious charity donations. Let’s take a listen.
Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode and host of the Recode Decode podcast. We’re podcasting live from Austin, Texas at the Texas Tribune Festival, and we’re onstage with an audience. We’re here with Maggie Haberman, of the New York Times, and David Fahrenthold from the Washington Post, both of whom are incredible journalists. I’m a bit of a fangirl. Tiny, but not that much, so I have a lot of tough questions for you. We’re going to talk about everything from the White House to how you guys started to where you think things are going right now. You’re sitting up so straight, Maggie. It looks like ...
Maggie Haberman: I have to.
You do? All right. Your posture is excellent.
MH: I’m going to list if I don’t.
All right. Let’s begin. Let’s start with you, Maggie. When I interview most people, I ask how they got to where they got. Why don’t each of you — first Maggie and then David — briefly talk about how you got to the situation you find yourselves in right now.
MH: Sure. Do you mean starting from how I got into journalism?
Yes. I don’t want birth, unless you have some moment in your youth that was pivotal.
MH: So many.
Some prom story.
MH: We’ll skip over those. I’m going to do that on a panel with my father later on this morning. I started at the New York Post in 1996 as a copy kid. I couldn’t get a job at a magazine, which is where I wanted to work. I was at Sarah Lawrence and no one would hire me. I got a job for, I think it was something like $8 an hour as a clerk, and I remember the first day thinking, “This is a very, very strange place to work,” and after about a day, just the rhythm of the newsroom completely bit me. I loved it.
This was at ...
MH: At the New York Post.
At the New York Post. What did you like about the New York Post?
MH: The New York Post in the 1990s was a pretty amazing place to work because it had just been taken over again by Rupert Murdoch, who did, and does, love the paper. For all of the criticisms of him, he could still walk into the newsroom and lay the paper out, which most newspaper publishers and owners these days can’t do. It was like you were plugging your fingers into some kind of matrix of the city. It was just constantly alive.
I went from there, I covered City Hall. I covered Rudy Giuliani’s final term. I covered Mike Bloomberg’s campaign, which felt similar, to me, to this year because I was very angry when I was assigned to cover Bloomberg’s campaign because he was the loser who had no chance of winning. He was the laugher candidate, and then he became the mayor. I ended up at the Daily News, back at the Post, went to Politico.
I covered, in 2011, Donald Trump’s flirtation with running for president, and I had dealt with him at the Post because at the tabloids he was just omnipresent and he was constantly calling Page Six, the gossip page, very often as a source close to Trump.
Sources close to the situation.
MH: So close to the situation he had very similar hair to Donald Trump.
Yes, or you’d say one time I did sources close to the situation, if they were any closer they’d be on the other side.
MH: There you go. Exactly. In 2015, I joined the Times for an unclear assignment. I just was joining the team. I had been covering Clinton ...
Can I stop you? You were at Politico, though?
MH: I was.
That’s considered a blog, or something like Recode. Why did you go there from the Daily News?
MH: I went there actually from the Post. I was not happy at the Daily News. I went back to the Post. It just was a better fit for me. I went to Politico from the Post because it was a different job. It was national, and the tabloids in New York City have an uncertain future. Now, they’ve had this uncertain future for a very long time, and they are doing better than newspapers in some other major cities just because of the unique nature of the New York City media market, but it was just a chance to make a jump, so I made the jump.
I also didn’t really have a clear role there, but I ended up covering 2012 with my colleague Alex Burns, who’s now at the Times with me, who is one of my closest collaborators. In 2015, when I went to the Times, Alex went to the Times the same year. He was on Metro. It wasn’t really clear what I was going to be doing, and I was looking for a lane so I picked up Trump, because nobody seemed very interested in Trump. I knew him and I knew his people.
How well did you know him? You knew him from just ...
MH: I knew him from covering New York City, and I knew him from 2011, which is where I really developed a relationship with him. Where I discovered this No. 1 rule about him is that in his brain, two things are true. No one speaks for him except him, even if he actually has a spokesman who’s calling you saying I’m his spokesperson, and he believes that facts can be changed so that they are something other than maybe what you thought they were a day ago.
The for instance to that was that I did this interview with Roger Stone in 2011, who’s Trump’s longest serving inside/outside adviser. He has always had one foot on the outside, I think recognizing, frankly, you survive longer that way with Trump. I did this whole interview with him, and it was all about Trump. It was all about how Trump would run. It really wasn’t about Roger. Trump called me the next day and said, “Roger Stone doesn’t speak for me.” Stone was in all the meetings at this point. I knew this directly.
It was an education, and it was an education I shouldn’t have needed, but as with a lot of this, until you experience it directly, you don’t really understand how unusual it is. Anyway, I thought what was going to happen was that Clinton was going to win. I wasn’t certain of it. I was reminded by a friend that I said at a BBQ where I bumped into her in May of 2016 that I thought Trump might win, just based on how things were going at that point, but I still thought Clinton was the likely winner. I would go back and do whatever. I wasn’t going to cover the White House and I would see my children. That is not what happened.
That is not what happened.
MH: That’s how I ended up here.
It’s interesting. You did start off in a copy desk. I started off in the mail room at the Washington Post.
MH: Did you really?
Yes, I did. I delivered mail for people who later worked for me, which was always an interesting ... What’s interesting about it is really big jerks are mean to copy people, or lesser people, and very talented people are not. Except for one, and I’m not going to name him but you can guess.
MH: We’ll think about it.
Dave, let’s talk about your background. You had started where?
David Fahrenthold: The Post. I started at the Post as an intern in 2000 right after I got out of college.
I was an intern, too.
DF: Basically came in at just the right time. We were making money hand over fist from the print paper back then, and I’ve stayed through all the tumult. I was always too young and cheap to get rid of when everybody else was getting buyouts and it lasted long enough to have seen the light on the other side.
You had come in just from college? On the college thing? Where did you start at the Post?
DF: I started on night cops. I worked for the Metro desk and I’d come in at 7 pm and work till 2 am and basically just cover homicides, car accidents, things like that.
As an intern you did that also? Then, you were hired from the intern program into the Metro section?
DF: Then, I was a two-year intern doing the same thing, and the only way I got off night cops was ... It’s a job, you guys probably know this ...
I did it.
DF: The editors that decide to take you off night cops work during the day and don’t ever see you except if you screw up. If you do a good job, they don’t really pay attention to you. The only way I was able to get off night cops was just luck that there was someone at the paper that they wanted to quit, and they wanted to give her the worse job at the newspaper so she would quit, and that was my job. They had to get me out of it. That’s how I ended up working during the day. I could still be there at night if that stroke of good luck and bad luck had not happened.
