Many of us who grew up in New York City have a personal bond with the NY Times, as it’s so much a part of the culture and heartbeat of the city. And being a news junkie, I believe one of the silver linings in the dark cloud of the Trump administration is that it’s forced the paper to be even more on top of its game in its political analysis and investigative reporting.
I recently hosted a podcast with Carl Hulse, Chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times and managing editor of First Draft, a political news stream and morning e-newsletter. He’s also served as a Washington editor of The Times, as well as the chief congressional correspondent. After speaking with a journalist who’s been at the epicenter of American politics for over three decades, I wanted to share a few excerpts from a most insightful conversation.
Q: With the whirlwind of activity in Washington seeming even more turbulent than usual right now, when so many critical issues and events are taking place simultaneously, how does this affect the news gathering process?
A: I’ve actually never seen it like this, every day there are so many things going on. We have an internal note called the Night Note that at the end of the day the editors in New York list all the things that kind of went on even after the paper has closed, and it’s just astounding. We’re constantly being overwhelmed by breaking news. Luckily, we have the resources to go after all these stories. The bureau here in Washington is about twice the size of when I joined it 30 years ago. So we have the people, but it’s still hard to keep up and the pace is just relentless.
Q: When headlines are focused on the most sensational stories like the Michael Cohen hearing, the Mueller Investigation, the fight over the Wall, not to mention, all the daily shenanigans at the White House, what kind of important stories are getting lost in the news churn?
A: I think the big story that’s probably not being covered as well as it should be in Washington is what’s actually going on at the agencies, what is going on at Interior and EPA, because but there’s a lot going on in terms of new rules, regulations, findings, that sort of thing, and I do worry that that’s getting lost a little bit. Everybody’s focused on the White House and we do need to be focused on the president, but we have to focus on other things too.
Q: Two years ago you became the managing editor of First Draft, a news stream and morning e-newsletter from The Times. What’s the shift to digital media been like for you and how the dynamics of online newsgathering changed reporting, analysis and the dissemination of information?
A: I’ve been a newspaper person for 40 years now and I started out typing on a manual typewriter on sheets of newsprint, so I’ve seen pretty much almost from Gutenberg to where we are now. And it’s a remarkable change. We reach more people now than we ever did and our digital subscriptions are doing great, but at the same time we’re under all this stress to produce more and faster and that can lead to mistakes or going too fast, getting things wrong, so we really need to be cognizant of that. We don’t want to give anyone ammunition to say that we’re fake news, so we’re pretty careful. I think the Times is more vibrant, more interesting, better written than it ever has been, but we also need to be very careful about our product and protect our credibility.
Q: How would you describe the dynamics and political theater of Michael Cohen’s public appearance before the House Oversight Committee and what impact do you think, if any, it’s going to have on the president’s future?
A: I was on CNN and we were watching the president and he called that a fake hearing and I said that’s not a fake hearing, that was about as real as you can get in Washington DC. It was a serious event with a lot of implications. I think Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats are not interested in an impeachment proceeding, but they are interested in all sorts of committee investigations over the activities of the president. And the dynamic at Cohen’s hearing was interesting: Republicans totally dug in defense of the president, but they didn’t deal with the substance of the accusations, they were focused on trying to undermine Michael Cohen’s credibility.
Q: Given these investigations and and the bitter animosity between the parties, Is there any chance of substantive bipartisan legislation or is it slipping away as we head towards their 2020 campaign?
A: I don’t see anything. Infrastructure was always going to be sort of the thing they could agree on, but they can’t agree on the way to pay for it. At this point, I think Democrats just don’t want to give Trump anything, they’re not going to have some big Kumbaya moment with him over some other legislation. No one’s in a mood here to cooperate on anything, it’s going to have to be 2021. And with the deterioration of the nomination process and the Republicans getting ready to ram through another rules change over the Democrats, that’s going to poison the well, too.
Q: As an estranged Republican and a Never-Trumper since his 2016 campaign, it’s clear to me that he’s unfit to be President. But what I’ve found most horrific is the complicity, the complete surrender of Republicans in Congress with their silence, statements of support and voting records. How is history going to treat them?
A: I honestly don’t think it’s going to treat them particularly well. But one thing that’s interesting is that after Trump was inaugurated and the travel ban went into place and he was trying to undo Obamacare, I had an interview with Mitch McConnell. I asked him, “Senator, people say it’s incumbent on you to save the country right now, are you going to save the country?” And he said, “I don’t think the country needs to be saved.” The Republicans were worried that when Trump came in that he might turn go back to his Democratic ways because he had been a Democrat in the past and pro-choice, that sort of thing, so they weren’t sure what they were getting at the end of the day. And now, they seem to think that what they got with Trump is pretty good. Even though McConnell would say that Trump’s unpredictability, his personality and his rawness is disconcerting to them, the policy and the judges they’re getting out of it, the tax cuts they got out of it, to them that’s all good.
Q: I try to give the president credit where I can and that’s not easy these days, but like him or not, he has gotten so many people engaged in the process. 90% of the people might be out of rage, 10% adulation, but more people are caring now and that’s good. And the other thing he’s really done is the attention that he’s put on the media because I think the press is more on its game than they’ve ever been. Of course, the president has a special place for the New York Times on his “enemy of the people” list, but what’s ironic is that he also craves your coverage.
A: That’s the amazing thing about Donald Trump, he would sit there and call us the enemy of the people and the failing New York Times, but he’s done nothing but help our bottom line. To Trump that’s just all theater, he doesn’t take that as seriously as we take it, he just thinks that’s the way to push back like from his tabloid days in New York. But it’s doing a lot of damage and it’s undermining public trust in a lot of institutions.
Q: As a pragmatist and stubborn optimist, I always ask guests one question. Even in such a dysfunctional and divisive time in national politics, what gives you hope for the future?
A: Well, I’m an optimist myself and I have tried to be optimistic throughout this process where there’s so much conflict. I think you nailed it though when you said people are more engaged; we need to get people of all parties and political persuasions paying attention to what’s going on and being involved in voting. The lack of voting in this country is the scandal, not voting fraud, which really doesn’t exist. Young people now are looking around going “wow we need to step up and do stuff to protect our future.” That’s one thing that I take away from this: if people get engaged, pay attention and participate, we’ll be okay, but everybody needs to do that.