These 15 Political Power Players in Media Are Keeping It Real in the Age of Fake News

Tucker Carlson, Maggie Haberman and more

Photograph by Sasha Maslov for Adweek

At a time when the media are derided as failing and fake, these correspondents are on the top of their game—breaking news and keeping it real as they grapple with a White House that’s been on a high-speed cycle with no end in sight. –Lisa Granatstein

Jim Acosta / Senior White House Correspondent, CNN

Perhaps no member of the White House press corps is under more pressure these days than CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who has been known to tussle with President Trump and his spokesman Sean Spicer during press conferences as the Trump team has blasted CNN’s polls and coverage as “fake news.”

Even so, “We can’t get rattled,” Acosta says. “Like the saying goes, ‘Never let 'em see you sweat.’”

Acosta, who joined CNN from CBS News in 2007, says he would like to see the administration’s relationship with CNN become a more productive one, but he’s keeping his expectations in check. Acosta cites Dan Rather and Sam Donaldson as his role models, noting that the legendary CBS and ABC broadcasters “had the willingness to politely and aggressively ask just about anything of the president.” He also has a lot of respect for his fellow colleagues in the White House press corps, which is keeping him optimistic about the future of political reporting. “Years from now, I think people will look back and see some incredible journalism on display under extraordinary circumstances,” he says. –A.J. Katz

Matthew Boyle / Washington Political Editor, Breitbart News

Asked what one word best describes Breitbart’s tenacious political coverage, the site’s political editor echoes none other than Dan Rather. “Courageous,” says Matthew Boyle, who joined Breitbart in 2012 from The Daily Caller. Of Boyle’s work ethos, Breitbart editor in chief Alex Marlow has said he “typifies the ‘fighting spirit’ we value.”

In August, Boyle called out the media on Fox’s Sean Hannity Show for “100 percent using” fallen Muslim-American solider U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan and his family “for their political goals.” “We don’t take orders from anyone except ourselves on what we think we should be focused on,” says Boyle, who worked closely with former Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon, now Trump’s chief strategist. “Steve is a friend and my old boss, and I’ve learned so much from him,” Boyle notes. “He’s an incredibly smart person and I talk to him on occasion, as any good journalist would do, trying to get information out of newsworthy sources.” Boyle says he plans to be in the business “for a long time” for one simple reason: “Someone has to do the tough work, and the amazing team we have at Breitbart is stepping up in a fantastic way to fill the void left behind by the receding relevancy of waning established legacy operations. It’s an exciting time to be in journalism, and I’m not even 30 years old yet.” –Chris Ariens

David Brody / Chief Political Correspondent, CBN News

David Brody, a 14-year veteran reporter of the Christian Broadcasting Network, says Trump’s combative stance with the press is a battle of wills. “We all are in search of the truth; that’s what good journalists do, but when does the search for the truth turn into, ‘gotcha agenda-driven journalism?’” wonders Brody.

Brody was the first of just two correspondents called on by Trump during his bilateral news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (the other journalist was Townhall.com editor Katie Pavlich). ”He sees me as someone who will be fair and not getting ready to vent on a political soapbox,” Brody says of Trump. “I have a reputation for being fair and honest to both sides of the political spectrum.”

Author of the 2012 book, The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party Are Taking Back America, Brody’s reporting can be seen on programs ranging from The 700 Club to MSNBC. But he can most often be found on Brody File, his 10-year-old blog.

When asked what one word best describes Trump’s approach with the media, Brody gave us three: “In your face.” –C.A.

Tucker Carlson / Host, Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson Tonight

Tucker Carlson has never been afraid to go against the grain. Perhaps that’s one reason why he finds Trump and the movement he has unleashed so fascinating. “We have all of a sudden become sort of a three-party system with the election of Trump,” observes Carlson. “We have the Democrats in opposition. The Republicans are in hesitant alliance. Then there are the Trump people who are something truly different from either one.”

Carlson, who has done the cable news trifecta, hosting shows on CNN, MSNBC and now Fox News, took over Megyn Kelly’s coveted time slot when she left for NBC News earlier this year. His show is now delivering much higher ratings than what Kelly was delivering a year ago, and from an advertising standpoint, appears to be generating a significant amount of revenue for the network. The reason for his recent success? Carlson believes that many in the media still aren’t sure how to cover Trump. “They’re sort of thinking about using a template from 2004, and that’s just out of date at this point,” Carlson says.