You moved where from there inside the Post?
DF: I covered the police during the day, like the police chief, and then I’ve done all kinds of things. The environment. I was the New England Bureau Chief for a year and I’ve been on politics since about 2010.
2010. What moved you to politics?
DF: I was covering the environment, had for a long time, and felt like ... In 2010, there had been a giant coalmine explosion in West Virginia that I spent a lot of time covering, and there had been the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that I spent a lot of time on. It felt like the environment beat was at the middle of everything that year, and it would not be again.
They offered me a chance to go cover politics, and at the time the Post was shrinking. We were unsure about our future, but it seemed like the thing that we were going to do, the last thing we were going to do, was politics. If you wanted a future with the Post, if you wanted to be in the place where we thought was the middle of our mandate, that was politics. I said yes and moved over. I first covered Congress and then covered government waste and other presidential campaigns. All kinds of things within politics.
How did you move into what you’re doing? What you’re doing is really wonkish, really. It’s more into the data journalism, the idea that you actually do ... It’s not quite what Maggie does in the same way.
DF: It was by accident. I had done these stories about government waste. Spent a couple of years writing about government waste, and so much of that ...
Say, Price at HHS, for example?
DF: Yeah, right.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did I mention that? I’m going to ask you about that later.
DF: It was never that obvious.
DF: The Politico stories about Price at HHS have been amazing, but things like I wrote a long story about the National Raisin Reserve, which you didn’t know we had. We do have a National Strategic Raisin Reserve.
Okay, you need raisins.
DF: Raisins, yeah. It was an amazing story.
MH: That’s pretty cool.
DF: Then, a giant underground cavern under Pennsylvania where the government keeps 28,000 file cabinets full of personnel records. Things where I’m writing about an agency doing something stupid, and they are hostile to me and don’t want to help me. I got practice building a story around the outside. The underground mine at Pennsylvania, the people who run that wasteful thing don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to let me in. Then, I had to go find all the people who used to work there, and their friends, build the story without the cooperation and then come back to the agency and say look, I know everything about your weird mine. Now, I’m going to write about it. You can be in the story or out of the story.
That actually turned out to be helpful covering Trump, because his reaction in a lot of these things was to say, “No. The only person who knows the facts about me is me, and if I don’t want to cooperate, then you’re screwed.” For me, that was good preparation to ... There is a way to tell the truth about you without you. It’s just a lot more work.
I had covered the presidential campaign in 2015, but in 2015, I really wanted to cover candidates you could get close to. People you could really see up close. I didn’t want to be covering Hillary Clinton, where there’s a crowd of 200 reporters, which means basically I covered losers. I covered Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry. Rick Perry, I wrote a profile about him. I flew to Missouri to see him give a speech, and he dropped out in the middle of the speech that I saw him. Rick Santorum, I saw him ...
Did you know this or just like, “Oh, shit.
DF: No. In the middle of the speech, I’m writing it down, trying to figure out what this means for his political future, and then other reporters had been given the advanced copy of the speech and they’re scrolling down and you can hear them be like, “Oh, no. He’s dropping out. On Page 7, he drops out.” Anyway, that was ...
You didn’t scroll down, right?
DF: No, I did not scroll down. I was really looking at him, trying to understand his political position.
MH: Doing real time.
DF: Yeah, right. Rick Santorum. I toured places in Iowa with Rick Santorum last year, where he’d go to meet a crowd of two people, one of whom didn’t know he was coming and was just there eating ice cream when Rick Santorum showed up. All my candidates were basically kaput by the time the Iowa caucuses came around. Everybody I had profiled was gone, so they said well, all right, we have Trump reporters ...
I’m just curious what you learned from that?
DF: Well, two lessons. One, if you’re going to write a profile — this is particularly a Bobby Jindal lesson — if you’re going to write a profile of someone, a political candidate, you should look beforehand at the polling to see where that person is, and if next to their name in the polls is not even a number, just an asterisk or N/A, you should not write a profile on that person.
All right, okay.
DF: I liked those stories in that you were trying to find different ways of telling a political profile story.
Trying to find meaning in these people.
DF: Yeah, right. You get to know them, and you try to communicate that to people, but also to try to find a candidate that people think they’re bored by, or not interested in. One of my favorite stories about that was Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee briefly had a time running as a 2016 candidate. How do you profile Mike Huckabee?
Well, he’s amusing if not appalling, but go ahead. Move on.
DF: I read all of his books, and read a lot of interviews, and the whole profile was just a list of things that Mike Huckabee had condemned as immoral over his life. It was 180 things.
That’s all? Wow.
DF: You could see over his life ... Remember he was the skinny governor for a while? A progressive, Republican governor of Arkansas, and then he was fat and conservative again?
His political leanings were depending on his weight. Okay. All right.
DF: Right, the things that he condemned changed over time. There was a time when he was condemning grits and gravy. Grits and gravy is bad. You got to eat vegetables. America should be healthy. Then, once he became this sort of “Screw you, Michelle Obama. I’m going to eat grits and gravy” candidate four years later, he was like, “I hate people who tell me I can’t eat grits and gravy.” Just trying to find a way to tell a story about Mike Huckabee just in the timeline of things that he was condemning.
Great experiences covering them, nobody read those stories, so I got basically put on the Trump story as a one-day thing. In February, on the caucus day, they said, “Look, here’s a guy. Donald Trump. He’s been married three times. He’s been on the cover of Playboy twice. He’s about to win Mike Huckabee’s Iowa.” We thought. In the end, he didn’t win ... Or, Rick Santorum’s Iowa. Go there with him on caucus day and just watch what he does, how he interacts with voters.
That’s when I saw him do this weird thing where he gave a big check to this ... He stopped his rally, and gave a big check from his foundation to somebody.
Was it one of those big checks, too?
DF: It was literally a large ... It was $400,000.
DF: It was like a golf-tournament-size check. You could see it from the back of the room. It made me say, “What the heck’s he doing? Can you give away checks from your foundation in the middle of a political event?” No. Actually, no, you can’t, but also, where’s the rest of the money? He said he’d raise $6 million. I saw him give away a little bit of it. I’ll just call the Trump campaign and say, “Hey, you raised $6 million for veterans. Who’d he give the rest of it to?” I thought that would be a two- or three-day story. Write that, move on to something else. And instead, because they wouldn’t tell me, it became something that lasted for months and months and months.
Essentially, both of you just fell into this by accident, because you were losers, essentially.
MH: We were. Yep. We were.
MH: It’s true. Thanks for having us.
