Race and Political Coverage: White House Correspondents Speak Frankly

Jun 15, 2019

PRNDI kicked off its penultimate conference night with a discussion on race and what’s changed in reporting with the current political climate. The panel started with enthusiastic cheers for moderator Audie Cornish (NPR's All Things Considered host) and  ended with an standing ovation. Panelists included Darlene Superville, White House correspondent for AP; Ayesha Rascoe, White House reporter for NPR; and April Ryan, Political Analyst for CNN and White House correspondent for  American Urban Radio Networks.

Nearly every seat in NPR’s Studio 1 was filled with a PRNDI member.

The panelists discussed the reality of being a woman of color in a newsroom.

Ayesha Rascoe described what it felt like to be one of the only black woman in the newsroom.

“At times I remember being one of the only black people around,” Rascoe said. “I would think that if anyone wants to describe me, they could just say ‘Who are you looking for? You could go to that black girl over there,’ and that would be enough because I was the only one.”

The journalists also discussed what they consider when they pitch stories. “I felt like if you pitched too many race stories, your news director would be like ‘Oh, that’s what you do,’ and you never get another good assignment again because you’re now going to be ‘pigeonholed’,” Cornish said.

Rascoe said she found herself in situations during White House press meetings, wondering if she should be asking about issues that affect people of color.

“Do I just want to ask about the black issues? Do I just want to ask about black unemployment?” Rascoe said. “Even though that is something that I think is important, and that this administration focuses on all the time. And then I go back [and forth thinking], but then I’ll say, well if I don’t ask it, then it might not get asked.”

Dealing with stress and threats

As the conversation developed, the panelists spoke about the trials of being a White House reporter in today’s political climate, and the stress that comes with it.

“We get into this job, which is journalism, to find the truth,” Superville said. “I always try to keep that in front of my mind as I do my work every day … You just have to keep pushing forward and leave the noise behind you.”

April Ryan has been in the unique position of being singled out by the Trump administration in a way that the other panelists agreed they had not been exposed to.

When Superville said “You don’t get into journalism to be liked by the people you cover,” Ryan added, “But this is a new level, Darlene, it’s a new level.”

Ryan talked about how there were glimpses of the relationship President Trump would have with the media during the first campaign. “There was a time during the campaign, [when] there was a lot of code used for people,” Ryan said. “People [back then] were excusing it then, and to a certain extent, they’re excusing it now. They’re calling it out, but it’s still accepted.”

Each journalist also described the stress of their jobs. Ryan said she developed post-traumatic stress disorder from death threats she has received. “I carry that stress with me; I have security,” Ryan said. “I have to pay for a lot of things I’ve had to do to protect myself because I’ve asked a question [directed to the White House].”

Ryan has this to say for the people who have picked on her.

“I have every right to question Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I have every right to question the president … He wanted to use me as an example,” Ryan said. “That’s the worst thing they could have done. I’m from Baltimore. I am an HBCU student, Morgan State University. I shall not, nor will not be moved. I’ve done nothing wrong.”