Just about any correspondent covering the White House today will tell you that the kind of tension and animus that exists between the press corps and the Trump administration is something new and different. Most reporters share a sense that covering Trump is a challenge like no other, at a time when political journalists and the First Amendment are under siege. If it isn’t the president’s frequent outbursts on Twitter, railing against one particular story, news outlet or reporter, it is the unrelenting pace of the breaking-news cycle, much of it due to Trump’s erratic, unconventional behavior and the public interest in his every move.
“There is that natural tension that exists between the press and the people we were covering, but it was never like this,” Acosta says. “We were never called ‘fake news.’ We were never called ‘the enemy of the people,’ and that just created a totally different climate and environment that we are all trying to make sense of and trying to figure out: How do we cover the news in that kind of toxic environment?”
The natural answer is, just the way they have always done it — which is to say, report the news. But that isn’t quite enough with this White House, as reporters are subjected to much greater scrutiny and demands. The stakes are higher and the criticisms more extreme, the attacks often personal.
With the easy accessibility of social media, some political reporters find themselves getting death threats. Acosta says he got “a threat of violence” following the Easter Egg Roll incident. “I probably receive more death threats than I can count. I get them basically once a week.”
April Ryan, a longtime reporter for American Urban Radio Networks and, as a CNN contributor, a recognizable figure in the daily White House briefings, says her experience has been similar. “I actively get death threats just for asking a question,” she says. “I have law enforcement on speed dial.” She recently received a threat after asking White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether the president had considered resigning. Sanders dismissed Ryan’s query as “an absolutely ridiculous question.” Ryan has found her contentious exchanges with the administration at times going viral.