No problem. Now you’re the most important reporters in the world. For now. You essentially fell into this. When did the penny drop that maybe you were onto something here? Let’s start with you, Maggie. You’ve been covering this. I’m in huge admiration because you cover it doggedly. You’re like a true beat reporter in terms of how much you cover. At one point, you had nine bylines in the New York Times one evening, and I was like, how does she do that? What is going on? How do you look at how you cover it? When it started to become clear that this might be something?
MH: I take that as two separate questions. One is in terms of when it became clear that this might be something, it was after the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015 in November when his numbers didn’t dip. He said all kinds of intemperate things. That was actually when he made his big Muslim ban pitch. Whenever he focuses on DACA or the border wall, and the border wall is a little different, but the big belief among some of his critics is that those are the issues that were real drivers in the primary campaign. Actually, his Muslim attacks were the ones that were real drivers. If you look at the arc of the selection, and I think about this a lot especially because one of the things that I covered in New York City at the Post, and then at the Daily News, was the 9/11 attacks, because I was down there and then, rebuilding for three years. If you look at the arc of the selection, it has a lot of connectivity to what happened that day, and then the aftermath and the country going a little crazy afterwards.
It was in that month, when nothing changed. His floor was so hard and nothing was changing in the primary. There were 17 candidates almost the entire time. I think there were 16 eventually. I guess it was Perry who dropped out first, right?
MH: Then there were 16, but the game theory that was supposed to take place, where this one was going to get this person’s 3 percent and then this was going to happen, none of that ever happened, so he was just able to keep going. I did this story with my colleague, Tom Kaplan, about self-described evangelical voters who were backing Trump. The reasons that they gave ... We spoke to a bunch of people who had been part of a Times poll, who described themselves as evangelicals, and the reasons that a lot of them gave for why they were with Trump were so clear that a lot of issues that we think of as typical drivers, especially in a Republican primary, social issues ... I mean, realistically these had not been big drivers for the last two cycles, but people were so pissed off about Obamacare. The thing I kept hearing over and over again, every time I called someone, was, “My son’s premiums went up to $1,400 a month. He can’t afford this. He’s going to lose his job.”
MH: The Affordable Care Act, or, “Things just have to change,” and, “I hate Hillary.” These were basically the two reasons. It was clear that something was going on.
Then, your question about covering it as a beat reporter. I was trained by this guy, Gregg Birnbaum, who is now at NBC. He was my editor for a really long time. He was my editor at the Post, and then he was my editor again at Politico. His whole thing is just don’t get beat, don’t get beat, don’t get beat. I literally look at everything as tiny little increments, and I do have this problem sometimes where I have trouble stepping back and seeing how everything knits into a bigger picture because I cover everything like I am on some kind of cops and crime beat. Where it’s like, “Donald Trump said today, police said.”
MH: That is basically my approach because also, he says so much. Especially in the campaign, that was one of his tricks is that he would say seven different things, and people would either hear what they wanted to hear or nothing specifically would stick, whereas with Hillary Clinton, the emails were basically the one thing that everybody remembered or would hear. That is still how I cover him, but it’s much harder to do that with the White House beat. It’s just different.
Right. The reason I want to get to it is eventually we’re going to talk about the incrementalism of how it’s covered, so you never see the larger picture that everyone gets on that wheel, essentially.
MH: Well, that’s part of why my frequent collaborator, Glenn Thrush, is a lot better at that than I am. He often pulls me off the wheel and parks me nicely on a piece of newspaper and lets me roam around and nibble on some food. I do force myself to take breaks and sit back, and look at the pattern of what I’m looking at, or look back and say how does this relate to something he did in the campaign? Even something simple like, I did a story a couple weeks ago about his Opioids Commission and their first report. They did this report and he announced a national emergency, but not really, because the government hasn’t actually declared a national emergency on this. That just disappeared under a wave of North Korea and a million other tweets.
I want to get to that idea of the exhaustion level. You must be exhausted and we’re all exhausted because of you.
MH: Thank you. I’m sorry. You could all be sleeping.
You have had a different approach. You focused in on charitable and you have a book about this now. Why did you, then, focus so intentionally on this? What did you think it meant?
DF: Well, first of all, I could focus ...
Explain it. He just doesn’t give what he says he gives, right? Pretty much.
DF: Yeah. The short version of what happened with his charity, of his veteran’s promise, was it started out him saying he had gotten $6 million for veterans, of which $1 million was his own money, and he was going to give it away. I just wanted to find out if he’d done it, and he hadn’t, basically. It took me forever to figure that out. Finally, in May, I spent all this time searching for evidence that anybody had gotten the money that Trump said he was going to give to veteran’s specifically.
And then Cory Lewandowski, who was Trump’s campaign manager, now a Harvard fellow, called and said, “I can tell you for sure Donald Trump has given away his $1 million to veterans, but I can’t tell you who got it, or when, or in what amounts. It’s all secret. It’s all totally secret.” You can’t take that for an answer. We wrote a story saying that he said that, but you can’t trust anybody saying that. I went looking for truth, basically, that Trump had given this money away.
I was on Twitter basically saying, “Hey, has anybody even gotten $1 of this million dollars Trump says he just gave out of his own pockets to veterans?” I spent all day searching for it, couldn’t find any evidence of it, and at the end thought the problem was me. I’m like, “This was a stupid way of searching.”
Right, which I think reporters do. I think reporters do a lot. They assume it’s not their ...
DF: One of my problems, as a reporter, is that I’m basically an optimist. If people say they’re going to do something — this is in spite of so many years of covering politics — if people say they’re going to do something, I believe them.
MH: That is shocking.
DF: I know. It’s a handicap, and it means that I’m constantly being surprised by things.
MH: Maybe that’s good.
DF: In this case, I thought, “Okay, he probably did give this money away and I spent a day searching for it, and I haven’t found it.” I had been putting @RealDonaldTrump in all of my tweets looking for this money in the hopes that he would see it. The reason I couldn’t find it was because it didn’t exist. He had not given the money. Only after I made this big show of looking for it did Trump actually give the money away.
Which you did, you used Twitter to do that, and you took pictures of your notes. You did all kinds of things, which I thought was rather clever. It’s also, you’re giving away the story.
DF: Well, that was sort of the beginning of it. When that worked, Trump saw what I was doing and then actually gave the money away. That was two things. One, the editors realized that this was interesting. He gave this big press conference at Trump Tower, where he excoriated the media for making him live up to this promise he’d given on television. The editors said, “Wow. If he’s willing to do that, trying to weasel out of a commitment to veterans, our most revered group in our society and under the brightest spotlight we have, which is a presidential campaign, what was he doing before? Was he promising money to charity before and not giving it?” They said okay, make that a focus.
