One of the saving graces of the Trump era is the journalism it has inspired. #Maggie Haberman is a tireless, keen-eyed example. As part of the New York Times’ White House team, she has repeatedly added to the sum total of what we know about this President and the chaotic West Wing.
To hang around Haberman is to be ashamed of one’s indolence and inattention. She is a multitasker par excellence. A hummingbird effortlessly doing what she needs to do, which is everything at once. Even as she carries on a conversation in life, she is texting, fielding calls from the office and home, writing, taking edits—and when you finally get home in the evening and go to the Times Web site, you see her byline on two or three stories.
This week, after we spoke, Haberman and two of her colleagues spent nearly an hour talking with the President. He took the interview as an occasion not so much to think out loud about policy as to trash everyone within reach, including his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Trump has called Haberman “third-rate,” and yet he is somehow obsessed with her, and the Times’, attention. Haberman first got to know Trump when she was a reporter for the New York Post; she also worked for the Daily News and Politico before joining the Times, in 2015. She is also a CNN political analyst. David Gregory, her colleague at CNN, rightly said on the air, “It’s striking that the President, who spends so much time trying to discredit the news media to convince his supporters simply not to believe outlets like the New York Times, in the end cannot quit Maggie Haberman, and that’s just the bottom line. Because he wants legitimacy and he knows you have to go to Maggie and her colleagues, who are really the journalists of record on this Trump Presidency.”
A couple of days before the Trump interview, I spoke with Haberman for The New Yorker Radio Hour, which is broadcast nationally on public radio stations and available now on newyorker.com. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
D.R.: Right now, the President is still in the midst of what can broadly be called Russiagate. And, at the same time, we’ve had the health-care meltdown. What is the atmosphere like in the West Wing and in the Oval Office?
M.H.: You know, it’s not as bad as you might think, given all of the various elements of catastrophe that you’ve just described, or near catastrophe. Look, I think there’s enormous frustration, actually, about the health-care bill, in a way that there isn’t about Russiagate more broadly, because Russiagate has become almost a part of the daily fabric. They’re pretty used to it at this point. I remember about two or three months ago having a West Wing aide say to me, in candor, that they were realizing that this was never going to end. It’ll obviously end at some point, but it’s not going to be anytime soon. There’s a larger frustration with the fact that they have been trying to push this health-care bill up a hill for much of the Presidency so far, and it’s not going anywhere, despite a Republican Congress. And it really is a condemnation, frankly, of the President’s strategy. There are a lot of people who believe that he could’ve done more to woo Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, both of whom he had relationships with prior to the White House. They believe he could have tried to do infrastructure, or something that would have tied Democrats in knots much more than health care, where they were never going to be with him. And his tweets feel sort of disjointed because they’re not connected to the reality of the situation.
D.R.: From outside, it seems like we’re looking at a kind of Borgia-like court, in which everybody is leaking on everybody, nobody particularly likes anyone else, everybody’s suspicious of each other, and the President, as described in the New York Times and elsewhere, is obsessively watching himself on television, fuming about his coverage. The fuming then turns into tweets, usually on Sunday morning, and the atmosphere is generally poisonous. Is that inaccurate?
M.H.: Yeah, I think that’s a hundred-per-cent accurate. Look, we’re used to a team of rivals. We are not used to a team of the Bloods and the Crips. Which is essentially what this is in the White House. I mean, these are rival gangs.
D.R.: Who are the Bloods and who are the Crips—how does it work?
M.H.: [Laughs.] I think I need to add in some new gang names, too, because Bloods and the Crips makes it sound like there are only two teams. There’s something like six. It’s a lot. I think that you have so many people who started out not trusting each other, because you had people who either were pro-Trump during the campaign or who were part of the Republican National Committee during the campaign. That has morphed into something much different and more complicated.