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The first year of the Trump presidency was a year of calibration for the nation’s top journalists, who learned to keep up with a politician who revels in exhausting the press corps, launching news cycles with early-morning, late night and weekend tweets.
The next two years, 2018 and 2019, were even more exhausting, as journalists scrambled to cover government shutdowns, congressional hearings, a Supreme Court nomination, the president’s flirtation with North Korea, the Mueller Report and impeachment.
At this point, journalists — print, online and television — are used to the Trump pace. Weekends are gone. Work-life balance is not a thing. (And that was true even before the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the biggest story of the last 20 years.)
But that doesn’t mean that national journalists want to do it for four more years.
A senior CNN producer tells The Hollywood Reporter that the network’s journalists are not rooting against the president in November but guessed they would welcome a return to a more “normal” presidency and accompanying news cycle.
“As journalists, I don’t think anybody cares about what party the president of the United States is,” the producer says. “What they care about is being able to live their lives normally again. I think there’s mental exhaustion around this presidency, and I don’t know anybody who is enjoying it. I don’t know anybody who wants to do another four years of this news cycle.”
The producer continues: “It’s not a matter what his political beliefs or his ideological beliefs are. The exhaustion comes from his behaviors. That’s it. His behavior is exhausting. … I don’t I think have ever run into anybody who says they literally hate Donald Trump the man. They’re just exhausted by his behavior, and I think that’s fair. Nobody I know is openly rooting for him to lose.”
Using similar language, a broadcast news executive says that a second Trump term “would be exhausting” for journalists.
Maggie Haberman, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and the journalist who has most embodied the Trump presidency, expressed doubt about her ability to cover another Trump term — logistically — in a previously unpublished interview with THR in late February, before the coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic.
Asked whether she would “embrace” covering four more years of the Trump show, Haberman said, “I don’t want to embrace anybody’s four more years, frankly. There are very few people who have continuously covered administrations. My colleague Peter Baker is one of them, and he’s one of the best in the business.”
Haberman continued: “But I didn’t set out to be a permanent White House reporter, and I don’t know that I actually, logistically, can do this for another four years, no matter who it is. Do I think that burnout is a real factor? It’s a real factor for any White House. I do think that because of the accelerated speed of all of this, I think that there are a lot of people who might be exhausted by the first four years.”
Another prominent White House reporter polled by THR expressed uncertainty about whether they would be game for another four years.
“If the president is re-elected, part of me would want to embark on something wildly different,” the journalist says. “Four years of writing about this White House is long enough. And reporters with fresh eyes are often better on a topic anyways. The other part of me thinks leaving the biggest story in the world would be a career mistake, and what else would be as interesting or important?”
“I am ready for anything,” says ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, who wrote a book about covering the president, when asked about the next four years.
While the makeup of a second-term White House press corps is hard to predict, the journalists who’ve spoken with THR say the media would be just as aggressive and energetic in covering his next four years as they have been his in first.
“I think packing it in doesn’t work for anybody, no matter what your beliefs are,” the broadcast news network executive says. “It’s what we’re here to do.”
The CNN producer expresses a similar sentiment: “If there’s another four years, if you’re a journalist and you want to be in this profession, you’re just going to have to deal with it. I think if he gets re-elected, nobody’s going to give up. You’re just going to have to bear down and continue to do the job. If Joe Biden wins, the focus will shift to holding Joe Biden accountable. Whatever happens in November, the job is not going to change. This idea that somehow we’re going to take some sort of vacation and go party if Biden is elected isn’t true. People can think what they want, but how we do our jobs will not change.”
Brian Karem, who entered the national consciousness as a Trump-sparring White House correspondent for Playboy News and a CNN contributor, says he’d welcome the opportunity to challenge the president for another four years.
“I am in for the long haul,” he says. “I don’t think Trump can handle the pace and exhaustion of another four years of his presidency. My concerns are more institutional. There are scores of young reporters covering this White House who do not understand how abnormal all of this really is. I feel obliged to stick around if for no other reason than to see a return to something resembling a professional and normal environment.”
Asked by THR in February whether he would be up for covering four more years of the Trump show, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said, “You’re talking to a man whose father was still working at 88. When I went to a job interview with Roger Ailes, I was 55 years old and I said, ‘I can only give you 30 years.’ I’ve got more than a decade left to go.”
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