One of the things that so important about Trump, covering him — and I know Maggie knows this, too — is he spends so much time constructing a façade about who he is and what he does and what matters to him, and then makes it so hard to figure out the substance of what he lives, what he’s actually doing.
In this case, Trump had, for many years, understood that to play the role of Bruce Wayne, basically, millionaire, playboy kind of figure, you had to be generous and generous in extravagant ways. He’d been promising to give money to all these different people, but in private he had been doing as much as he could to avoid giving anything to anybody. The moral compunction that he showed the world that he felt, he didn’t really feel. That was something, an interesting line of coverage, I thought an important thing to say about him. I could only do that because we had other people at the Post that were doing what Maggie was doing: Following Trump around, writing stories about the campaign. I could only do it because we had a big enough staff to do everything.
What did you think that represented? Maggie, I’d love your thoughts on this. What do you think it represented of him doing that? You picked one thing, which I think is very indicative of everything else, pretty much.
DF: Yeah. To me, he clearly had thought it was an important thing to say about himself, that he was generous, that he was going to give money to people. He would often say, like at Howard Stern, “Oh yeah, ‘Celebrity Apprentice’? Yeah, I’m going to give all the money to charity.”
I think there’s two sides of Trump’s character — at least, his pre-presidential character. One was, “I’m the richest man you could possibly imagine. I live the life of Scrooge McDuck, basically. I have so much more money than I ...” Like, the first line ...
I swim in it.
DF: The first line in “The Art of the Deal” in 1987 was, “I have so much money, I don’t need any more.” I’m so rich, that I couldn’t use any more money. That’s one side of the personality, the image.
The other side was, “I need your money. Give me money for Trump Steaks, Trump Water, Trump University.” He was always hustling to get you to give him your money. How do you square that? A guy that doesn’t need more money but is desperate to get you to send him cash. The way he would always do it was charity. “Well, this is for charity. Trump University, it’s all for charity. It’s not for me, because I have more money than I could ever need.”
It was important to me to see he wanted people to believe that about him so much, what was he doing in private to live up to it? In the privacy of his own home, in the quiet of his own mind, did other people really matter to him and if so, how? What causes had he chosen? It seemed like the end result of all of it was the cause was himself.
He did have a charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which gave some money away, but almost always to people ...
DF: Yeah, people that had invited him to a party, had given him an award. Places where it was socially unacceptable in this particular interaction not to have some kind of charity, charitable donation, so this was his way of meeting that minimum, but there’s no greater cause. The cause was always him.
Maggie, this seems to be the pattern, correct? On everything.
MH: Look, I think that I agree completely with your point, that what David did was pick ... We all commented on this at the Times, and I give David an enormous credit for this because he picked a lane, and he just focused on that lane as opposed to the rest of us, who were constantly chasing the golf ball across the course.
Right, which I think is the point.
MH: Right, especially with Trump because so much of it is whacking a golf ball intentionally across the field to get you to chase it. When I was listening to David talk, I was thinking about this is where, in some ways, those of us who had covered Trump for a really long time were actually at a disadvantage in this campaign because the five-borough view in New York City of Trump is so unbelievably different than the national view of Trump.
The national view of Trump was formed over 14 years of “The Apprentice.” I was amazed when I would go to Iowa and people would describe him as if he was Thomas Edison. They would be like, “You know what? He’s this innovator. He formed this huge business. He’s decisive. He makes decisions, and he fired Gary Busey.” That’s what they’re talking about. In New York City, he was known as a hustler. He was known as somebody who left other people with the bills, who didn’t pay his bills. He was known as somebody who was constantly promising to give money but was always living on other people’s money.
He has this friend, Stewart Rahr, who actually was very infrequently talked about in this campaign, I think by his own design, but Rahr is this party boy, who was a Page 6 fixture, who was constantly funding Trump’s fund or charities. Trump would promise a donation to something, and it was actually Rahr who would give it. I had a friend in New York politics who called me around October of 2015 and was like, “You need to be focusing on this.” We never really did, and we never really did anywhere near as well as David did.
Part of what the brilliance of what David did is that with Trump, it’s not really enough to just write it once or twice. You need to write it over and over and over and over again because this tidal wave of other stuff he puts out takes over. With Trump, to David’s point about the cause is himself, this is a casino owner where the house always win, right? He always wins one way or the other in his mind, and it doesn’t really matter what happens to the other person.
His folks came to me in May of 2015 and said Trump is going to declare on June 16th, and we want you to write it. I said no. They said why, and I said because I’m doing this again. I did this in 2011 and he didn’t run, and I’m not playing this game where he looks for free publicity again. He’s going to actually have to run for me to do this. I never thought he would be. I didn’t think he would file a financial disclosure form.
He didn’t, but go ahead.
MH: No, he did but ...
He did, but not ...
MH: He did. He didn’t release his ... Well, we have no way of knowing whether that’s real, and we haven’t seen his tax returns, which he repeatedly promised he would release but then they were under audit and this and that. It is, as David said, it is always a mirage. I was so used to there was a side that was like, everybody knows this. Actually, everybody doesn’t know this. That, I would say, was one of my biggest failings during the campaign.
Let’s talk about now, covering things now. Now, David, you’re going to continue with the charitable giving, because you feel like this is, I don’t know, the “Rosebud” of the situation. I don’t know how else to think about it.
DF: It’s my gimmick now. I have to stick with it. Also, I’m doing a lot of coverage of the Trump business, Trump organization.
DF: Just because it’s ... A lot of the same techniques are useful when covering that, and also because I think that’s an under-covered source of influence on Trump.
DF: Like a ways from, Trump’s perspective, positive and negative. A lot of people are giving him business because he’s the president, and a lot of people are taking away business from him because he’s the president.
Not just that, the actual business that had existed for 20 years. I think very few reporters have delved as deeply as they possibly could.
DF: To me, the really interesting thing now is that the people that Trump built his business on are the inverse America to the people that he ran on. He ran on rural America, ex-urbs, the middle of the country, Rust Belt. His businesses, his hotels and golf clubs, at least, are in Blue America, right on the coast, wealthy enclaves. Very, very wealthy people are members, and a lot of them are very liberal.
He is now trying to appeal to both those constituencies at once. One constituency is locked into membership fees, in some cases, but to stoke his base he ends up alienating the people who were his customer base for a long time. I’m really interested in how those two sides of his appeal interact with each other, and in the end, which one matters to him more.
The businesses themselves?
