Black Women Journalists Embrace Challenge of White House Coverage

Panelists described covering the Trump administration as chaotic and tough.

"Black Women Covering the White House" on screen with panelists seated on stage in front of screen
April Ryan (l), Darlene Superville, Yamiche Alcindor, Nia-Malika Henderson and Professor Cheryl W. Thompson discuss race and politics during the “Black Women Covering the Trump White House” panel. (Photos: Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
February 12, 2018

By Briahnna Brown

April Ryan, a White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks and a political analyst for CNN, told an audience at George Washington University that she knows she has sometimes become part of the story of the Trump administration.

There was the time that the president asked Ms. Ryan from the podium during a press briefing to set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus. And there have been social media battles between former White House aide Omarosa Manigault and Ms. Ryan and another social media rift between Ms. Ryan and a Trump appointee to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But Ms. Ryan, a George Washington University Terker Distinguished Fellow in the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA), said she has not sought to become part of the story of the Trump White House.

"There have been attacks, there's been retaliation for questions, but it's not about me,” Ms. Ryan said. “Unfortunately, I have been in the news, but it's not about me, it's about the story, and when you look at it as the story and not yourself, you can move on, you can keep going back every day.”

Ms. Ryan was among four black women journalists on a panel called “Black Women Covering the Trump White House” Thursday night in Jack Morton Auditorium. The event was sponsored by SMPA and the GW Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. The event was part of GW’s Black Heritage Celebration, sponsored by the Multicultural Student Services Center.

SMPA Professor Cheryl W. Thompson, who is also a contributing investigative reporter for The Washington Post, moderated the panel discussion. She posed tough questions to the panelists such as whether they believed President Donald Trump is a racist, which no panelist explicitly answered, but Ms. Ryan cited the NAACP’s definition of a racist as the intersection of racial prejudice and power. Ms. Thompson also asked whether the president will face impeachment after the Mueller investigation and whether the panelists feel isolated or supported as women of color in the White House press corps.

Ms. Ryan says she refuses to allow people to discredit her with a “fake news” label. She added that in covering the Trump administration, being prepared with facts and statistics is especially important.

panelists sitting on stage talking

April Ryan (l) and Darlene Superville discuss being part of the White House press corps during the “Black Women Covering the Trump White House” panel.

Other panelists said they agreed that being prepared with facts is important. But they also said that because Mr. Trump and his White House operate so differently than other administrations that they, especially as black woman journalists, often have to make sure to remain composed during what sometimes feels like chaos.

Yamiche Alcindor, a White House correspondent with PBS NewsHour, talked about her experience being a Haitian American reporter during this administration, and how she was able to report objectively about Mr. Trump’s disparaging remarks about immigrants from Haiti and African countries. She said she took time to calm herself and ensure it did not appear as if she were ranting on television because she had facts she wanted to share with the public.

"You could get any Haitian person to spew about how angry they are, but for me, whenever I feel like I'm upset or I'm about to cry about something, I try to report those things," Ms. Alcindor said. "To counterbalance how angry I am, I'm reporting out facts that make people say, 'OK, this is why people are angry.'"

Darlene Superville, a White House reporter with the Associated Press, said that the White House is a hard place to cover regardless of race or gender, but she hopes to see more black reporters covering the White House in the future. She also said there’s never a dull moment covering the Trump administration with a front-row seat to history as it unfolds.

"It's just been filled with a lot of OMG moments,” Ms. Superville said of the Trump administration. “I think a lot of us thought that year two might've begun a little differently, might've been a little calmer or more stable, but it hasn't started that way."

Nia-Malika Henderson, a senior political reporter with CNN, explained that she sees her role in covering this administration as reflecting how people feel while holding people’s “feet to the fire.” She also described covering the Trump administration as “a hot mess” because the White House and the president thrive on chaos.

"Sometimes you feel like a hot mess covering it because there's so many big and unexpected stories that happen,” Ms. Henderson said. “All of us have had to reorient the way we cover this White House."

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