Maggie Haberman On Covering Trump


Maggie Haberman, the high-profile New York Times White House reporter whose coverage of President Trump seems to appear almost daily on the paper’s front page, is skeptical about reports that a major Mideast peace plan will soon be revealed by the Trump administration.

“I see no evidence of it,” she told moderator Jeff Greenfield at a 92Y Talks program Sunday evening at the 92nd Street Y. “There’s a lot of optimism” within the administration, “but it doesn’t seem to be based on anything,” she said, adding that some observers are wondering why Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, is even pursuing it.

The hour-long discussion, which included Alex Burns, a New York Times political reporter on the national desk, focused almost exclusively on Trump, from his policies to his psyche. Haberman, the daughter of veteran Times reporter Clyde Haberman, covered Trump when she was at the New York Daily News and the future president was making headlines as a playboy and real estate mogul. She is considered somewhat of an expert on how the president thinks.

“He doesn’t know where he is on most issues,” she asserted, though she believes he will stick to his position on tariffs, a view he has long held, and is resistant to intervene militarily in North Korea, despite his bluster. (Last week, to the surprise of even his own aides, the president announced a 25 percent tax on imported steel and a 10 percent tax on imported aluminum.) She also suggested that on the gun control issue, Trump is likely “to stick with the NRA,” which supports him.

Most of all, she emphasized, the president loves the theatrics of his job and desperately wants to be liked. Losing White House communications director Hope Hicks, one of the few non-family members he trusts, will be difficult for the president, Haberman said. “He needs emotional binkies, and she is one of them.”

Burns, who is focusing his coverage on the midterm elections in November, said Republicans believe they will lose the House, and are worried about maintaining a hold on the Senate, with incumbents reluctant to have the president campaign for them — but fearful of turning down such an offer.

Burns predicted that the November election will result “in gridlock, one way or the other,” and that Republicans won’t have as much clout following the election as they have now.

Both reporters agreed that the midterm elections will be critically important, given the Democrats’ potential to seek Trump’s impeachment if they control Congress. Burns said that Republican leaders feel that they got the most out of Trump from the tax legislation and don’t expect much more. He compared the Trump-Republican Party relationship to an unhappily married couple “staying together until the kid goes off to college.”

Haberman, whose detailed reporting on White House activities has resulted in her being named “the 16th most important person in Washington,” according to Greenfield — and she works out of New York — was asked about why Trump seems obsessed with her work. (GQ recently named her the 16th “most powerful person in Trump’s Washington.”)

“It’s not me,” she said, “it’s about his New York Times fetish. He just knows me best.”

For those who feel her reporting on the president isn’t tough enough, Haberman said, “I do the best job I can. People think he [Trump] can be shamed” by catching him in a lie, but “he’ll never be shamed. … He creates his own reality.

“I think my reporting has been pretty tough; I’m not writing Valentines.”