Preet Bharara: Maggie Haberman, welcome to the show. You’re the first guest in the year 2018. Thank you for being here.
Maggie Haberman: That’s cool. Thanks for having me.
Preet Bharara: As our listeners know, you, Maggie Haberman, have been, for a few years now, from—is it the failing New York Times or the failed New York Times? I always forget which verb form.
Maggie Haberman: I don’t know. I lose track. I think today’s tweet was failing.
Preet Bharara: Failing.
Maggie Haberman: But you could set that to repeat most days tweets are—
Preet Bharara: Is that a recovery from “failed?”
Maggie Haberman: I don’t think he ever said “failed.” Did he ever put it in the past tense? I think it’s been—
Preet Bharara: No, he did. I thought he said “failed” once, recently.
Maggie Haberman: Oh, I think he said “failed” in his interview with Mike Schmidt.
Preet Bharara: As an alternative.
Maggie Haberman: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Oh, we’re gonna get to the Mike Schmidt interview in a moment.
Maggie Haberman: Okay. Well, I don’t want to segue too fast. Sorry.
Preet Bharara: I read somewhere that you are the most read writer at The New York Times. Is that true? Do you follow these things?
Maggie Haberman: There was some stat in 2016 that the most clicks were on stories that my name were—I don’t know. It sounds—I don’t understand how they were parsing it. But I don’t—
Preet Bharara: You understand. You know.
Maggie Haberman: There’s these metrics and analytics. It’s called analytics.
Preet Bharara: Right. Do you care about that?
Maggie Haberman: No.
Preet Bharara: Be honest.
Maggie Haberman: I don’t.
Preet Bharara: Does anyone care about that?
Maggie Haberman: I like that you didn’t believe me the first time, though. Clearly, whoever—no, no, thank you.
Preet Bharara: One of the people you cover cares a lot about ratings.
Maggie Haberman: That’s true.
Preet Bharara: And you assume that people want to be successful. Now, how do you measure that you’re doing a good job or not? I mean, you write stuff, you want people to read it, don’t you?
Maggie Haberman: Yes, I do. I want people to read it. Look, it’s different when you’re at the Times because the platform is bigger than most other platforms, right? So, you assume people—it’s not like when I was at Politico, which—and I love Politico, and I owe Politico a lot. When I went to Politico from the New York Post, there were still a lot of people in New York who were like, what’s Politico?
Preet Bharara: Right.
Maggie Haberman: And it’s just sort of fighting for oxygen in a different way. So, to a certain extent, as a Times reporter or slash writer, you don’t know how many people are reading you because it’s something that they favor the byline versus they favor the institution. So, I guess that’s what I’m saying. It is institution over the individual. So, I don’t think about stats like that.
Preet Bharara: You know, people who are in journalism or who have been covered by journalists all understand the vocabulary—on the record, off the record, background, anonymous sources. And there’s a lot of discussion in the country, and some of it is fomented by the president, about fake news. And there’s a lot of commentary and debate about what good journalism is. And so, can I ask you just to take us through some of the terms and the definitions—
Maggie Haberman: Sure.
Preet Bharara: And how it works? Because I hear people talk about these terms all the time. I think I know what they mean, but I’m not sure that I do fully. So, let’s start with that.
Maggie Haberman: Let me answer your question first with a question of my own, which is how many reporters did you ever deal with in your career who appear to have different interpretations of what the word “background” means?
Preet Bharara: Many.
Maggie Haberman: Right.
Preet Bharara: And you had to be very clear at the beginning what you were getting yourself into. And I’ve also dealt with reporters who were unscrupulous and say that they mean one thing, but then you said something that you really like, and then it causes trouble. There’s a lot of discussion and debate about anonymous sources.
Maggie Haberman: Mm-hmm.
Preet Bharara: What’s an anonymous source?
Maggie Haberman: An anonymous source is a source who is providing information for the story but who is not named, either not named in any way. You can qualify it by describing their job or describing what they do. And the goal is to make it so it’s not just one person said. The problem is, you rub up against wanting to be as transparent as possible so people understand this is a person who knows what they’re talking about and has a reason to be quoted here without it exposing the person and making it easy, especially in an administration like this that has been pretty focused on leak hunts. To be clear, the Obama administration was pretty focused on leaks too, just in a different way. You have to counterbalance wanting to make clear who the person is or why the person has credibility with not exposing them.
Preet Bharara: Explain why journalists use anonymous sources at all.
Maggie Haberman: So, I mean, there are a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, when it comes to certain types of reporting, particularly about government activity, about investigations, about police activity—I mean, those are the main kind, and they’re the most justifiable.
Preet Bharara: Because the source will get in trouble.