DF: The businesses. Golf clubs ... I mean, I learned a lot about Palm Beach and golf clubs and hotels. Yeah, it’s really interesting. The Trump people make it extremely hard to figure out what’s going on with their businesses, so we’ve done things like try to figure out all the people, the charities who rented out ballrooms and hotel rooms, all the NBA teams that stay at his hotels, people that pay him a lot of money and have other choices.
You think about his businesses. None of it’s really necessary, right? It’s not like he’s selling auto parts. He’s selling things that you could find ... It’s easy to replace, or it’s easy to just go without. You don’t really need a golf club membership. Those businesses make it easy for customers to walk away, and they may be doing that now. I think that’s a really interesting part of what’s changing. It’s interesting for new people that come, all the new people who come to the Trump Hotel are doing it often because they want something from his presidency.
Now under scrutiny, obviously, are some of his businesses internationally. With Russia, particularly. Is that going to be a big focus? I mean, it’s clearly a focus of the Mueller investigation, as it should be.
DF: Yes. It’s not my focus really, but it’s the focus of other people at the Post. We’re really interested in the Trump Tower deal in Moscow, or the proposal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. The New Yorker had the great story about Azerbaijan, the ties to the Iranians through Azerbaijan. That stuff is really an important part of understanding his presidency. It’s just not me particularly that does that.
Let’s talk about the exhaustion level, because I think one of the things you talked about, he throws a golf ball and you all chase it. He says something outrageous ... During one week, I’ve forgotten the outrageous thing he said Monday, and I feel sometimes like I can’t take a shower because if I get in the ... “Oh my God, what did he just do?” Reporters are on the wheel that he creates and does that. How is that? Is that changed? Because it seems to never end.
MH: It’s actually gotten a little better. Look, he creates chaos and then he responds to the chaos that he creates, and then we have to respond. “Have not,” “Have to.” But we end up covering both the creation and the response that he does. It’s all some self-contained thing. It is all of a piece. Everything David’s saying, and everything I’m talking about, is all about somebody creating his own world, which you really can’t do when you are the president because there are just objective facts and everything can not be wag the dog.
I think that one of the challenges for us is figuring out how to explain to people — and I was thinking about this, again, as David was talking — how to show people that the reality is different than what they are hearing, and maybe even seeing. I think that in our coverage — I don’t mean the Times, I mean just the broad spectrum of coverage — I think there is way too much telling about Trump and not enough showing, so the tone ...
MH: Sure. I think the tone ends up being off oftentimes. I think that it is much more important for people to just ... Here’s the thing. The damage of all of us saying he is going to lose, and him winning, on media credibility was very real. At a certain point, if the tone of coverage is all endlessly shrill that everything he does is treated as if it’s worthy of the same reaction, it’s just not. I’m sorry. Some of these tweets do not need to be treated like other tweets. I don’t think we can ignore his tweets. I never understood that one.
Well, they seem to be presidential pronouncements.
MH: They’re presidential statements. Why would we not pay attention to what he says? For the exhaustion factor, to take it back to what you were asking, it is important to start figuring out what the rhythms are. The problem, certainly at my paper — I think it’s actually much less so at the Washington Post — is that the people who covered the campaign were just fundamentally different than the people who covered the White House.
The Washington Post has a lot more people in their White House bureau who covered the campaign. If you did not cover the campaign, you were at a severe disadvantage because you are ... You were for the first six months because you were learning how strange this all is. I remember my colleague then, Ashley Parker, who is now David’s colleague. She and I were the two main Trump reporters. We did a briefing for the DC bureau right after the election just to tell them what to prepare for. People thought I was kidding based on a lot of what I said.
What did you say? “He cray.” What did you do it?
MH: Not like that.
“No, really. He cray.”
MH: He will point to this table and say it’s a sofa. You’ll be wanting to tear your hair out because this is not a sofa, but you don’t really know how to argue with someone saying that.
Then you’re discussing sofas.
MH: Right, correct. Just along those lines. How people in the campaign thought that their offices were bugged, how you should always assume that your conversations are being taped. How you have to be careful what you say to him because he will take something you say and he will toss it back out publicly with a whole new patina, where it’s not quite what you said.
We’ve seen this for two years where he’ll be like, “This person came to me and asked for my support.” I’ll be like, “That’s not really what happened,” but there’s enough of a kernel of truth that the person ends up in this weird spiderweb, unable to get out of what he painted it as. I think that for people who didn’t witness that firsthand and didn’t just have a sense of who was trustworthy on the campaign or who was more trustworthy than others ... The one thing that I will say that was unique about this campaign, and that has been unique about this White House, is I have never been lied to so frequently. I have covered some very difficult politicians.
Wow. Come over and cover Uber with me. You’ll have a similar situation. Not now.
MH: Right. It’s all changed. That is where I think a lot of the exhaustion comes in is there is ... I think the word gas-lighting has been rather overused, but I do think there is a degree to which you spend so much time trying to make sure that the ground beneath you is actually solid that that is exhausting.
All right. Getting to gas-lighting, I want to know what each of your relationship ... Do you have a strong relationship with Trump? Or, not at all?
DF: No. I haven’t talked to him since May of last year when he called me a nasty guy. He told my editor at that point that he wasn’t going to talk to me again. I’ve tried to talk to him a number of times since then, but no.
How so? Just reaching out?
DF: Yeah. For every story on charities, on Trump organizations, we would reach out to him. Occasionally, you get some sort of spokesman to call you back, but I never got him again. There was a time, obviously before, when he was really, really easy to get on the phone.
One of the interesting things for me, talking about learning to deal with their press operation, there was one incident last year where I wrote a story about Trump’s charitable giving and I sent the Trump campaign a bunch of questions about it. They didn’t respond at all. Story comes out. It says that they didn’t respond to these queries. They then took the answers that they should have given to me, that I had asked for, and gave them to CNN, so CNN could have me on and sort of zatz me with it and say, “We found some problems with your story. The Trump campaign gave us this information.” What I started doing after that was posting all my questions on Twitter. “Here are the questions I asked,” just because I think readers, when they see you say the Trump campaign declined to comment ...
It looks like you didn’t do your job.
DF: Yeah. They think that when you say oh, they didn’t comment, they imagine a scene out of the movies where they’re hauling the president by and you’re like, “Do you have any comment?” and they just don’t say anything. No, you gave them lots of ways to answer these questions. That’s been part of my response to that. They didn’t do it to me again after that.
After you put it on Twitter?
MH: It’s important.
DF: After I started showing on Twitter this is what I asked for, they didn’t respond.
Right. I want to get to using that, and also where the media is next, but what is your relationship with him? I suspect you talk to him a lot?
