People called me 'monkey': Journalists covering the campaign face insults, threats
Political correspondents share the pros and cons of reporting on one of the most contentious presidential races in recent memory.
Think running for president is grueling work? How about covering the people running for president?
On the surface it may seem like a glamorous job, traveling all over the country, talking to the people about issues that matter, and watching first-hand the twists and turns of the biggest political contest in the land.
It's also really hard work. Particularly in this year's election.
A Gallup poll released last month revealed the public trust in the media has reached its lowest point in nearly five decades — it's dipped 32 percent in the last year. Threats against reporters have become so intense that the Secret Service has been called in on occasion.
To get a sense of what it's been like to cover presidential politics in 2016, Take Two spoke to three reporters:
- Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent for Slate Magazine.
- Robert Samuels, national political reporter for the Washington Post.
- Israel Ortega, senior writer for the conservative publication Opportunity Lives
(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
What has been your approach when covering this election cycle?
Jamelle Bouie: My strategy for this particular campaign is to approach voters and approach people with as open a mind as possible and to try as hard as I possibly can to listen to their concerns and their interests with open ears. What's made that difficult this particular year is that—especially covering Trump events—I have spoken to quite a few voters who have said or articulated things which are, frankly, quite racist. It kind of gets harder and harder to engage in dialogue with voters when you know there's a non-trivial chance they will say something to you like 'I don't understand what people are always complaining about. Police are just doing their jobs.'
Take me to one of those moments, Jamelle. How does that feel to you, what do you say back?
The moment that comes immediately to mind is last fall when I was at a Trump rally in Dallas, and I was speaking to a middle-aged woman, and we were having a good conversation and out of nowhere, unprompted by me, she starts going on about Black Lives Matter and how Black Lives Matter is actually racist and how we have to remember there's this problem with black-on-black crime and there are a lot of criminals. Kind of all of the keywords for this kind of discussion. I'm a professional, so I kind of just nodded my head and said 'yes, of course, I hear what you're saying.' But the whole time I was working hard to hide the external representation of my internal annoyance, anger, desire to want to correct this person. After a couple of months of this, it just gets tiring. You just don't want to do it anymore.
Robert Samuels, you work for the Washington Post, one of the many papers Donald Trump has railed against. What kind of position does that put you in as a journalist on the ground trying to be fair and balanced?
It can be really tough, but I think a lot of us don't get into this profession because it's easy. Most of the work that I do deals with people who don't look like me or have my experience: I was a black kid, born of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in New York City.
When minorities enter into journalism, there's a feeling that their best use is to go to minority communities, but I must say, I've found my conversations with people who don't look like me to be some of the most fruitful conversation that we've had. There's almost a sense that—because I'm black and they're white—that they really want to explain to me why their positions are not racist, why they feel the way they feel, and why it's never taken as anything personal. That said, some personal things have happened to me during a Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky.
I was doing a story on some protestors, and as they were getting kicked out of the rally, someone noted that there were not three protestors, but four protestors. As the police pushed me out of that rally, people started calling me 'monkey,' a person tried to trip me, they shouted 'all lives matter' at me. It was one of the most frightening experiences that I've ever had as a reporter.
You were called a monkey.
Israel Ortega, it would seem that the American public does not have a lot of faith in the press in us right now. Where do you think that lack of faith is coming from and what can we do to change that?
It's not just a lack of trust in the press that is a problem: it's also a lack of trust in a whole host of institutions. People feel as if information that used to be reliable is no longer reliable and that's — I think — the detriment of a free society like ours.
I think as long as the media is asking the right questions and the tough questions on all sides, I would like to hope that trust in the media would rise.
Click the blue audio player to hear the full interview.