“Trump sees himself not just as the subject of media coverage, but also as a player in it,” he adds. “He just has a total lack of interest in precedent, and that makes people in Washington uneasy.” In many ways, just like Carlson himself. –A.K.

Lauren Duca / Writer, Teen Vogue

Last December, writer Lauren Duca published an op-ed column titled “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America.”

The article, which argued that the U.S. president is engaged in a “deliberate attempt to destabilize journalism as a check on the power of government,” quickly became one of the internet’s buzziest political think pieces—not just because it was an excellent piece of writing, but because it had been published in Teen Vogue.

The “Gaslighting” story quickly became the publication’s most-read article of all time and helped propel both the magazine and Duca, who previously wrote about entertainment and culture for the Huffington Post, into the spotlight. Shortly thereafter, Duca received even more attention for an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight during which she chided the host for being a “partisan hack”; in response, he told her to stick to writing about “thigh-high boots.”

Duca now pens a weekly column for TeenVogue.com—aptly named “Thigh-High Politics”—that breaks down current events in a way that’s sharp and savvy, not watered-down for a young audience. “It takes on a tone that is inclusive in a way that a lot of political coverage doesn’t.”

Duca says of her writing style. “I think the greatest danger right now is people feeling frustrated and giving up,” she adds. “If we can help young women make sense of everything that’s going on while also speaking to a wider variety of readers, that’s exactly what we’re hoping to do. Every single American has a stake in this conversation.” –Emma Bazilian

David Fahrenthold / Political Reporter, The Washington Post

The reporter who brought the world the infamous Billy Bush-Donald Trump Access Hollywood tape pines for the day he can return to covering the morass of the federal government.

“I never had as much fun as I did in 2013 and 2014, writing about things like the national raisin reserve and the government’s underground paperwork dungeon outside Pittsburgh,” says Fahrenthold, who, for now, is part of a Washington Post team covering Trump’s potential conflicts of interest.

Knowing that his brand of investigative reporting comes with certain risk, Fahrenthold, a father of two, says he’s taken the appropriate precautions. “I have taken a few steps to improve both my physical security and cyber security, on the advice of the Post and journalism groups,” he notes.

Fahrenthold, a Post lifer who joined the paper in 2000 as a summer intern, doesn’t expect the Trump well to run dry anytime soon. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a presidential administration where decision-making was so driven by news coverage, and where so many lower-level federal employees apparently see leaks as the fastest way to influence the commander in chief.” –C.A.

Maggie Haberman / White House Correspondent, The New York Times

By most measures, Maggie Haberman is a baller. A deeply sourced, dogged reporter, her stories for The New York Times brought more than 141 million page views to NYTimes.com last year—more than any other reporter at the Gray Lady.

While candidate Donald Trump found her stories about him maddening, he continues to grant her access. “He has expressed frustration with coverage repeatedly, but he has usually gotten back on the phone at some point,” Haberman says. “His mantra in New York as a developer was ‘always take the call.’”

Haberman, who is the daughter of longtime New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman, joined the Times two years ago from Politico. Before that, she worked for the New York Post and New York Daily News, which prepared her to cover who she and her Times colleague Glenn Thrush dub “the Page Six president.”

In the two and a half months since Trump took office, Haberman has continued to break stories from inside the White House at a rapid clip. When asked how she plans to decompress from the nonstop coverage of Trump’s first 100 days, she quipped, “Can I get back to you on that on day 101?” –C.A.

Van Jones / Host of CNN’s The Messy Truth, Commentator

Van Jones surprised his CNN colleagues the evening of Feb. 28 when he effusively praised a portion of President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress: “He became president of the United States in that moment, period,” the left-leaning political commentator proclaimed. “That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics. Period.”

Jones was referring to the moving moment when the president honored the widow of William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL who was killed during the January raid in Yemen. It became yet another viral sound bite from the commentator, who has been one of Trump’s most vocal critics since the real estate mogul announced his candidacy for president. Following Trump’s victory, Jones even went so far to as to describe the president-elect’s Nov. 8 victory as “a whitelash.”

