Covering President Donald Trump is particularly challenging in that he has no experience in government, PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff told TV critics at TCA.
“He comes from the world of entertainment and approaches the job with a mindset that fits the world that he came from. He has been brash, aggressive, he wants to change things. And that is the way it has been…And how it has challenged us, frankly, is that nothing is predictable any more,” she said.
Trump has changed positions and key staffers at a moment’s notice, and is not afraid to make an announcement without first running it by his staff, she explained. That means journalists have “got to be on our toes at all times,” she said, acknowledging “We have been a lot busier with the Trump presidency.”
Asked how she handles her broadcast’s coverage of Trump when he tells an obvious untruth, Woodruff said, “Our view is that ‘lying’ is not a term at all that we can use lightly. When you use ‘lying,’ you are saying they said it with intention to misrepresent.” NewsHour is more comfortable saying a Trump statement cannot be born out by the facts, she told TV critics, and juxtaposing his remark with what is accurate.
Keeping track of Trump’s creative moldings of the rough clay of truth has become routine in much news coverage these days but is not something NewsHour dwells on, Woodruff indicated in so many words. “We can’t stop the broadcast every few minutes,” she explained.
“The first time I had to say, on the air, that the president had said something we needed to point out was not accurate, I got a lump in my throat. That is not something journalists are accustomed to doing,” she admitted. “We have to be careful; he is still the president.”
Increasingly reporters in Washington feel it is important to stand up for the role of free press, and each other, she suggested. “We are seeing some solidarity that hasn’t always been there in the past,” she said, reminding of a recent White House press briefing in which press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called on a reporter who deferred to the previous correspondent’s question that Sanders had ducked.
To a larger degree than in the past, this midterm election will be, in many ways, a referendum on the president. To that point, NewsHour is joining other news outlets in preparing its most comprehensive coverage of midterm elections to date on PBS.
The nightly news broadcast anchored by managing editor Woodruff will continue its efforts to further collaborate with PBS member stations around the country with its expanded bench of political reporters. On coverage of the midterm elections, NewsHour will tap into local newsrooms and resources for coverage of U.S. Senate, House and gubernatorial races where the results will have national political significance, moderate local and state debates, and provide a toolkit of resources available for use on broadcast and online in the months leading up to and on Election Day, November 6.
In the past year, PBS NewsHour has worked with local PBS member stations’ news operations to cover the midterm elections using local reporters on NewsHour broadcasts, and airing and publishing online reporting that originated in those local markets. NewsHour journalists already have moderated 2018 general election and primary debates in Hot Springs, Virginia and Miramar, Florida, with plans for more later this summer and into the fall.
Since the 2016 election NewsHour’s nightly broadcast is up 25% compared to the previous 18 months, with 1.18 million viewers per minute. From July 2017 to July 2018, NewsHour’s website averaged 4.8 million users per month, with an additional 1M unique monthly viewers on Apple News.
Woodruff, who has covered 12 presidential elections, was named solo anchor of PBS’ flagship nightly news program in March.