Day 1: Free speech, national security and what it's like to cover Washington in the age of Trump


Penny Walker

Editor's note: The first day of the opening week at the Ambassador Barbara Barrett & Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center at ASU was a full one. Here are the highlights; find the current day's blog here.


Panel: 'Covering Washington in the Age of Trump'

7:30 p.m. Monday, March 12

Barrett and OConnor Washington Center panel on media and Trump
Washington Post White House reporter Ashley Parker (center) speaks to a full house, along with CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip (left) and CBS This Morning senior producer Chloe Arensberg on the topic "Covering Washington in the Age of Trump" on Monday at the Barrett & O'Connor Washington Center. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Three Washington journalists spoke about the changing media/political landscape in front of a standing-room-only audience Monday evening at the Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center.

Leonard Downie Jr.

Leonard Downie Jr., Weil Family Professor of Journalism at Cronkite (though he’s perhaps better known as the consultant on the film “The Post,” ASU Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle quipped), moderated the event, throwing questions in front of the trio to get their take. Here’s a sampling.

Question: What’s different about covering this administration?

Abby Phillip, White House correspondent, CNN:

“Everything is different. … It’s probably as wild and chaotic as it seems to you (the news consumer), especially by comparison to past administrations.”

“…The White House can often be a very controlled environment. …  (In this presidency) there are a lot of little tornadoes happening all over the federal government, and that’s what makes it so difficult to keep up as a reporter.”

Q: In a White House that seems to attack the press so much, why are there so many good sources?

Ashley Parker, White House reporter, Washington Post:

“This White House is in a lot of ways more accessible than previous White Houses. Some of this changed when John Kelly came in and implemented new discipline. … In the Obama White House, I remember, any little story I was doing they had to know what sorts of questions do you think you’ll be asking and what’s the topic and do you have an understanding of whether this will run on the front page or on A17. The Trump White House is not like that.

“You also have a lot more acute sense of what the president is thinking, because his tweets are literally what he’s thinking in the moment. I don’t buy the theory that he’s sort of strategically turning everyone’s attention away, covering up one chaotic thing with another.”

And as for all those sources? It’s because it’s often less compelling to be in front of him in person and more compelling to be in front of him “through the sheen of cable news.” So people are fighting it out in the press because it’s the most efficient way to sway the president.

Q: How do you handle all this chaos when preparing for news shows?

Chloe Arensberg, senior producer, CBS This Morning:

“Barely. <laughter from the audience> One of the most challenging things with a morning show is we have to have some kind of vague prediction of what might be driving the news at 7 a.m. in the morning. I work primarily day side the day before, and I have to say the number of times I’ve even woken up to seven different stories out of Washington that we had not originally had when I went to bed at 10, it’s astonishing.”

Q: Is some of this accessibility to sources in the White House part of the infighting there?


“The second layer of all of this starts with the fact that Trump is a candidate who came into politics fairly recently. So he has filled his White House with a lot of people who don’t know him that well, who haven’t worked for him particularly long. Some of whom are his family members, some of whom are longtime allies — although there are fewer and fewer of those people left — and what it creates are those factions you just mentioned.

“A lot of people with a lot of different interests working for this one person — that’s very different from what you typically get with a president. … Trump has always had the challenge of having a lot of people working with him who he frankly doesn’t trust a whole lot.”

Q: Are press briefings useful anymore? Do you still go to them?


“We do go to them. Are they useful? Some days I think they’re useful; some days I don’t. I think the greatest use — I think this is true not just of the Trump White House but of the Obama White House … the greatest use is to create a public record of what the White House’s position is on a given subject. I think it’s actually incredibly important.

“When everything distills and we find out what the real truth is, or we’re at the point where a decision needs to be made, we can compare that to what was said when we asked the question.

“… To the extent that we can press for answers on facts, I think it’s still very important. To the extent that it becomes this sort of game of trolling? Not so helpful.” 


Plus, “So much happens after the briefings now that they’re also often outdated and irrelevant in a matter of minutes after they conclude.”

Video by Jamie Ell/ASU Now

Q: Pro-Trump commentators often describe the press as part of the resistance to the president, trying to press him out of office. What’s your feeling on that — is it anti-Trump or normal accountability for the press to hold the president to?


“I think it’s normal accountability. It’s an easy narrative to say we’re part of the resistance. I also think it dovetails nicely with the enemy-of-the-American-people, opposition-party rhetoric that this White House has attached to the news media. It depends on how tired you are, how you feel when you hear that language.

“But I do think technically we work in an environment with strong press freedom and a First Amendment, and things aren’t so bad.”

