Prominent African American female journalists convened in the Jack Morton Auditorium of the George Washington University to talk about their experiences covering the Donald Trump administration Thursday evening.
Washington Bureau Chief of American Urban Networks and Political Analyst for CNN April Ryan, PBS Newshour Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, and AP White House reporter Darlene Superville all sat on the stage in a panel moderated by GW Professor and Washington Post investigative reporter Cheryl Thompson. The event was hosted by the GW School of Media and Public Affairs and the GW chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).
President of the GW chapter of NABJ Lauryn Hill kicked events off when she introduced the event, panelists, and Thompson.
“Our organization believes that it’s important to discuss the Trump administration from the perspective of black women journalists,” Hill said in her opening remarks. “A group whose voices have been repressed, but who refuse to be silenced.”
With that Hill turned over the event to Thompson, who lead the panelists in a conversation talking about the variety of ways that race has impacted the Trump White House and vice versa.
How they keep it balanced
When Thompson asked how the panelists deal with “racially coded policies and statements” made by the Trump administration, Ryan was the first to respond.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the story,” Ryan said.
The other panelists shared the sentiment that they simply make it about following the story. Another shared sentiment was understanding when to remove yourself from the situation.
“One thing I do, I try to keep in mind is that there is life outside the White House,” Superville said while many of the other panelists nodded in agreement. “You have to work, pursue your interests, and that will take some of the sting out of whatever happened to you that day.”
To Alcindor, as long as you are speaking the truth and can back up what you’re saying, you can still be balanced while saying “that’s not okay.” She is Haitian American, and after news that Trump allegedly referred to Haiti, among other countries, as “shithole countries,” she appeared on MSNBC to voice her opinion that his statements were wrong.
Covering Donald Trump
The conversation then turned to how Trump is different than previous presidents. Other than his use of Twitter, the panelists agreed that Trump is not always as well spoken or as scripted as Obama was. Ryan said the biggest example of Trump simply “going off feeling” was his response to Charlottesville.
“When the president had those teleprompters, everyone went ‘we can breathe,’” Ryan said. “”But when he talked off the top of his head, the world shook.”
Trump's racial rhetoric has forced many journalists to need to understand how to cover race. Part of covering Trump now is covering racial tension, according to the Panelists. Alcindor believes this is a positive turn.
“I think that newsrooms now have to cover race in every single beat,” Alcindor said. “And I think that it’s made the profession better.”
Where does Trump’s support come from?
The panelists believe that much of Trump's support may have formed during the Obama administration.
Many white Trump supporters experienced economic hardship during the Obama administration. Those with a racial prejudice who saw a successful black family helping other people felt as though their country was being taken away from them. Voting for Trump was a way to "reclaim" their country.
“If you’re someone who already has a predisposition to not like African Americans, and then you can’t get a job and those job numbers are coming out every week saying the economy is getting better,” Alcindor said. “And now you go watch two black girls on TV wearing $1000 dresses, it does something to you.”
Other parts of his support are people who are unbothered by his racial rhetoric. These supporters care more about other issues, like guns or abortion, than racial inequality.
“The question is do people think that’s a problem?” Henderson said. “Maybe they think it’s fine that he doesn’t respect black people as much as he respects white people.”
No matter where his support comes from, the panelists all recognized that he has managed to accrue a devoted and loyal base.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Superville said.
Is Trump a Racist?
At an event honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., Ryan asked Trump repeatedly if he was a racist. This question was again posed at the panel.
“If you look at the way this president talks about race, and deploys race, I think it’s pretty clear, and I’ve written about this, that he is playing the race card,” Henderson said.
Alcindor told a story about how she interviewed one of Trump’s ex-girlfriends, who was half-black. When she asked the ex-girlfriend if Trump was a racist, the ex responded that she really didn’t know.
“You have someone who is being sued by the federal government for writing color on applications, who’s calling for the death penalty for innocent black men, who has yet from my understanding apologize for that as of today,” Alcindor said. “But then you also have someone who’s spending money trying to get more black people to work on Wall Street, for no apparent reason, and who’s dating a half black woman.”
Ryan asked the NAACP what the definition of racist is. They said a racist is the intersection of racial prejudice and power. The panelists could not definitively answer the question of whether he met this definition, but all agreed it was a question worth asking.
“It’s a sad day when you have to ask if the president is racist,” Ryan said.
Toward the end of the conversation, the importance of self-care through removing yourself from politics was stressed. All the panelists agreed and urged students to know when to take a break.
This event was one of the many events of Black Heritage Celebration at GW. Check out the other events here.