Maggie Haberman speaks as she writes — just as it should be. As the current White House correspondent for the New York Times, Haberman’s reputation for her dry manner when discussing President Trump precedes her. While the majority of her work resides in the archives of the Times and on Twitter, Haberman shared her opinions live at Zellerbach Hall on Oct. 8 for Cal Performances’ debut of its speaker series for the 2019-20 season.
The evening was set to be a dissection of Donald Trump, as Haberman’s most well-known articles regard. Haberman spoke not to the actions and decisions of the Trump administration, however, but rather addressed the rhetoric that the current president utilizes.
From her podium, Haberman began the first part of the evening — the second part to be a question and answer session with Edward Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism — by walking the audience through her start in journalism in New York City. During this time, Haberman honed her interviewing tactics through the mayoral campaigns of Rudy Giuliani. Now a long way from her start as a copy kid for a city tabloid, Haberman still noted her beginnings and especially her mentors, such as Jack Newfield. Passing down extremely applicable advice to the current political state and time that Haberman writes in, Newfield told Haberman, “ ‘You cannot give in to the bullying of the powerful when you’re going after a story.’ ”
Haberman often faces this attitude from the current president, as she shared multiple situations in which the president breached off-the-record agreements, publicly attacked her articles and denied interviews. “No president has ever liked their coverage,” Haberman said, to contrast the brash nature by which President Trump shares his thoughts on his social media platforms, which Haberman hinted might not be completely self-constructed. While President Trump does have a tumultuous relationship with the media, Haberman noted that Trump’s opinion of the Times is that he believes he “never got his due, but always sought its approval” during the 2016 election period. As one who has been in contact with the president multiple times in-person and over the phone, many think that Haberman has an insider perspective into Trump’s inner workings.
On this note, Haberman included a number of interesting insights into the president’s persona in her discussion. “He’s not stupid,” Haberman said. The image Haberman painted spoke to a carefully constructed politician who only at select times shows a temper. Haberman noted his suspected abrasiveness by stating, “The Twitter persona the president has is just that. A persona.” Haberman’s perspective on the social calamity that Trump’s online declarations stir up is mainly to blame on his consumer base. Haberman stated that “the line between news and entertainment is (the) very thing for those outside of the (journalism) business.”
While Haberman did share her thoughts on the distrust of the media, which she stressed was already brewing before the time of Trump, her overall opinion remained steadfast in regard to her profession. In other interviews, Haberman has stated that she still has a great passion for journalism and has not yet reached a point in her White House coverage in which she has reached such extreme frustration that she cannot continue. She remained loyal to the central tenets of journalism, saying, “If our (journalists at the Times’) job is to lay out the facts, I think we’ve done a good job.”
Throughout her talk, Haberman seemed to be a great source of knowledge and insight into the Trump administration. Haberman mentioned that her opinions are not the be all end all answers to the uncharted political waters the nation is about to enter, however. During the discussion section with Wasserman, many questions from the audience pointed at her projections for the upcoming election period. She stated, “I would pretend not to know how the next four months will turn out” but did admit that “the nastiness of 2020 will make 2016 look like a high-minded debate of ideas.”
Already a powerhouse in the national journalism community, Haberman’s work will become even more crucial as 2020 draws near. Haberman is a journalist to reckon with, not solely due to the relevance of her work, but because of the tenacity she has for going after stories, as well as the matter-of-fact manner by which she shares them.