NY Times’ Maggie Haberman on Secret to Covering Trump White House: Her Tabloid Experience (Exclusive)

“I have a sense of what types of stories and which characters are important to him,” reporter tells TheWrap

Maggie Haberman
New York Times

New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman has emerged as a print-media star in these early days of the Trump administration. What’s her secret, you ask? Surprisingly, it’s her experience at a couple of New York City tabloids, the New York Post and New York Daily News.

“Trump was such a part of the fabric of the [New York] Post… that I think I understand what his reading habits are — sort of the lens through which he views the media,” Haberman told TheWrap during a recent interview. “I have a sense of what types of stories and which characters are important to him.”

Haberman said her current paper, the Times, and her first paper, the New York Post, are the two publications the president reads first on a daily basis.

“In terms of covering him over the last two years, I mean, I knew him,” Haberman said. “One of the things that I think is very important to the president is a sense of a familiar… I do think the fact that he knows me from a previous life has helped in terms of an ongoing relationship with him.”

Trump likes to refer to the Times as “failing” and calls CNN — where Haberman also contributes –“fake news.” She works for two of the primary news organizations that the president considers the “opposition party” — a label Haberman shrugs off.

“You can’t take it personally,” she said. “It’s not personal. I think there is a political utility to him in doing it, which is that his base really likes it and there are many, many people around the country… who have a distrust of the media.”

Haberman’s recent scoops include the first report on Eric Trump’s decision to stop directly soliciting contributions for his charitable foundation to avoid conflicts of interest; the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into Roger Stone’s Russian ties; and an inside look at Trump’s “self-inflicted chaos.” She’s held Trump accountable as much as anyone in the industry, but if Haberman got her way nearly 20 years ago, she wouldn’t even be part of the industry.

Haberman’s father, Clyde Haberman, was a longtime New York Times reporter, often stationed overseas and away for most of her childhood. However, a career in journalism wasn’t among the topics of conversation when Haberman traveled to visit him abroad.

“I did not have much interest in newspapers as a kid,” she said. “I was very underwhelmed by the news business.”

Haberman was interested in writing, but wanted to land at a magazine as opposed to following in her father’s footsteps. After failing to find exactly what she was looking for, Haberman started her professional career at the New York Post in 1996 and never looked back.

“I really fell in love with the place,” Haberman said. “The tabloids in the 1990s in New York City were a terrific working environment for journalists. They were interesting and exciting. I learned a ton about different kinds of reporting.”

Haberman said that tabloid papers in that era allowed reporters to gain experience in a variety of areas.

“The Times is a different institution,” she said. “There are more people who will be doing the same kind of job as you. The assignments just work differently.”

By 2015, Haberman was the mother of three young children and had worked for the Post, its tabloid archrival New York Daily News and Politico. She accepted an offer to cover politics for the Times and finally, after all these years, talks to her dad about the family business.

“I think he is very proud of me,” she said.