MH: I wouldn’t say whether I do or don’t, but I think that the idea that somebody has a relationship with him, I just think it’s a flawed premise. Nobody has relationships with him. Everybody is disposable for him, for the most part, with literally maybe three exceptions and I don’t mean in the media. I mean in his life.
I’m not talking about a relationship you got out to dinner ...
MH: No, no, no. I know what you mean, but what I mean is even these things ... He speaks to people when they’re useful to him. I have had a very, very up and down relationship with him over several years, but a lot of it is he’s obsessed with the New York Times. It’s really hard for me to ...
I’m just curious about that because he insults you at the same time. It feels like he must be talking to you, just from my reading of your stories.
MH: I don’t want to get into who I talk to.
You don’t have to say if you want.
MH: What I will say is he’s laser-focused on the Times’ approval because the Times is New York elite, and it’s the elite that looked down on him and his father, in his mind, when they were outer borough builders, and it’s a stamp of approval. To David’s point about the Bruce Wayne narrative that Trump tried to craft for himself, I kept thinking about this, and I am totally avoiding answering your question.
Yes, I see that.
MH: Just in case you’re not clear.
Don’t worry. I’ll ask again in a second.
MH: One of the things that I was thinking about that you said that was really interesting was about the whole way you get accepted in society is give money to charity, and it’s definitely true in New York. There were times when he did do that. He made donations to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in the ’80s, because that was socially acceptable, and that was seen as the socially good thing to do.
But when you were talking, I kept thinking about this story about Mike Bloomberg from 2001, when he was running for mayor, and it was in the Times. It was one of the best stories I have ever read about him, written in May of ’01. The lead was Mike Bloomberg showing up at a party in, I think, the late ’80s or ’90s, and seeing the invitation list — remember, Mike Bloomberg is from Boston — and he sees the names. Hosted by Ron Lauder and this one and that one, and he turned to whoever he was with and he said, “How do I get my name on this?”
That’s how he became a huge philanthropist, but there’s two ways to do that. You can actually give your money, if you have money to give, and then there’s Trump, who has not really given of his money and of whom there have been huge questions about how much money he actually has. Anyway, because of that, because of how New Yorkers have been written about in the Times, in part that is part of his obsession with the paper and wanting it ...
MH: His first big interview, after he won, was with us. He came to our offices. We didn’t go to him.
Right, but you have very good sources and I’m guessing he’s one. You maintain good sources at the same time that they hate you.
MH: I don’t talk about sourcing. They do hate me, though.
MH: Pretty clear.
It doesn’t feel like it.
DF: One example of the way that he in public excoriates the media and in private craves their approval was, remember four health care bills ago, when the House pulled its health care bill dramatically? Trump, at that point, was really into the, “I hate the media. I hate the media. The media’s terrible.” Who did he call? He called Costa and you, right?
DF: To tell you Trump had a piece of news that people didn’t know, which was that the House was going to pull its health care bill, and the two people he told were the Washington Post and the New York Times.
MH: To be clear, I had asked earlier in the day, and I’m pretty sure Bob did, too, if we could talk to him. It wasn’t as if we were on speed dial. However, he did return the call.
Let’s finish up talking about that concept. We haven’t gotten to Hillary yet, but that’s okay. She wrote a whole book about it.
MH: Right. You can read her book.
Yeah, you can read the book. It’s actually a terrific book. It’s angry, which I like. It’s an angry book, which is always a good book as far as I’m concerned.
Let’s talk about the attacks on the media. Obviously, as a media person, you have to go, “Of course it matters,” but what does it feel like right now? Now, it seems to work among the base, because he — did he do it last night again?
MH: I actually don’t know. No, I think he did it ...
Or, did he just attack John McCain?
MH: I think he did NFL.
He did NFL, John McCain and someone else. I don’t know. Does it work? Do you think it’s effective? Or does it make you scared or ... I know there is a lot of pearl-clutching in the media, like, “I can’t believe he said that.” At one point, there was a whole bunch of reporters, I was in Washington, and they were talking about this, and they kept saying, “I can’t believe he said that. I can’t believe he said that.” I was like, “For fuck’s sake, he says it all the time! Believe it. Stop.” This being indignant and angry and self-righteous seems to get nobody anywhere, essentially.
MH: I know. It’s terrible. In “Broadcast News” — which, if people have not seen it, you should watch it.
Best movie ever.
MH: Holds up so well. The best journalism movie that I’ve ever seen from the 1980s, and there’s a scene where one of the new anchors, the pretty boy anchor, he’s confronting a military general and he keeps in the clip of him confronting the guy. Joan Cusack says, “I love that you left that in,” and Albert Brooks says, “Yes, yes. Let’s never forget. We’re the real story, not them.”
Some of the “Oh my God, he’s just being so harsh on them” media, nobody gives a shit about the media being treated poorly. Is our rating less than Congress in public approvals, now? It’s pretty close.
DF:I don’t know.
MH: It is.
DF: Lower than Congress is hard to do, just mathematically.
MH: Maybe, but it’s not far. I think it works for his base. What I do think is that — to David’s point about the public screaming “I hate the media,” and then, “Hello?” — is that there are some of his supporters who aren’t really in on the joke.
What worries me is two things. What worries me is people taking individual actions against reporters that are potentially dangerous, because there have been an increase in threats, I think, made against people. The other thing that worries me is just there’s this creeping crackdown on transparency. The AP did this story the other day that was really important about state to state, you are seeing an effort to respond less to FOIA requests. You are seeing information provided less. We know that this administration has scrubbed websites, has not answered FOIAs, is not releasing White House visitor’s logs, and I’m not even sure that they’re holding on to the visitor’s logs. That’s what scares me more than anything.
Right. The lack of transparency.
MH: Yeah, which is, I think, ultimately what the screaming about the press hides, to some extent.
Right, and at the same time, it’s hard to not do a better job. I like it better when people aren’t talking to me. I’m like, “Yay!”
MH: It’s better. Right, we don’t need a hug. That’s not what we’re in this business for.
Well, a few people, but go ahead.
MH: Well, some people need a hug, but I also think that people constantly posting Instagram videos of themselves asking questions of, “Here’s what I did in the briefing room.” I don’t think that that helps any of us. I just don’t.
DF: I think it’s a bad thing that he’s attacking the media and undermining our credibility. The response from us, to your point, cannot be outrage. It cannot be that we make ourselves the story.
MH: That’s right.
DF: I feel like bashing the media ... You know how country music stars get an extra 10 years on their life when they go to Branson? Like you’re washed up and you go to Branson, then you can last another 10 years. That’s what bashing the media does. When you’ve run out of everything ...
