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'I have faced more attacks and threats than I have ever before'

August 14, 2018 08:27 IST

'Disagreements between reporters and the White House has always been there, but this is the most tense I have seen it since I have been there.'

Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama in the Oval Office

IMAGE Then United States President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald J Trump discuss transition plans in the Oval Office, November 10, 2016. Anita Kumar covered this meeting. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Anita Kumar, a White House correspondent who has covered the Barack Obama and Donald Trump presidencies, was elected to the board of the White House Correspondents Association last week.

Kumar works for the McClatchy group that owns a host of papers including the Miami Herald and the Sacramento Bee.

She has covered the White House since 2012 and previously worked for the Washington Post.

Watching history unfold before her eyes, she was there when Barack Obama and Donald J Trump met in the Oval Office after the November 2016 election.

"It was an experience I will never forget. I had been in New York covering Hillary Clinton when my editor told me to hurry up and return to Washington for the meeting," she says.

She has been traveling around the world with Obama -- Australia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Costa Rica, Myanmar.

She was also part of the press party that travelled with Obama to India in January 2015, which was the last she visited the land of her parents's birth.

Her astronomer father had come to America as a graduate student. Anita was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has relatives who live in India.

At a time when relations between the media and President Trump are tense as never before in the long history of the American presidency, Kumar tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih that although she has faced personal threats, the best way to combat President Trump's remarks is to keep reporting and writing the truth.

 

This is the second presidency that you are reporting on -- what are the big differences between reporting on the Obama White House and the Trump White House?

The Obama White House was more disciplined. The staff planned what announcements they wanted to release each day and tried to stick with their plan. It didn't always work, but it did many days.

The Trump White House does not appear to have a single message a day. News is breaking constantly at all hours of the day and night, often on Twitter.

There were leaks in the Obama White House, but not as many as there are now.

What is the life of a White House correspondent like? How exhausting can it be?

News organisations have different ways of covering the White House so there is no one single way.

McClatchy, where I work, has two White House correspondents and we take turns covering briefings, events and trips. Other people in our office help on certain issues as well.

We do not cover every single thing because there is just too much to cover, but we choose what we want to cover and what we will cover in a more in-depth way.

Nevertheless, it is exhausting because there is so much news and events to keep up with.

Since President Trump was inaugurated I also do a fair amount of TV appearances, usually three or four a week, because there is so much demand. That takes up a lot of time as well.

White House Correspondent Anita Kumar

IMAGE: Anita Kumar reporting from the White House. She has been a White House correspondent for the McClatchy group since 2012. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Anita Kumar

What have been your most exciting and memorable reporting assignments?

I enjoy watching history unfold before my eyes so I remember riding in the presidential motorcade with President Trump to give his first speech to Congress and Presidents Obama came out and give a speech after another mass shooting had taken place.

I remember where I was when these events happened.

The best assignments have been traveling around the world with the president. Just some of the countries I have been: Australia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Costa Rica.

One of the highlights was visiting Myanmar or Burma with President Obama because it was just opening up to the world again. Here's something I wrote about my observations (external link)

I read that the press briefing room in the West Wing is not very large, how many reporters converge there on an average every day? How many foreign reporters?

It seats 49 and the seats are assigned by the White House Correspondents Association. McClatchy has a seat in the third row.

Dozens or more reporters who don't have seats crowd in the aisles for briefings. There are several dozen foreign reporters and they also have their own association and are a part of ours.

What time do reporters reach the White House every day? Do you have a media room from where you can file reports from within the White House?

Again this depends on the news organisation, some are there all day, every day and others only come in for briefings and events. I tend to only go for briefings and events.

Bigger regular news organisations do have work space next to the briefing room and on two floors.

We have a phone, desk and computer, but it's very crowded and difficult to get a lot of things done.

Barack and Michelle Obama with Narendra Modi on Republic Day

IMAGE: Then US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, Republic Day, 2015. Anita Kumar travelled with the Obamas. It was her fourth trip to India. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Can you tell me about the India-side of your personal story? Where is your family from? How long have you been in the US? Do you visit India?

My family is from north India, primarily UP.

My dad, who is an astronomer, came to the US for graduate school. He and my mother married in India and then moved to the United States.

I was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. I still have aunt, uncles and cousins who live in India.

I have been to India four times in my life. The last time was with President Obama in 2015 when Prime Minister Modi invited him to celebrate Republic Day.

It was a special trip for me because of my ties to the country. Anita's https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/article24779149.html target=new>report from that trip (external link.

Are there any personal anecdotes about the Obama/Trump Presidencies you could share?

I was the print pool reporter (a small group of journalists following the president around) when President Obama and President Trump met in the Oval Office after the November 2016 election.

It was an experience I will never forget. I had been in New York covering Hillary Clinton when my editor told me to hurry up and return to Washington for the meeting.

You asked a lot of questions about media access, covering the presidency and the importance to democracy. I will try to summarise some thoughts here:

The media play an important role by holding public officials accountable and informing Americans about what their government is doing.

I think transparency is important and have urged government officials to be more forthcoming in many ways -- releasing written documents, holding briefing and press conferences and returning phone calls.

President Trump is accessible in some ways -- he appears to answer more questions than President Obama at the end of so-called pool sprays or when he's walking across the Rose Garden, but in other ways his administration is more closed off -- there are less briefings and less answers to questions.

Disagreements between reporters and the White House has always been there, but this is the most tense I have seen it since I have been there.

I have faced more attacks and threats than I have ever before (the same goes for the rest of the press corps). It started during the 2016 presidential campaign and has continued to today.

I know some reporters get very upset when they hear the comments President Trump makes about the media -- and I understand why they are -- but I try not to let it affect me and just keep working as I always have been.

To me, that's the best way to combat President Trump's remarks and comments from others -- just to keep reporting and writing the truth.

Archana Masih / Rediff.com