The perils of reporting on the Tweeter-in-Chief.
Minutes before Andrea Mitchell, chief political correspondent at NBC, took the stage at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. Wednesday morning, U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter and declared her network’s reporting —particularly, that he had called for a “tenfold” increase of America’s nuclear arsenal—“Fake News” and “Bad for country!” In the same tweet, he suggested it may be time to challenge the license of NBC, the network that once aired The Apprentice, but more recently broke the news of Trump’s nukes ambitions and reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Trump a “moron.”
“The fight is on,” said Mitchell, who was composed and seemed not particularly surprised by the morning’s developments. Being attacked on Twitter is a given for journalists these days, and being attacked on Twitter by the president is, for high-profile political journalists like Mitchell, not unheard of in 2017. It’s just one of hazards that has reshaped the political reporting landscape in the Trump era.
Of this new environment, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash said, “It’s not easy, and it’s genuinely not a partisan thing. President Trump and his administration, the way they operate is unlike any other Republican or Democrat.” She noted the administration’s regular practice of calling accurately-reported, deeply-sourced stories “false” when approached for comment is unprecedented and challenging for news gatherers.
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Increasingly, women are these news gatherers, and Mitchell, noting her colleague Katy Tur’s experience on the campaign trail—she was derided by Trump and had to navigate crowds with a security detail at points—remarked that the current environment, not to mention the social media sphere, is particularly hostile to women.
“If I read all the notifications, I’d be in a fetal position under the covers,” said Bash.
Nancy Gibbs, who recently stepped down as editor-in-chief of Time, noted that when she polled her newsroom late last year, more than half of the women on staff had considered leaving journalism because of ugly and violent social media trolling. It wasn’t an issue many of her male reporters encountered. “We don’t often think in gendered ways about how we go about our work—it’s about how we get and tell the story. But as a news leader, that really worried me,” said Gibbs.
Mary Katherine Ham, a political commentator at CNN and senior writer for The Federalist, pointed out that social media and the 24-7 news culture has other troubling effects. When she gets the chance to unplug, she finds she has better, more rewarding conversations with actual people. “It made me think how much of my empathy I give away on Twitter,” said Ham, who says the whole field is working out a better sense of balance.
There is a positive to these new realities. The community of women political correspondents has become “a real sisterhood,” said Bash