Q: Have you ever been the target of anti-media vitriol?


(She covered him during the campaign, and Parker and New York Times colleague Maggie Haberman had just published a story that Trump did not like. Then they were at a big rally in San Diego.)

“All press, no matter what candidate I’ve covered, you’re always sort of enclosed by bike racks, but normally you’re in the back of the room. But with Trump we were part of the show. …

“We’re in the middle of this room of 10,000 people or more, and he starts complaining about our story. He says, ‘There’s a woman named Parker and a woman named Haberman, and they wrote the most’ — and I actually had a little name card that I quickly slid my laptop over — ‘they’re the most dishonest and the most despicable — they’re not here, are they?!’

“I’m sitting in the front row with a now slightly obscured name card, and the whole crowd turns around, ‘Boo hiss! Is Parker here?!’ and I was just like, <looks behind her> ‘Is she here?’

“The good part about being a print reporter is that no one knows who I am. A lot of my good friends who are on TV, especially women, felt a lot more vitriol. This has been reported, but CNN and other outlets got security guards for their female reporters to walk to their cars after rallies. So it was a slightly disconcerting, unnerving experience certainly for me to be called out in a negative way by (Trump) in a crowd of 10,000 people, but I knew my story was accurate — which was the main thing I cared about — and I also knew no one knew what I looked like.”


“I’ve had people post my parents’ address. I’ve had a conservative — I won’t even call this person a reporter — a conservative person who writes on a website online publish a story about my mother, including posting her photo online, in an attempt to attack me for coverage of a Trump surrogate. That kind of thing has really escalated.

“I don’t mind it personally … I worry more about the impact on your family and people who didn’t sign up for this. I signed up for this; my mother did not.”

Watch the full talk here, including the journalists’ views on when Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will leave the White House, what mistakes the media have made, people who have been vilified in public but whom they find quite sympathetic in person. ASU President Michael Crow also addressed the crowd at the end of the event, speaking about ASU's mission.


Video: Cronkite grads and jobs

Lisa Ruhl, senior producer at The Hill and one of the panelists in the afternoon Cronkite School event, graduated from ASU's master’s program in May 2011. She moved to Washington and reached out to Steve Crane, director of Cronkite's Washington Bureau, and the rest is history. Here she talks about that and how she pays it forward when she needs to fill a position at work — including her latest hire, fellow panelist Marisela Ramirez (Class of 2017).

Video by Jamie Ell/ASU Now 


Tour: Cronkite School's Washington Bureau

5:45 p.m. Monday, March 12

In the afternoon, prospective students got to hear from alumni of the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication about what drew them to ASU, what they gained from the Cronkite School and the twists and turns in their careers.

The crowd then went down to the Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center’s fourth floor to tour the Washington Bureau newsroom, where Cronkite students work 15-week (12-ish weeks in summer) assignments covering the nation’s capital for Cronkite News/Arizona PBS.

Barrett and OConnor Washington Center tour of Cronkite Washington Bureau
Cronkite News/AZ PBS Washington Bureau director Steve Crane talks with nearly a dozen East Coast prospective journalism students as they tour the bureau and learn more about the opportunities at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Monday in Washington, D.C. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“You’re not a student reporter; you’re a reporter,” Steve Crane, director of the Washington Bureau, tells each new program cohort. The students get credentials by the Congressional press gallery, the same as other media.

“One of the great things about working in Washington — and I stole this from the dean — it's a line some reporters don't get on their resumes during their careers,” he continued.

Later, he spoke with ASU Now about the Washington program. It has hosted 138 students since starting in summer 2011 and runs every semester (fall, spring, summer). The students work with Crane and Bill McKnight and will be working next to Leonard Downie Jr.

Since the program began, its journalists have gone to four national political conventions, two inaugurations, six or seven States of the Union, and they have covered many Supreme Court cases and churned out thousands of news stories — “and we eat a lot of jelly beans,” Crane said.

Barrett and OConnor Washington Center tour of Cronkite bureau
Cronkite School Associate Dean Mark Lodato (left) and East Coast prospective journalism students (some younger than others) and alumni flash the ASU pitchfork in the Washington Bureau on Monday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Video: Why foreign policy is definitely worth it

3:05 p.m. Monday, March 12

Sharon Burke, one of the panelists from the national-security discussion this morning, talks about the views that gained voice after the last presidential election — that our global diplomacy wasn't worth the cost and time — and how that couldn't be more wrong.



CLAS overview — and civil disagreement among the D.C. crowd

2:49 p.m. Monday, March 12

Members of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences presented during lunch, sharing the accomplishments and range of the college and this video:


Afterward, they opened the room to questions about the previous panel.