David Clarke, the Milwaukee sheriff. People died in his jail. The rest of the county is turning against him. He loses his job. What does he have left? Bashing the media. You can live for a long time as a conservative activist on that base anger by stoking anger at the media, and that’s bad also, but by us being outraged and taking ourselves out of the job that we do to become spokespeople and activists, I think that only helps it and incentives people to continue doing it.
I see. Bashing the media is Branson.
MH: This is really good.
DF: Maybe Vegas for comedians? Like Carrot Top. It extends your career for a long time after you’ve ceased to produce anything useful.
MH: That’s right.
I do think that’s an insult to Branson, and I like Branson.
MH: I like Branson, too.
All right, I’m going to finish up. Let me get some questions from the audience. We have a mic here, and I really wish you would ask questions. These are really the top reporters covering the president. Where are we right now? Health care, look. Where are we right now? I think Lauren DeLuca, in Twitter, wrote it feels like years in a week.
MH: It does, but you know something — and I said this before and then I didn’t follow up on it because I was too busy avoiding one of your other questions — but things have actually slowed down a little bit because there’s only so long you can sustain this kind of light with no actual productivity.
Health care, I don’t see how it happens. I think McCain dealt it an almost certain death blow. I think McCain has decided that he wants to go out his own way from his career in the Senate, so that then puts the focus on tax reform, which is what Trump was telling people back when the first bill got pulled that he wished he had done. I think that is likelier to pass because I think there’s more incentive to pass it, but not if it’s going to be passed with some of the provisos that they’re talking about right now, which is taxing people’s 401ks. There’s all sorts of things that will, for members of Congress in certain districts, it’s going to make this a guaranteed loser. If they vote for this, they might as well say good-bye.
If you don’t see tax reform pass, then I think that you are going to see an increased number of Congressional retirements and a lot more criticism from Republicans of Trump.
Of Trump. Not more criticism.
MH: Yeah, I do. I just think that ...
They keep saying that and then don’t.
MH: No, they ...
Then, the investigation ...
MH: They have been a few. I think the investigations, they’re not moving together but they’re moving in parallel tracks, and Mueller’s office is in pretty close contact with the Congressional investigators. Mueller now has 17 people working for him.
MH: They’ve got a grand jury. I mean, look, we reported that they told Paul Manafort he’s going to be indicted. Now, does that mean he’s going to be indicted related to something to the campaign? I have no idea. That actually is not my sense yet, but these special counsel investigations that are open-ended, as the Clinton’s now very well, are very fraught, and if anyone has finances that I think they would not like having somebody poking through, it is Donald Trump.
DF: I think, just punting, Trump has devolved so much of the actual governing to Congress. I think that’s why it slowed down. Even a scared, paranoid, trying to ram through at the last minute before a deadline Congress is slow because there’s so many people involved. I think that’s been part of the slowdown is that Trump himself seems to have surrendered so much of the decision-making authority to Congress.
DF: The investigation, I am a complete bystander to that. I sit near the people that report on it, and I read about it a lot. It seems like it’s picking up steam. Maggie’s right. By firing Comey, he gave Mueller a license to look at everything Donald Trump had done since birth. That is what Donald Trump has spent his entire life, and some of his charitable donations, trying to avoid. A lot of the big donations he gave from his foundation were to the Police Athletic League of New York City, which was the pet charity of the DA. He spent a lot of time trying to avoid people looking into his personal finances, and because he didn’t think, has now brought that on himself.
MH: To your point, so much of all of this stuff with him is self-inflicted. It is always reverse engineering some other thing. He has gotten himself into a bind, and in the world of Donald Trump, nothing is ever Donald Trump’s fault so it has to be everybody else’s fault, but I don’t think this is going to end happily for some people. How broad that will be? I don’t know. Whether there’s actually evidence of him having knowledge about Russia, I don’t know, but he continues to act like somebody who is unconcerned, which is one of the things that perplexes people in the White House and some of his own lawyers more than anything.
Yeah, he does seem unconcerned. Questions from the audience?
Question 1: Steve Amos, and thank you so much for all the work you have done. Question. From your lens, how do you interpret the rhetoric of Trump as it relates to North Korea? The reason I ask is a lot of the other things, it could take a couple decades, but whatever he does, we’ll work out, but not a nuclear war. From what you’ve observed over the last many years, how would you really interpret all his rhetoric?
That’s an excellent question.
MH: It’s a great question, to which I don’t have a great answer, unfortunately. The way I interpret it is that when he came into office, this was the one issue that Obama had told him that he was the most worried about, and I think Trump has remained the most worried about it since then. I think it is just lodged in his brain in a certain way, and he knows he has no good options.
His advisers have asked him to stop saying things like “Rocket Man,” which Trump amuses himself with but which don’t really have much effect. He and Kim Jong Un are well matched on insults, but they’re not well matched on strategy and understanding of each other’s own chess game. I don’t have a good answer in terms of where this goes. I think that my understanding, from some of my colleagues, is that H.R. McMaster has actually been more vocal about being aggressive with North Korea than I had anticipated because I had thought he would be among those who would be, just based on his history, the more stepped back.
You have a bunch of people, basically, in the White House who are trying to execute a pretty careful dance with somebody who likes to just say what’s on his mind and likes to sound very tough.
Has it changed since Bannon left? Bannon was against those encounters, correct?
MH: Yes, but I don’t think it’s changed. I think that this was always a tension point between the two of them.
Do you miss Steve Bannon?
MH: He’s a very, very entertaining figure in certain respects.
Wow, entertaining. That’s not a word I’d pick for him.
MH: Yeah. Look, I think that by the end, there was a pretty broad feeling that he was a huge source of problems within the White House, that John Kelly had made clear to him pretty early on you will not be a survivor on this island and you’re going to have to figure out a way to go because you are a source of enormous trouble.
One of the ironies about Bannon, for me — and I’ve thought about this a lot in the last couple of days. Trump was enabled by the Republican Party in 2011 and 2012. Mitt Romney sought his endorsement. Reince Priebus, wrongly, thought he was a major donor, which is why Reince Priebus kept going ... I will never forget one of Reince Priebus’s people saying to me in 2011, when I was said, “Why is Reince not speaking out harder about the birther stuff?” This person said, “You don’t understand. Trump is going to do a major fundraiser.” I said, “Yeah, you’re right, I don’t understand that.”
