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The hourly barrage of headlines generated by President Trump’s administration (Mueller! Russia! North Korea summit!) has raised up a small army of print journalists and legal commentators serving as de facto, on-call correspondents for Fox News, MSNBC and CNN. Reporters from Maggie Haberman, Matt Apuzzo and Jeremy Peters of The New York Times; to The Washington Post‘s Robert Costa, Ashley Parker and Phil Rucker; to the Boston Herald‘s Kimberly Atkins and AP’s Jonathan Lemire are having to file a print scoop, then rush into the studio to do a cable-news hit to discuss it — or are called in to comment on what the president did, said or tweeted (or on someone’s reaction to what he did, said or tweeted) that same day.
“Every hour there is something breaking, and every hour it has been insane,” says Jill Wine-Banks, a former Watergate prosecutor turned MSNBC legal analyst who says she often goes on-air several times a day. “I go to the studio prepared to talk about the 14th or Fifth Amendment, and the producer says: ‘Forget everything. Rudy Giuliani just went wacko.’ You’re commenting live, there’s no prep, and that’s just how it is.”
From the breakneck pace of Trump’s Twitter feed to panel discussions that act as nightly programming cornerstones, so-called ink-stained wretches have had to step up their style game to keep apace with their increased appearances. Scott Carter, executive producer of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, says, “Cable news has become to journalism what music videos were for rock musicians; [it’s] impossible to ignore their presentation.” (Ironically, print journalists don’t like to appear concerned about it, as they and their publicists declined to comment.)
Even cable-news hosts are noticing the uptick in their guests’ appearance, though they are, by and large, operating without stylists and buying their own clothes. “Maggie Haberman is developing great style,” says CNN Tonight anchor Don Lemon. Exhibit A: The Times‘ White House correspondent recently appeared on CNN looking coolly telegenic in a sleek navy jacket and magenta T-shirt the day after Trump attacked her on Twitter for a story she wrote about his relationship with attorney Michael Cohen. It was a dramatic sartorial shift from earlier in the administration, when she was photographed clad in perfunctory office slacks and top. Likewise, the Post‘s Costa, who also hosts PBS’ Washington Week, has leaned out and sharpened his style since Trump took office, trading poorly fitting jackets for tailored suits on shows like MSNBC’s The 11th Hour With Brian Williams.
Carter says he constantly scans cable news for new Real Time guests. “We are visual animals, and in the first 15 seconds of a broadcast, you make a judgment about that person’s appearance — often you aren’t even listening to what they say,” he says. New York wardrobe consultants Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo, who style media stars as founders of Visual Therapy, say the advent of HDTV has allowed for a greater latitude of on-camera style. Men “can wear patterns; you can wear pinstripes without it being distorted,” says Lupo, but “you don’t want to wear a micro-check.” Garza advises against getting too creative, though, citing those who “go overboard with accessories.”
Wine-Banks’ love of brooches might be the exception, having inspired a Twitter meme with its own hashtag, #jillspin. Her pins range from an eagle to symbolize patriotism and a seal for Washington’s “three-ring circus” to her witch collection telegraphing “that this is not a witch hunt,” despite Trump’s protests. She deadpans, “I could wear that one almost every day now.”
This story first appeared in the May 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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