Maggie Haberman: Because the source is speaking without authorization. Then there are other times that you have—and this is a real problem in journalism, where we always have to push back—you have people who just want to ask for anonymity for the sake of asking for anonymity. And this is why it’s important to push. Is there a reason that you often will see a Trump administration official quoted taking a swipe at someone, and it’s clearly someone from the press office, and they’re quoted as “an administration official.” Why not put your name to that? And there’s a reason that that general—the Times does not favor using background quotes to take just sort of a gratuitous swipe at someone.
Preet Bharara: Let’s say an anonymous source gives you a bit of information that’s newsworthy and you think would enlighten the public on something, government function or something else. But that’s the only person who tells it to you. Is that enough for The New York Times to quote the source?
Maggie Haberman: Generally speaking, no. It depends on—but it depends on what the information and who the source is. It depends on—always, it depends on how—what position the person is in to know. So, taking it out of The New York Times, but let’s just say, generally speaking, the source close to Trump often cited in the New York Post in the ‘80s and ‘90s was Trump.
Preet Bharara: Was Trump.
Maggie Haberman: And so, he’s certainly close to him.
Preet Bharara: Not always.
Maggie Haberman: Not—but he’s also a person who would be in a position where he’s talking about his own business, to know about his own business, presumably.
Preet Bharara: So, with someone like that, who’s a principal of a company, or the governor of a state, or something like that, someone like that who’s an anonymous source, you would put more stock in because they actually have the ability to make the thing happen?
Maggie Haberman: Theoretically, someone like that. I’m not saying Trump as a person. I’m saying theoretically that concept of someone who is a principal, someone who is an elected official, a Senate majority leader or a Senate minority leader, or you could carry it on down to state houses. Theoretically, if it is something that they would be in a position to know about, you would be willing to consider doing it on that basis. But again, that is not usually the preference.
Preet Bharara: And how does that get worked out? So, when an anonymous source calls you and tells you, “I want to tell you X and Y,” can you make that decision on your own as a reporter?
Maggie Haberman: I will always talk to my editor. No, I don’t make these decisions on my own.
Preet Bharara: But does your editor know who your anonymous sources are?
Maggie Haberman: That’s a great question. Not always. But—
Preet Bharara: So, how do we—so, I’m a former prosecutor, and we use confidential informants, and we use tips and those kinds of things all the time.
Maggie Haberman: Sure. There’s some charts of process here that I’m not gonna get into, just to—
Preet Bharara: Yeah. But I think it’s helpful for people to understand what we’re talking about here. Some people have raised the question about varying legitimacy, about whether or not we are policing properly false statements made by people who want to be anonymous.
Maggie Haberman: Mm-hmm. I mean, I think that—look, I think that my paper—I can only speak for my own paper. I think that my paper’s pretty diligent about not letting that happen and not giving somebody a platform just for the sake of it, in terms of sort of background, agenda pushing or background, spouting off, etc., etc.
If somebody wants to say something and puts their name to it, I think that puts it in a different category.
Preet Bharara: So, just clearly, again, the difference between off the record and on background is what?
Maggie Haberman: Off the record is not to be used in any way, shape, or form in publication. Background, especially if it’s not deep background, if it’s just background, can be used, and you can talk about the source saying it and the attribution, and how you would mutually agree to describe it.
Preet Bharara: Can you quote from something someone said if it’s on background?
Maggie Haberman: If you agree upon it with them, yes. But you have to agree upon it.
Preet Bharara: So, you have to have various terms of engagement, even in a background conversation.
Maggie Haberman: Correct. Correct. But it’s important, because if you’re a reporter—I mean, we’re all as good as our sources, and we’re only as good as our word. If someone tells me something off the record and I go blow them up and put it in print, A, I don’t think that that’s ethical, and B—
Preet Bharara: They’ll never speak to you again.
Maggie Haberman: Right, and they’ll never talk to me again. So, you have to—now, if somebody tells you off the record, “I murdered this person,” and then obviously, I’d put that in a different category. But look, I find off the record very frustrating because I remember being a very young reporter at City Hall in Room 9, the press room there. And I think I was 26, 25. I was at the New York Post. And Dan Barry, who’s a Times columnist now and then was the City Hall Bureau Chief for the Times, was on the phone with someone, I think, from the Yankees. I know there was some big Yankees story that we were all chasing at the time. And Dan was pacing. And this was the day it was pretty much pre-cell phones. And so, he was on a landline, and he was talking very loudly. My memory is the rest of us used to whisper into our phones like this. And the Times people would always talk very loudly and confidently. Because you didn’t want somebody stealing your stuff and hearing your information. But so, somebody was trying to talk to Dan about something off the record, and the person kept saying, “Can I go off the record?” And Dan said, “No, you cannot go off the record.” And then there would be a long pause, and then I heard Dan say, “Because this is information that exists just to torture me.” And I loved that. And I think I emailed him about that when I joined the paper. But it’s true. It is information that exists just to torture me. And I torture myself enough already. I’m a neurotic mother of three. I have enough things that I beat myself up about.
