NYT White House Reporters Under Fire for ‘Softball’ Trump Year-End Interview

Mike Schmidt draws both scorn and praise for his unplanned interview with President Trump

New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt scored a half hour “impromptu” interview with President Trump on Thursday, and while the president made news with his comments on Robert Mueller and the Department of Justice, Schmidt’s handling of the conversation has also drawn attention.

Commenting on Twitter, writers were split on how the veteran journalist handled the interview: some thought Schmidt should’ve pushed back and asked more follow-ups, like when the president said he has the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Others felt Schmidt had done his job by simply letting Trump talk, leading to nuggets like the president saying he thinks special counsel Mueller is “going to be fair” in his investigation into Russian collusion. Michael Shear also had a byline on the Times article.

Fellow NYT reporter Maggie Haberman was immediately pulled into the fire, after defending Schmidt’s approach to Trump.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com replied to Haberman, saying he thought the interview could’ve been “a lot *more* interesting if there had been a follow-up question or two.”

Vulture writer Mark Harris pushed back on Haberman’s framing of the interview, saying it was “revealing” because it gave Trump’s “unfiltered thoughts.” This line of thinking didn’t satiate Harris, who said he liked the interview, but “asking questions is not interrupting.”

Author Molly Knight chimed in with a similar take. “Asking him to explain basic details of, say, his health care bill would be instructive,” she tweeted.

Jerry Saltz, senior art critic at New York Magazine, was more blunt in his critique, saying Schmidt’s interview was “not journalism.”

Seth Abramson, journalism professor at the University of New Hampshire, didn’t pull punches, either. “Maggie Haberman blithely defends the NYT ghosting on journalism in its recent one-on-one with President Trump is as 2017 as 2017 has been so far,” said the professor.

The belief Schmidt’s interview was a “softball” for Trump has gained traction in the aftermath, as one popular reply to Haberman showed.

Still, Schmidt had plenty of supporters, too. NYT reporter Adam Goldman backed up his colleague, saying he “did what all good journalists do: Listen. More people, and not just good journalists, should try it.”

This was a common refrain from many others in the journo world, including from Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic. “[Schmidt] did what he was supposed to do, which was to get the president talking, and keep him talking,” tweeted Goldberg.

Washington Post correspondent Karen Tumulty said the interview revealed the value of newspaper interview by revealing “things about the subject (which his did).”

Jake Sherman at Politico said it was a “damn good job” by Schmidt, considering it was an unplanned interview.

Chris Geidner with BuzzFeed news said he wouldn’t have handled every question in the same way, but that Schmidt “got us a lot of information… so, kudos to him.”