Stanlie James, vice provost for inclusion and community engagement at ASU, had stopped by the new center while in Washington for the American Council on Education conference. She objected to several of the statements made during the "Crisis in Higher Education" panel, including statements about quelling emotion.

“I would argue if you’re a professor, you need to have passion,” she said.

Panelist Allison Stanger, who was still in the room watching the CLAS presentation, spoke up to clarify what she had said earlier. She spoke about being seriously injured by Middlebury protesters. Stanger said she saw how the passion of a small minority got others stirred up to actions they might not have otherwise, actions that those students later were surprised that they found themselves doing.

“There is a lot to be angry about what’s going on in this country. … Somehow as educators we have to validate those emotions” but in a way that moves the needle, Stanger said. Part of it is teaching people to harness their emotions to bring about the change they want to see, she said.

James thanked her for the clarification, and both expressed appreciation for the discussion.


FB Live: 'Covering Washington in the Age of Trump'

2:35 p.m. Monday, March 12

The panel "Covering Washington in the Age of Trump" will be livestreamed on ASU's Facebook page at 6 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.


Video: A war by any other name ...

2:25 p.m. Monday, March 12

After this morning's panel on National Security, Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle (ret.) spoke with the ASU Now crew about what happens when we use the word "war" to describe something that traditionally hasn't been considered a war.



Photo-booth fun

2:20 p.m. Monday, March 12

If you're at the Barrett & O'Connor Washington Center this week, don't forget to visit the photo booth in the lobby (and if you're posting on social, use #ASUinDC). See you there! 

Barrett and OConnor Washington Center photo booth
Ambassador Barbara Barrett poses with her nephew Ian McConnell, 15, of Blairsville, Pennsylvania, in the photo booth of the new Barrett & O'Connor Washington Center on Monday in Washington, D.C. The photo booth will be available all week during the grand opening. (And yes, there are Sparky masks too.) Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Video: Understanding the lived experience for people who aren't like you

Laura Beth Nielsen, one of the panelists from the earlier talk on the crisis in higher education, talks about why it's important to understand how ordinary people live and to communicate that across the political divide.

Video by Jamie Ell/ASU Now 


Panel: Group discussion at 'Crisis in Higher Education'

1:20 p.m. Monday, March 12

Paul Carrese, founding director and professor at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL) at ASU, introduced the panel at "Crisis in Higher Education? Free Speech, Intellectual Diversity, and Civil Dialogue on Campus." He explained how SCETL is dedicated to reviving the link between civic education and classic liberal education, and that the spirit of Socratic debate is crucial at both campus events and in the classroom.

Barrett and OConnor Washington Center panel on free speech on campus
Laura Beth Nielsen (second from right) speaks at the School of Civil and Economic Thought and Leadership panel discussion on the topic of "Crisis in Higher Education? Free Speech, Intellectual Diversity, and Civic Dialogue on Campus" Monday at the Barrett & O'Connor Washington Center. Looking on are (from left) Allison Stanger, Robert P. George, Greg Lukianoff and SCETL founding director Paul Carrese. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), spoke about the six trends that he sees as stifling free speech in higher education: political correctness run amok, administration run amok (such as tiny free-speech zones, or speech codes that outlaw harsh text messages or email, or "inappropriate directed laughter"); feds run amok, professors run amok, students run amok and the right run amok.

“I get really tired of people saying, ‘Is it the right or left?!’ Can you just focus on the issues?” he said.

Later in the panel, he would say, “We have to have really high tolerance for difference of opinion; we must have zero tolerance for violence.”

Laura Beth Nielsen, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Legal Studies at Northwestern University and research professor at the American Bar Foundation:

“We need to consider and innovate how to best expose our students to new ideas,” she said. And to do that, we must do the hardest thing about free speech: We must listen.

She spoke about microaggressions and sexual speech.

“We have an inequality in the First Amendment right now,” she said. College women are told they have to put up with a fraternity crowd chanting “No means yes” because of free-speech rights.

“At the same time, we see a regime of free speech that protects the popular and the powerful,” Nielsen said, such as bans on panhandling, protecting workers, tourists and consumers. The Westboro Baptist Church protests ultimately inspired the congressional override that prohibits protests around soldiers’ funerals, but nothing mentioned about LGBTQ funerals, Nielsen said.

We expect white women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community to uphold the right of others to speak, but businesses and others are protected, Nielsen said.

“Some decry the current generation as whiny, snowflakes — but I would argue the opposite,” she said. These students are demanding that their subordination experiences are heard.

What we must do “is try...