Preet Bharara: Has it been established beyond all doubt that Donald Trump at various times as an adult has been an anonymous source for a story?
Maggie Haberman: I mean, yes. I think that’s been established. Didn’t Pete Hamill said in public—
Preet Bharara: Yes, well, I know. I’m asking the formal question.
Maggie Haberman: Yes.
Preet Bharara: By the way, this is all on the record.
Maggie Haberman: Oh, is it? This is not for background?
Preet Bharara: Totally.
Maggie Haberman: We’re not gonna negotiate this later? By the way, did you know that one of the rules of off the record is you cannot retroactively say, “This on the record, off the record”? This all has to be agreed upon before. I’m outta here. No. But it is true. It does have to be agreed upon. My favorite is always the people who I talk to, and then after 30 minutes, they’ll go, “That was all off the record.” I’m like, “Nope, it was not.”
Preet Bharara: Because they realized they talked too much.
Maggie Haberman: Correct. But that is not how it works.
Preet Bharara: Okay. So, Donald Trump is an anonymous source.
Maggie Haberman: So, yeah. Pete Hamill, when he was running the Daily News, and he was fired from running the Daily News, he told somebody—I forget. I’m gonna mess up his exact words. But the paraphrase was he got tired of running—he didn’t wanna run Trump stories. And [?Zack Dewren] badly wanted him to run Trump stories. And he didn’t want to run Trump stories. And the Post was running circles around the Daily News on Trump stories.
Preet Bharara: This was back in what timeframe?
Maggie Haberman: Mm, ‘90s. Like ’94, ’95. And Pete said that the person on the other end of the phone claiming to be the sort of shadowy source close to Trump was invariably Trump. And that is true. And I know this because I worked at the Post, and I’m close to a lot of people who were on Page 6, the gossip page, and he used to talk to them all the time.
Preet Bharara: So, you know where I’m going with this. So—
Maggie Haberman: I don’t, actually.
Preet Bharara: Well, that’s often true. That’s true in my house also.
Maggie Haberman: I love surprises.
Preet Bharara: I think you could see where this is going.
Maggie Haberman: Bring it.
Preet Bharara: He rails against anonymous sources.
Maggie Haberman: Mm.
Preet Bharara: Do contradictions actually exist in the president’s head on issues like this?
Maggie Haberman: No. No.
Preet Bharara: What do you mean by that? How can that be?
Maggie Haberman: Well, first—okay. So, with the caveat that I don’t live there.
Preet Bharara: Right. But you try to live there sometimes.
Maggie Haberman: I know. And the space that I occupy at times is both rent-free and generally not by request or application. But I think he believes in whatever he believes in at any given moment. And so, he believes that whatever he is saying or thinking at any given moment is the truth, so.
Preet Bharara: So, consistency doesn’t matter.
Maggie Haberman: Consistency does not matter.
Preet Bharara: And has that been true over the decades that you’ve known him? Because as I think many people know but not everyone, you used to cover Donald Trump when he was a private citizen years ago.
Maggie Haberman: Yeah. Except I did most of my coverage with him once I got to Politico when he was thinking of running for president in 2011.
Preet Bharara: Right.
Maggie Haberman: But yeah, I mean, he’s always been—this is who he is. There’s not much different under the sun with him on this thing. He believes he makes his own weather.
Preet Bharara: So, there was an interview that Donald Trump did just a few days ago. I believe it sort of unfolded spontaneously with one of your colleagues at Mar-a-Lago.
Maggie Haberman: The inimitable Michael Schmidt.
Preet Bharara: Michael Schmidt. And some controversy has erupted around that interview. And I know you’ve been pretty vocal on Twitter defending the way that interview unfolded. And the crux of it is there was an interview in which Michael Schmidt asked a lot of questions of the president. Excerpts of that, or I think maybe the whole interview is available to read a transcript of. And the critics have said, well, Michael Schmidt, your colleague didn’t push back very much. And when Donald Trump said things that were arguably untrue, as is his wont, there was no aha moment. There was no pushback on it. And Donald Trump was allowed to spout whatever he was spouting. That’s the critical side. You have taken the view that the interview was a good one. Explain why you say that.
Maggie Haberman: So, I have taken—yes, I have taken the view that the interview was a good one. But I have also taken the view, just to be clear, that I think he acquitted himself fine in the interview. I mean, really—
Preet Bharara: Who did?
Maggie Haberman: Michael. I mean, there were two different [crosstalk] [00:12:48].
Preet Bharara: It’s always a question. You’ve gotta ask that.
Maggie Haberman: Aha. I see what you did there. I think these are two separate things. I think whether it was a “good” interview is more a subjective opinion, right?
