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What the media gets wrong about Donald Trump, according to the NYT’s Maggie Haberman

“Shrill” outrage and grandstanding only hurt the media’s credibility, Haberman says.

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President Donald Trump in a crowd at the United Nations, making an “O.K.” symbol with his right hand John Moore / Getty

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman is known for her deeply sourced stories about what’s really happening at the Trump White House. She says the gap between what people close to Trump know and what everyone else believes has been a defining trait throughout his public life — and also a potential pitfall for reporters.

“The five-borough view in New York City, of Trump, is so unbelievably different than the national view of Trump,” Haberman said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, recorded live in Austin, Texas at the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival. “The national view was formed over 14 years of ‘The Apprentice.’ I was amazed and people would go to Iowa and people would describe him like Thomas Edison: ‘He’s this innovator, he formed this huge business, he’s decisive’ and it’s, like, he fired Gary Busey. That’s who we’re talking about.”

“It’s always a mirage,” she added. “There was a side that was like, ‘Everybody knows this!’ Well, actually, everybody doesn’t know this. That, I would say, is one of my biggest failings during the campaign.”

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And “everybody” doesn’t just mean “Apprentice”-watching voters. Haberman said her colleagues at the New York Times who had not covered the campaign but are now covering the White House were at a “severe disadvantage” when Trump took office.

“For the first six months, you were learning how strange this all is,” she said. “My then-colleague Ashley Parker, we did a briefing for the D.C. bureau just after the election, to tell them what to prepare for and people thought I was kidding. ‘He will point to this table and say it’s a sofa,’ just sort of along those lines.”

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On the new podcast, Haberman and fellow guest David Fahrenthold, who has covered Trump for the Washington Post, said many journalists have not handled the adjustment to Trump’s reality well. Haberman called out the often-“shrill” coverage of every @realDonaldTrump tweet as an equivalent outrage and cited the 1987 movie “Broadcast News.”

“There’s a scene where one of the new anchors is confronting a military general and he keeps in the clip of him confronting the guy,” she recalled. “Joan Cusack says, ‘I love that you left that in,’ and Albert Brooks says, ‘Yes, let’s never forget, we’re the real story! Not them.’”

“Some of the — ‘Oh my God, he’s being so harsh on the media!’” she added, alluding to social media grandstanding. “Like, nobody gives a shit about the media being treated poorly ... We don’t need a hug. That’s not what we’re in this business for.”

Fahrenthold agreed, arguing that bashing the media is the easiest way for otherwise irrelevant “conservative activists” like former sheriff David Clarke to stay in the conversation.

“I think it’s a bad thing that he’s attacking the media and undermining our credibility,” he said. “The response from us, to your point, cannot be outrage. It cannot be that we make ourselves the story ... By us being outraged and taking ourselves out of the job that we do to become spokespeople and activists, I think that ultimately helps it [media-bashing] and incentivizes people to continue doing it.”

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