Washington Post journalist describes experience covering Donald Trump
Lucy Lynch | Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold was this year’s speaker at Notre Dame’s annual Red Smith Lecture. The lecture, named after sportswriter Red Smith, honors prominent journalists in remembrance of Smith’s legacy. Fahrenthold was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for his coverage of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, specifically for reports on Trump’s fraudulent charity organization and the “Access Hollywood” tape.
Fahrenthold said that he and others are still adjusting and learning as they try “to adapt to the era of Donald Trump.”
Having entered his third year of reporting on the beat surrounding Trump and his businesses, Fahrenthold said he has found himself sticking to three main principles, both as a reporter and reader of the news — stubbornness, openness, and independence.
Fahrenthold said stubborness is important when trying to uncover the truth.
“Facts get washed away by power and fear,” he said. “We who believe in facts must be stubborn first.”
Fahrenthold highlighted the example of his first story on Trump, where he followed the now-president as he campaigned ahead of the the Iowa caucuses, the first major nominating contest. Fahrenthold noticed Trump giving a large check from his charity organization to Waterloo, Iowa charities in attendance.
“I thought, ‘that’s illegal, you can’t use your charity to help your campaign,’” Fahrenthold said. “I immediately became interested in the concreteness of the money. Where was it coming from? What else is he doing with it?”
Fahrenthold’s questioning led him to a phone conversation with Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s then-campaign manager who said he couldn’t tell the reporter any details, other than “trust me, he has given this money away.”
Knowing, as a journalist, that the words “trust me” were a red flag, Fahrenthold said his stubbornness led him to a call with Trump where the candidate said he did give the money to a veteran organization–but he hadn’t donated it until Farenthold started asking questions. Fahrenthold said it was a moment where his stubbornness paid off and he began to follow all things related to the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Fahrenthold credits Twitter with contributing to his principle of openness. He said he has found that it is helpful to let readers and followers know what he is up to and what he’s looking for, as this strategy often leads to helpful tips.
In one case, Fahrenthold was looking for a painting of Trump that Trump has purchased at an auction using his charity’s money. A quick tweet was sent to his followers and one suggested checking TripAdvisor. After scrolling through several hundred photos posted by guests of the Trump National Doral Miami, the painting was spotted in the sports bar of the resort.
Fahrenthold said that he tries to assert independence when covering Trump.
“I don’t pass on the raw version of what he says,” Fahrenthold said. “I don’t retweet him just to debunk him, I think that’s a disservice to people. We’re still continuing to learn that value of independence.”
Fahrenthold stressed the importance of news readers following these three principles, too.
“Readers should be stubborn,” he said. “Read the whole story, pay for news, and reward good work by sharing it. For openness, open yourself to the world, you can make the problems of the world better. With independence, practice restraint, meaning don’t exhaust yourself, you don’t want to be without energy to make the world a better place.”