And that depends on whether people thought they learned something new or whatever. Now, I think the President of the United States saying, “I can do whatever I want with the Justice Department” is kind of a big deal. And—
Preet Bharara: Yeah. And [inaudible] [00:13:09].
Maggie Haberman: Right. But Schmidt was getting attacked in a way that I found really unseemly. Because it wasn’t, wow, I don’t like how this interview was conducted, or oh, I think these questions are too soft. It was that everybody went immediately from Point A to Point Z, or Point Q. But it was, you know, he’s trying to preserve his access. What access? He’s not a White House reporter. He’s not on the White House team. This is not—anyway. And it was an impromptu interview that he didn’t expect to get. He came with no notes. The question of live fact-checking has, generally speaking, been the province of television interviews. Now, I would say that it’s a little different these days because we’ve all been running the Trump transcripts. And I think those Trump transcripts are invaluable. They are, in some cases, more important than the stories that get written off the interview themselves.
Preet Bharara: Why is that?
Maggie Haberman: Because you get to see the way his brain works, whereas the interview—the stories sort of pick out specific quotes and string them together in a certain way. In the interview, you just kind of watch the maze. And so, I just—
Preet Bharara: There’s not even any argument of fake news in a pure transcript.
Maggie Haberman: Well, that’s the thing. I mean, it’s not—that’s, I think, the main reason, frankly, why we all started putting out transcripts. Not the main reason, but a main reason, or a key reason was that it made it harder to say, they twisted my words, whatever, because he would do that all the time. You always have to be very careful on the campaign of what you put in writing to his aides, because you would invariably find that used against you in some way later on. Not—I don’t mean to impugn anyone specifically. I just mean that it would become, the New York Times begged me for an interview. And then you would try to argue, I didn’t beg him. And then it would be like, but you did send that email. And then it was like, well, yeah, I did send the email, but I wasn’t begging. And just, it was like being stuck to flypaper.
Preet Bharara: And it’s not just reporters.
Maggie Haberman: No, it was everybody.
Preet Bharara: I mean, Jim Comey felt that he had to keep a record of the conversation—
Maggie Haberman: Correct.
Preet Bharara: So he could defend himself. Bob Corker has had to do the same thing, the senator of his own party and chairman of the committee.
Maggie Haberman: Correct.
Preet Bharara: Because you don’t know how it’s gonna be twisted.
Maggie Haberman: Because you don’t know how it’s gonna be used. And it almost—unfortunately, Preet, you know this—what we’re finding now is it doesn’t actually matter, because you can have the Trump people still say, “I don’t see that transcript. That’s not real. We know what you meant. We know what . . .” And so, the president’s right because he says so. But I thought that Schmidt’s character was being attacked in an unfair way. A couple of Trump advisors over the years have said to me that people close to him invariably begin to act like him, in ways big and small. And that is true. I have observed that personally. His detractors sometimes also begin to act like him. And I think that Twitter has exacerbated that and accelerated that in a big way. Because going immediately to Schmidt’s character and motive is the exact thing that Trump does, his liberal critics detest, so I don’t know why it was okay here.
Preet Bharara: What is the right way, if there is a right way, to interview a president, and particularly a president like this?
Maggie Haberman: It’s a really good question. I think that generally speaking, the right way has been to do a version of what Mike did, right, if not exactly what did. If there were certain things that people would have done differently—there’s certain things I would have done differently. But generally speaking, I think just let him talk is the right approach. You can try to steer the conversation in one direction or another, but I think generally speaking, that’s the right approach. I think that in the second year, I do think that things probably have to be a little more specific about the Russia probe. I know that he argues no collusion. He says that repeatedly. He said in the interview repeatedly with Schmidt. I think at this point, especially like today, for instance, he’s calling for Huma Abedin to be imprisoned, Hillary Clinton’s top aide.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, I saw that.
Maggie Haberman: Based on the old email tranche from her husband’s computer last year. I would ask him why should she be imprisoned? But you say Flynn is a good guy, and that this is unfair, what’s being done. I think that he needs to be hit with certain specifics. Again, I am in no way faulting Schmidt, who was unprepared for an interview that was impromptu with no notes. But I think that people do need to get more specific. It doesn’t mean that people have to look for the Perry Mason moment, which I think is what people on Twitter sounded like they were looking for, of this sort of aha! And then the person crumbles and says, okay, I colluded! That’s not gonna happen. But I do think that letting him talk is, generally speaking, the best way.
Preet Bharara: Look, it’s an interesting question from my perspective, not having any deep background in journalism. But people, in their debate about the Mike Schmidt interview, keep talking about the Perry Mason or the aha moment.
Maggie Haberman: Right.