That is true. Trump basically was mainstreamed that way. He was this total fringe person at that point. He was screaming about the birther stuff, which Andrew Breitbart ... The website’s named for Andrew Breitbart. He rejected Trump very, very forcefully in 2011. Rejected the birther stuff, said this is not what conservatism is. Trump got mainstreamed and then the party couldn’t get rid of him, even though they wanted to in 2016. Trump mainstreamed Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon was on this fringe with Breitbart, and he brought him into the White House. The idea that the White House now feels like they’re going to say, “Don’t listen to Bannon,” you made him your chief strategist. What did you think was going to happen?
Right. Fair point. One more quick question right here.
Question 2: Hi. Thank you all for being here this morning. It’s been a great discussion so far. My question is, in consideration of the command that Trump has over the news cycle, if we could fantasize about a time where y’all had the resources and time to focus on another person, or another situation, what would y’all be interested in covering?
MH: That is such a good question.
What would you cover, David?
DF: You mean within politics? Or anything? I think within politics, we are shifting slowly to cover people in Congress, and I think Mitch McConnell is the most fascinating figure. Alec MacGillis, this person who used to work at the Post, wrote a book about him called “The Cynic.”
DF: Mitch McConnell had been so cynical about using, stoking the Fox News conspiracy theory to lift his people into power, and thinking that he could then control it. It’s like, once we get the power, we don’t really want to do all that crazy stuff that these people want us to do. We’ll then be able to enact tax reform and do more mainstream conservative things, and now, he created the monster, and it’s eating him now.
McConnell, as cynical as he thought he was, he was wrong. He was idealistic in some ways, and to watch his vision for what this Congress could do with Trump as president completely disappear, and to think about what his future is, I think he’s a really fascinating figure and I would like to ... He’s the opposite of Trump personality wise, and so he’s sort of hard to write about, but his view of American politics, and his own place in it, has been completely upended in the last few months.
God. I never imagined the word fascinating and Mitch McConnell in the same sentence, but go ahead. What would you cover? Tourism in Hawaii? What?
MH: Yeah, I’d like to go cover science, honestly. I’d like to go do some entirely different beat.
Entirely different beat.
DF: I used to cover the environment, and it does have the advantage of the fact that when you call people up and ask them questions, their first instinct is not to lie to you.
DF: They’ll tell you about their allergy, or their cougar, or whatever.
MH: See? I love this.
DF: They’re happy to tell you what happened to them. You don’t have to get through those seven layers of lies first.
MH: Let me amend my answer. Actually, if I could go cover anything right now, I would actually like to go cover New York City’s political system again, because that’s where I started, and it’s just fundamentally broken.
DF: It is. It is, and it’s also fascinating, too.
MH: Yeah, it is. If I had my druthers, my dream job was chief New York correspondent for the Times forever, and passed me by, but that’s ...
I’m guessing you could still get it.
MH: Well, but that would be my dream.
All right. Last question I have. I’m really sorry we don’t have more time. We’ve got to finish. You’re on the Twitter a lot, and we were just talking earlier, you really do come close to that line and you use it for work. You’re not quite as fun on Twitter, but it’s good. It’s how you use it, but you are very funny, and you come very close ... I go way over the line all the time, and I come back, and I go over.
MH: You get to.
Glenn just left Twitter. Glenn Thrush, your reporting partner. Why did he leave? I think I know why, because he was getting emotional. There was a lot of “What the fuck?”s in there.
MH: On the part of the readers or on his part?
No, in the tweets. You could feel the “What the fuck?”
MH: I think that the risk of Twitter is that we all sound like we’re screaming at the television, and I think part of the problem with covering this presidency is that we spend a lot of time talking about why can’t Trump control himself on Twitter, so that I know that when I can’t control myself on Twitter, it’s not a great look.
I think that Glenn found mostly, honestly, it was a time suck. The way David uses it is great, and I used to use it that way, and I still do sometimes. That is still how I get sources. Sources will DM me. People will see something I wrote, or posted, and they’ll try and reach me that way, so for that, it’s inherently useful. For sharing reporting that I can’t get into the paper, it’s incredibly useful. Everything else, eh. I think Glenn chose mental clarity over playing the anger video game, which is what Twitter is.
MH: Well, we don’t have to do everything the same. Look, I still find Twitter useful. I think that it is a good platform for pushing out work. It’s just that I used to do things like engage in these idiotic fights, which is a terrible look for reporters, and then I’d be fighting with an egg with 27 followers. I’m like, “What the hell am I doing?” I was fighting with someone once, and somebody DM’ed me and said, “That is literally a bot that you’re fighting with.” I was like, “Oh.”
You could have called me. I would have told you that.
MH: I should have asked you. If only we had done this a long time ago ...
Yeah. Stick with Scaramucci if you could.
MH: Yeah, exactly. I still think it’s useful. I don’t think it’s as useful as I used to think it was.
Yeah, I just had a fight with Scaramucci. I enjoyed it completely, so I have a different point of view.
MH: Well, I’m glad. I’ll just watch you and not do my own.
It was amusing. It was fun. We both, I think, enjoyed it and it was great.
Very last question, I know that we have to absolutely go, is are you optimistic or pessimistic about the state of the world right now? David, you first.
DF: As I said, I’m naturally an optimist. I do feel like domestically, the worse fears of what the Trump administration would bring in terms of damage to democracy and gathering of power in one place have not come true. Mostly, I can’t tell you what the intent behind this was, but mostly through incompetence on the Trump people’s part, the fact that they began their administration, not with things like infrastructure or tax reform, which Democrats would have been scared to oppose them on, but with the Muslim travel ban, 15 different versions of health care that were unpopular ...
A smack at transgender people.
DF: Yeah. All these things that have shrunk. I think he had a moment on January 20th where the Democrats were afraid of him, the Republicans were afraid of him. People were willing to give him a chance. He could have had an enormous amount of power, and he doesn’t because of the way he’s used the power that he has.
Sometimes, he still seems to be acting like he’s a guy at home yelling at the TV instead of a guy who’s in charge of the country. I’m optimistic domestically. I think the guardrails of democracy have held. The press has gotten stronger figuring out how to cover Trump. North Korea is the one thing I don’t know how to value. I don’t know whether to be optimistic or pessimistic about that, and I mostly just choose to ignore it.
MH: My concern is I agree with everything David said, although I think that there’s a difference between how he has used political capital versus actual power. I think that just the actual power a president can amass in this country is actually pretty limited, which was an original intent. My concern is that there is going to be some kind of an unforeseen event, or a known unknown like a terror attack, and how he responds to that given his devotion to trying to keep some form a travel ban in place, given how DHS has been incredibly aggressive about deportations. Things like that, that I am concerned about domestically. Obviously, I’m concerned about North Korea, but who isn’t?
All right. David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, thank you so much for coming on Recode Decode.
MH: Thank you.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.