The Agony and Ecstasy of the Trump Reporters

Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs the White House
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Julia Ioffe
July 8, 2021

In the weeks before the 2020 election, when it was becoming pretty clear even to the most superstitious and traumatized Democrat that Joe Biden was headed for victory, the journalists of #thistown began to worry. People you’ve likely read or heard of or watched were concerned about what a Trump loss would mean for their career. That was the talk of the town. Sure, Donald Trump had been a disaster for the country, but what would they do after he left the White House?

Trump had been the biggest story they had ever covered—and, most likely, would ever cover again. A whole generation of young reporters had cut their teeth and established their reputations chronicling Trump. Many of the women translating Trump to the bewildered country became mini celebrities of the resistance. Some of the men became martyrs—and then leaned all the way in. The older folks made millions writing books that brimmed with sensational and unexpected revelations, like how Trump was an ignorant racist who presided over a violently dysfunctional White House. (Shocking, I know.)

Trump called journalists “enemies of the people,” he undermined the very idea of a free and independent press, and the media thrilled to the challenge. Cable television hadn’t seen ratings like this in a generation, and newspapers and magazines, once seen as paper dinosaurs edging into extinction, roamed the earth like proud behemoths again. Then, suddenly, as everyone began to understand that he was leaving, Washington journalists had to contend with an uncomfortable truth, which they’ve long known: Trump may have been terrible for democracy, but he had been unquestionably good for business. As one White House reporter told me, “Trump has been good for many journalists professionally, myself included.” What would they do when the Trump gravy train left #thistown? What would they do with a man who ran his campaign on the promise that he would bring boring back to the Oval Office?