Preet Bharara: And people who have actually practiced law and have argued in court know that sometimes an excellent cross-examination is if you continued giving a rope to your witness, who is going to lie again and again and again on the witness stand. Now, that doesn’t mean that’s the only approach. That doesn’t mean that you don’t do multiple things in the course of the same cross-examination. Which is also not to say that every interview of a president should be adversarial and a cross-examination. I’m not sure that’s a great precedent either.
Maggie Haberman: It’s not.
Preet Bharara: It’s also—and I’m not taking a particular view on Mike Schmidt’s interview—but also, it occurs to me that not every interview has to be the definitive, defining, thorough, exhaustive interview of all time for all of journalism with respect to a president.
Maggie Haberman: Right. I think what you just said—everything you just said is really important. I think that everybody has invested this massive expectations in every interview.
Preet Bharara: In a single interview, right.
Maggie Haberman: In a single interview. And every reporter is being judged on some metric on Twitter that doesn’t exist in actual journalism, that just exists on the wish list of people who don’t like Trump. I mean, quite candidly, I think what the people who are arguing against the interview want is impeachment. And so, that’s not Mike’s job. And I think that it gets to a broader point. I think two things. I think that people are so frustrated who don’t like the president. And the approval ratings tell us that that’s a lot of people. But people who don’t like the president are having trouble with the fact that the only body in our democracy that really exists to “hold the president accountable,” which is a phrase that my friends who are rabid partisans on the left keep saying, is—and I mean my actual friends. I don’t mean people on Twitter—
Preet Bharara: Not your fake friends?
Maggie Haberman: Not fake friends, not fake news friends. Congress is the only entity that exists to hold the president accountable. And we can—
Preet Bharara: Well, there’s the Special Counsel also.
Maggie Haberman: There’s the Special Counsel, okay. But that’s—I consider that to be a part of the legal system. So, the job of journalism is not to play—is not to hold hearings, which is essentially what people want you to do with those interviews.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, but you said—but you used a broader phrase, which is “hold someone accountable.” And I would think that a lot of people—
Maggie Haberman: We are holding him accountable every day.
Preet Bharara: Okay.
Maggie Haberman: Yeah. But we are. I mean, like I just said, this is the thing that makes me crazy about the criticism is like, where do people think that most of what they know about the Russia probe is coming from? It’s [?coming] from reporting.
Preet Bharara: So, I’ve wanted to ask you. I was thinking about how does it play out in the newsroom among your colleagues when you get criticism from the president, and for you personally, or criticism from the president’s critics? Is there a different in how you deal with or react to as a human being, to the different camps of criticism?
Maggie Haberman: You mean coming from the left or the right?
Preet Bharara: Correct, yes.
Maggie Haberman: No. I mean—
Preet Bharara: They’re equal?
Maggie Haberman: They’re equal. I mean, I think the difference is that I think that the president’s ability—and this was true even before he was president, when he was a candidate, and that’s when I first experienced him targeting me on Twitter. And targeting me by name, not—he doesn’t—he actually doesn’t do that anymore with Times reporters. But he used to target us by name.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. And how does that—how did that feel?
Maggie Haberman: Really terrible, not because it was like, oh, he hurt my feelings. It was because he would set this swarm off on you.
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Maggie Haberman: And it’s why I turned my mentions off on Twitter for a very long time, because it was just—and I still do, because it’s just—
Preet Bharara: Too much.
Maggie Haberman: It’s toxic, yeah. But it was like—but the first time that I really experienced that with him was November of 2015, where I did a story about how when people started screaming at me about Hillary Clinton email coverage, I was busy getting attacked by him for my coverage of him. So, I was off on something else. But in November 2015, he was amping up his anti-Muslim rhetoric. And I think that what gets overlooked about an aspect of the glue for his supporter base has been that there is a very strong anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-Islam sentiment beyond the wall, beyond whatever symbolism there is that he’s talking about about South America. And he was saying all kinds of things in interviews. And left open—somebody asked him—it was a question that was arguably irresponsible, because nobody’s actually talking about a Muslim registry in the US. The only answer to that question historically is of course not. I wouldn’t be open to that. And what Trump said was, we’re looking at a lot of things.
We’ve got to look at a lot of things. We’ve got to be tough. Well, that’s what I would call leaving it open. And he got asked about it then later by NBC. And it’s not really clear that he was listening on the rope line, but he answered in the affirmative. As a candidate, you’re responsible for what you say. And so, we gave it page one treatment. It was a big moment, I thought. I was really surprised that he was going there and at least willing to leave that open. And he took our story, and his folks—I don’t know whether they [?boarded] it up, or it just was done on its own, but somebody at Breitbart wrote up some story attacking me, and Trump then tweeted it and was like, “Thank you for this, Breitbart. So nice when the media polices the other media.” And he tweeted it twice, I think. And that was the first time that I ever had a swarm, and I was like, what is this?
Preet Bharara: What is that?
Maggie Haberman: What’s going on here?
