Last weekend, New York Times White House reporter Maggie Haberman wrote about the dilemma faced by former communications director Hope Hicks. Facing a subpoena to testify to the House, she wrote, Hicks must choose between ignoring the administration policy of stonewalling investigations, and risking her standing with the president and his party, or facing “legal jeopardy” from Congress.
All hell broke loose, as it usually does when Haberman reports a story. In this case, the hell came from the left. Progressive objections to the piece centered on the neutral and arguably uncritical tone it adopted about a decision whether or not to comply with the law. Much of the criticism concerned the headline and the glamorous photo that accompanied it, neither of which is Haberman’s responsibility, and the latter of which is a difficult pitfall to avoid when the story’s subject came to her job via the modeling profession.
The piece was not the best specimen of Haberman’s work, but the response to it did illustrate the extraordinary and almost pathological hatred her name provokes. The attacks began with the story’s “decision” premise, and quickly spread to reviving claims that Haberman herself habitually regurgitates administration propaganda. Critics claimed that Haberman’s mother, a public-relations agent, compromises her ability to report independently, called her a “monster,” and so on.
The left-wing HuffPost media critic Ashley Feinberg has included Haberman on both her list of “Cowards, Courtiers, Strivers And Suck-Ups” and her list of “Thinnest Skins in the media.” Haberman can be hated both for her work and the fact that she disagrees with the hatred of her work, a wonderfully perpetual cycle of content-generation.
One of the oddities of the left’s Haberman hatred is its failure to recognize identical levels of hatred on the right. Haberman has gotten under President Trump’s skin like no other reporter. The difference is that the right’s loathing for Haberman is rational. No reporter has pried the erratic dysfunctionality of Trump’s management style more wide open than her. Haberman began producing searing depictions of Trump’s temperamental unfitness during the campaign, and continued churning out exposés of his legal travails, from his attempts to fire Robert Mueller to his use of phones that can be easily monitored by Russian or Chinese spies.
Her byline alone does not capture the extent of reporting footprint. Haberman’s coverage informs the paper’s entire coverage of Trump. In the five days since her Hicks story appeared — three of which were a holiday weekend, Haberman’s co-bylined, or contributed reporting to, six stories. The White House reporting beat, despite its prestige and superficial allure, is a difficult and grinding post. Haberman has not only exceeded any other reporter’s coverage of Trump, she has probably covered Trump more thoroughly than any White House reporter has covered any president in history.
Accordingly, Trump viscerally loathes Haberman even as he craves her approval. When Haberman reported last year that Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen was preparing to flip on his former patron, the president lashed out at her as “a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with.” (Trump has, in fact, given Haberman several interviews, nearly all of which have yielded a trove of damning quotes.)
When she helped report on what the Times called a “secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement” this year, Trump raged against the paper as the “true enemy of the people.”
It is a fallacy to say, as reporters sometimes do, that they must be doing something right if both sides are complaining. It is also fair to concede that some of Haberman’s work merits some complaint. But the idea that she is on the whole a failure, or an easy mark for the administration, is preposterous. And the spreading conspiracy that her mother’s professional needs have somehow forced Haberman to suck up to the administration overlooks the fact that the administration obviously despises her. If Haberman’s mother’s business required her daughter to stay in Trump’s good graces, she would have been closed down years ago.
The progressive loathing of Haberman draws some of its force from the mistaken belief that straight news reporters should stand up to the president and call him out for his unfitness to hold office. Some people who believe this fail to grasp the distinction between news gathering and opinion journalism. Others believe Trump’s unique authoritarianism and unfitness for office gives straight reporters a special duty to slip the shackles of objectivity. One thing they might consider, as they direct this frustration against Haberman, is that we know as much as we do about Trump’s authoritarianism and unfitness for office because of her reporting.