Preet Bharara: How much coffee did you drink that day?
Maggie Haberman: And it was a lot of coffee. I remember being on the Amtrak. And it was also an important moment because it was one of these times where members of the mainstream media were straining to give him benefit of the doubt, like he wasn’t really listening, or maybe he was, and it just was like nuts. And then he rejected every opportunity to clarify it over two days. And it was a great example of the first time I ever saw chain reactive Trump, right? Where it’s like, he creates chaos, and then he reacts to what he creates, and it just goes on forever. So, he did this. We wrote it. He then made a thing. Then he did the pronouncement about thousands of cheering Muslims on 9/11 in New Jersey. And we wrote about that. I think we were the only ones. And then he got asked about it on the Sunday shows. And he—to try to prove his point, he used a [?quote] from my colleague, Serge Kovalevski, who then was at the Washington Post, that had a tiny reference to there were some reports that that may have happened. And Serge said, “I don’t recall that ever being verified. I just remember that there were some reports that it might have happened. They were looking at it.” And then Trump started attacking Serge. And then that became a whole thing. And so, it was just—anyway. But that was my first experience with he sics this mob on you. I don’t know of anyone on the left who has had that power.
Preet Bharara: I’m pretty confident, knowing you, and knowing how strong and independent a reporter you are, that that would not affect how you conduct your writing and your reporting going forward.
Maggie Haberman: No.
Preet Bharara: Maybe you turn off your mentions.
Maggie Haberman: Right. Right. I turned off my mentions.
Preet Bharara: And I have a similar sort of parallel worry about the Justice Department. There are lots of people I know, Bob Mueller and others—I’d like to think I was this way—that no amount of his talking and singling people out, and also with the judiciary, is gonna intimidate anyone into not doing their job. But you worry, does that action, his name-calling and perhaps sicing a hive on folks, do you think it has a chilling effect on some quarters in journalism?
Maggie Haberman: I imagine it does. I hope it doesn’t. But I can’t just prove it negative, so I don’t know. But I know that it can be—I think for people who have not experienced—look, we are not supposed to be the story. One of the weird things that happens when you’re around Trump, and whether it’s me, or his aides, or whomever, is you become better known because that’s kind of what he does. And so, he makes people better known, because that’s what he wants. He thinks it’s what everyone wants, is attention, fame, whatever. I don’t want that.
Preet Bharara: He thinks he’s doing you a favor.
Maggie Haberman: He thinks he’s doing you a favor, correct. And so, the degree to which journalists are trained to not be the story, historically. Did you ever watch Broadcast News?
Preet Bharara: Yes.
Maggie Haberman: All right, so I’m obsessed with that movie. And it is the journalism movie that I quote the most often.
Preet Bharara: Seems that you’ve talked about it in every interview.
Maggie Haberman: I’m obsessed with it. And so, hey, listen, [?Red], there’s an Albert [?Brooks] line he says when William Hurt has put himself in his own date rape story. Not that he committed a date rape, that he was doing a piece on date rape for TV. But Albert Brooks says, “Yes, let’s never forget, we’re the real story, not them.” And to me, that’s the whole ballgame. And so, he makes you the story, and I think that for a lot of people, it’s incredibly uncomfortable. And I think most people—he plays smash mouth, Trump, in a very different way. The closest parallel I can come to from just my own experience is Rudy Giuliani, but Rudy Giuliani would never have done a lot of the things that Trump does, ever. I fear there are people who respond to that kind—all it is is working the ref. It’s just working the ref with a billy club instead of words. But I think—I worry there are people who respond to it, yes.
Preet Bharara: Can I ask you about a different criticism the press gets?
Maggie Haberman: Ask me whatever you want, yeah.
Preet Bharara: So, you see these studies that purport to be objective in some way, that say and suggest that the number of negative stories about Trump is much higher than negative stories in the same time period against his opponent during the campaign. But there were more negative stories about Donald Trump than there were about other people that he would compare himself to, because there’s some bias in the media, or because he did more things about which people could reasonably write negative things, or some combination of the two?
Maggie Haberman: When organizations, foundations, schools, what have you, universities, do these studies, I always question by what metric they’re using, defining something as negative, okay? So, that’s one thing.
Preet Bharara: Right.
Maggie Haberman: Especially because Donald Trump means negative as any story he doesn’t like about himself. So, I have an issue with this in general. And this is yet another thing where sort of what was intended to be scientific study gets distorted by him and by his supporters. I think generally speaking, it’s just because he does more things that are norm-breaking, violative, unusual, and so forth. I don’t think it’s because of some bias. I also think that he gets more coverage period than anybody. That was the problem during the campaign. I mean, seriously, this was the issue during the primaries, is it was like, the food is terrible in such small portions. I mean, it’s just constant. It’s—he’s constantly being covered. And so—
Preet Bharara: But there’s nothing to be done about that, because—
Maggie Haberman: No, and now he’s president. There’s nothing to be done about it. But when he was a candidate—
Preet Bharara: There were days we didn’t—people didn’t think about Barack Obama.
Maggie Haberman: Glenn Thrush and Peter Baker and I did a story that ran a couple weeks ago. And somebody said to us that he doesn’t think that Trump can go more than a few days without seeing himself on TV. Like it really bothers him. Based on my experience with him, that’s accurate. So, it’s the make your own weather thing. He does things to put himself there. For whatever reason, it’s like he stopped absorbing certain new pieces of information after 1990 or ish, ’95. But his experience with the press in New York City was the tabloids, and it was pretty transactional. Not always, but sometimes. And I think he fundamentally doesn’t understand what the DC press corps does and what the White House press corps does. And he doesn’t understand that the job is not to sort of clap and say you did great. And in his mind, he thinks that’s what people did for Obama. Now, it is true that Obama did not get the same level of negative coverage that Trump has gotten. And you can argue why that is. But Trump has said pretty divisive things. The travel ban is—it’s pretty stark, right? So, I don’t—it’s the sound of it. And then when those studies are quoted, it’s like you media members woke up and decided to write negatively about him. And that’s just not—and I don’t think that is, in the majority of cases, what is happening.
Preet Bharara: So, that’s an opinion you just expressed, and you’ve expressed opinions—
Maggie Haberman: That’s an opinion? I mean, I think that’s—
Preet Bharara: Well, you see where I’m going, once again.
Maggie Haberman: Go ahead. Yeah, now I do, yes. This time I do.
Preet Bharara: So, there are news reporters who—now also it’s easier because of social media and journalists have a lot to say on journalism too—who express opinions, sometimes negative ones, sometimes snarky ones, about the people and the issues that they’re covering.
Maggie Haberman: Right.
Preet Bharara: And I’m asking this as an honest question. Is that okay? Does that hurt the credibility of people who are supposed to be straight news reporters and give a view on that?
Maggie Haberman: I think that is the most elemental debate about journalism right now, right? I mean, because look, I think that the tone of a lot of the Trump coverage, I think is problematic. I don’t mean at the Times. I mean across the board. And I think Twitter is the biggest culprit.
Preet Bharara: You mean in the actual media.
Maggie Haberman: In the actual media. I think the tone of coverage, I think, is blurred. I mean, look. This—
Preet Bharara: I would say people have opinions. Everyone’s allowed to have an opinion.
Maggie Haberman: Well, you have to try to—
Preet Bharara: The question is, how much can you express it and maintain your credibility as a neutral—
Maggie Haberman: You have to be careful. I mean, you have to not let your biases bleed into your college, and you have to not let your biases bleed—I mean, this is where being on TV a lot can be risky. This is where Twitter is terrible. And I don’t like Twitter, for the record.
Preet Bharara: You tweeted a lot today.
Maggie Haberman: I sure did, and I regret it every day. It’s that cookie that I eat and then say I’m going on a diet tomorrow. I think that it is a challenge with the Trump era to figure out how to convey to people that what we are seeing is fundamentally different than what we have seen before, because it just is, without that sounding like an opinion. And that is a challenge. When it sounds like an opinion, then it gets dismissed as an opinion, or as a bias, or what have you. And I do think that part of the problem with Twitter is that—and again, because it all bleeds together—I think that everybody’s reaction siren is cranked up to an 11 almost all the time. And not everything he does is an 11.
Preet Bharara: Yeah. Well, it’s a glib forum.
Maggie Haberman: Well, but everything is a glib forum now. I mean, what’s not?
Preet Bharara: Well.
Maggie Haberman: This, obviously, is not.
Preet Bharara: I think podcasts—
Maggie Haberman: This is not.
Preet Bharara: I think podcasts—oh, there’s no glibness here at all.
Maggie Haberman: No.
Preet Bharara: We edit out the glibness.
Maggie Haberman: Exactly.
Preet Bharara: I tweet from time to time too, as you may have noticed.
Maggie Haberman: What?!
Preet Bharara: And I regret it at the end of the day too.
Maggie Haberman: Hey, there you go. Good. Person after my own heart.
Preet Bharara: Somebody tweeted out the other day who’s clearly been listening to the podcast a little bit, and he said, “I prefer podcast Preet. You seem more balanced.” Well, of course. You think 140 characters, or whatever the number is now—Twitter forces you into being a cartoon. It’s terrible.
Maggie Haberman: For everybody.
Preet Bharara: It’s a distortive—
Maggie Haberman: Correct.
Preet Bharara: Distorting forum.
Maggie Haberman: Correct.
Preet Bharara: And yet you and I still use it.
Maggie Haberman: Well, it is important to my job. It is the President of the United States’ preferred form of communication. And despite the discussion about him giving interviews and the outrage that it raised the other day, he actually doesn’t give that many interviews anymore. So, you could argue that is a reason why every single one has to be a more perfect game. But that’s even more of an argument why you can’t really blame someone who didn’t think he was gonna be getting an interview for how he did in terms of real-time fact-checking. I mean, I think Twitter’s poison. I remember when it came up in 2012 as—that was the first cycle, presidential cycle, that it was really in use. And I was horrified by it. And I sound like an old lady. I mean, it was really—
Preet Bharara: So, why do you keep taking the poison? Because it’s important to your job, you keep taking the poison?
Maggie Haberman: Yeah, it’s important to my job. It’s very important for me to—
Preet Bharara: I mean, do they tell you—
Maggie Haberman: It’s very important for me to develop a cyanide resistance.
Preet Bharara: At The Times, you must tweet today?
Maggie Haberman: No, they do not tell me that. But there are a lot of people who ask me to tweet out their stories at The Times.
Preet Bharara: Have you tweeted during this podcast?
Maggie Haberman: I have not, which is a huge—
Preet Bharara: Should I be insulted by that?
Maggie Haberman: No, you should be flattered, are you kidding?
Preet Bharara: Oh, okay. I see, I see.
Maggie Haberman: Please.
Preet Bharara: This may be a sensitive issue, but I wanted to ask you about it. we initially had invited you together with one of your most frequent collaborators, Glenn Thrush, who also I know and have been friendly with over the years, to come on the show jointly. And then for other reasons, you had to cancel. And then when we rescheduled this, obviously Glenn has been accused, as is publicly known, of a certain kind of misconduct, sexual misconduct. And I believe he’s on leave from The New York Times.
Maggie Haberman: Mm-hmm.
Preet Bharara: What did you make of that?
Maggie Haberman: It’s a fair question, and I know it’s one you have to ask. There’s a lot I don’t want to get into about it, primarily because it’s an internal Times issue.
Preet Bharara: Mm-hmm.
Maggie Haberman: I think it was upsetting and painful for a lot of people, and Glenn has said he has a substance abuse problem and that he is getting help, and I’m glad about that. More broadly, I think that the conversation that is taking place about sexual harassment and misconduct is enormously important, and it’s a conversation that I’m glad is happening.
Preet Bharara: What are the conversations like at The Times about the issue generally?
Maggie Haberman: I don’t know that there is a conversation about the—which issue? You mean the—
Preet Bharara: The sexual harassment.
Maggie Haberman: I was gonna say, you mean Glenn, or about?
Preet Bharara: Yeah, no, generally.
Maggie Haberman: Generally? Well, I mean, look.
Preet Bharara: And but in light of the fact that a member of The New York Times—
Maggie Haberman: Yeah. I think I’m gonna leave that one within the newsroom.
Preet Bharara: Okay. Do you make anything of the point that I saw someone make—I forget who it was—you have all these new organizations that now have had allegations of a certain kind of sexual impropriety that runs the gamut of different kinds of misconduct. With the exception, I think, of one, WNYC, all of that conduct was uncovered by some other news organization.
Maggie Haberman: Mm-hmm.
Preet Bharara: Does that say anything to you at all about the way that news organizations look only outward and not inward?
Maggie Haberman: I think it’s an important point. I mean, I think that every instance is different and every outlet is different, right? So, I think I don’t want to generalize about whether, in certain cases, there were reports that went unlistened to, or whether there were problems with people that were not paid attention to. But I do think that the media is not great at policing itself, and I think that a big question when this conversation began—and look, I mean, this began a while ago. It really began when Gretchen Carlson left Fox News. But I would say when my colleagues, Megan Toomey and Jodi Kantor, who are both fantastic reporters, did the initial Harvey Weinstein story, there was a question of, is everyone gonna suggest that it’s only Fox News that has this problem, or look inward? And I think it has taken a while for that to come up. But I don’t think that news—my sense is not—I guess my concern more broadly about this, and it really is to your point about other news organizations uncovering what brethren have done or sisters have done, is this going to just be a lot of firings, or are there actually going to be systemic structural changes? And it’s way too early to know the answer to that yet. But my fear is that there’s just going to be a lot of firings and no real changes.
Preet Bharara: Do you think I’m gonna get a lot of grief for treating you in this interview like Michael Schmidt treated Donald Trump?
Maggie Haberman: Do you think that you treated me like Michael Schmidt treated Donald Trump?
Preet Bharara: I’m not gonna answer that question.
Maggie Haberman: Okay. Then I’m not gonna answer yours either.
Preet Bharara: Okay.
Maggie Haberman: Okay.
Preet Bharara: Maggie Haberman, thank you.
Maggie Haberman: Thank you.
[End of Audio]