While Jones has attempted to clarify those comments in recent weeks, explaining on The View that he wasn’t referring to all Trump voters, just “the alt-right and the neo-Nazis who were celebrating,” they ignited a social storm that significantly raised Jones’ profile–for better or for worse, depending on which side of the political divide viewers fell.

In addition to being a Yale Law graduate and longtime activist—he founded a number of not-for-profits engaged in social justice, including job accelerator Dream Corps—Jones had a stint as host of CNN’s rebooted Crossfire in 2013 before establishing himself as one of the network’s go-to progressive political analysts and host of his own show, The Messy Truth.

Here, Jones talks about his role as a commentator navigating the uncharted political waters and how the media is faring in the age of fake news and partisan politics.

Rachel Maddow / Host, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show

Rachel Maddow’s scoop last month, in which she revealed Trump’s 2005 tax returns, brought both congratulations and condemnation. It was lauded for revealing a highly sought-after document but also pilloried for taking viewers along for a conspiratorial ride to the finish line—all to big ratings.

Maddow’s audience has steadily grown since Trump’s inauguration. She had her best month in February since December 2012 and had the most-watched cable news show for three straight weeks in March in the coveted 25-54 demo.

“One of the things that’s really rewarding for me about this surge in viewer interest is that we’re really doing the same work now that we’ve been doing all along,” says Maddow. “There’s apparently just an increased appetite for it right now.”

Maddow often spends the first 17 minutes of her show doing a deep dive into her topic du jour. These days, that generally means Trump. That she can command the attention of the often attention-challenged cable news viewer is a feat in itself. She calls it the “hallmark” of her show.

“We try to explain the news of the day and put it in context,” she says. “I’m going to keep doing what I do no matter who is in office.”

As she has become one of Trump’s biggest critics, Maddow says she is eager to see if he can be a president who affects positive change for all Americans. “Always hopeful,” she says. “Not naive, but yes, still hopeful.” –C.A.

Julie Pace / Chief White House Correspondent, AP

Julie Pace is no stranger to covering presidential administrations. She joined the AP in 2007 as a White House reporter, and in 2013 became the AP’s chief White House correspondent.

To Pace, the current level of chaos and confusion is not unique; the biggest change with Trump, she says, is the speed. “It’s an exhausting and motivating time to be a political journalist,” explains Pace, who joined the AP from the Tampa Tribune. There are “no slow days,” and also not a lot of sleep. “As a reporter, it’s important to try and be as rock solid as we can with facts,” she adds. Among her greatest hits this past year were her analysis and coverage of Trump’s travel bans and her reporting on his accusations of former President Barack Obama wiretapping Trump Tower.

Pace also was among a handful of reporters who chose not to participate in an informal White House briefing in February that was closed off to some outlets. “We have to stand our ground and continue to report factually and keep our stories as bulletproof as possible,” she says. –Sami Main

Tara Palmeri / White House Correspondent, Politico

Tara Palmeri’s road to the White House was a circuitous one, ranging from gossip columnist in New York to international affairs reporter in Brussels.

So, how did she get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? “Be scrappy. Trust your instincts. Don’t follow the pack. Strike first,” notes Palmeri, who has had stops at CNN, the Washington Examiner, Page Six and Politico Europe.

The New York native says the New York Post was “great training” for covering Trump. “The president has a strong appreciation for the paper that speaks in his populist voice. Working at Page Six has helped me understand President Trump because I worked firsthand with the media he prefers to consume,” she says. Palmeri often ran into real estate mogul Trump on the New York gossip beat “when he had to angle for press,” she recalls.

She sees similarities between her coverage of Brexit, while based in Brussels for Politico, and her current experience at the White House. “A ‘drain the swamp’ mentality exists beyond American shores,” she notes. “Voters are frustrated with consensus. It’s been thrilling to cover the disruption from both sides of the Atlantic. The languages and cultures are different, but the general angst against elites is the same.” –C.A.

Katie Pavlich / Editor, Townhall.com

Katie Pavlich readily admits that her political coverage can lean to the right, and she freely encourages fellow reporters to acknowledge their biases in hopes of regaining the trust of many Americans.

“I think admitting my bias, which we all have, makes me more honest than people who have a clear bent who claim to be objective,” says Pavlich.

While some reporters have been iced out by the White House, Pavlich was one of just two reporters Trump called on during his February news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (The other reporter was CBN’s David Brody.)

Pavlich, who is also a Fox News contributor, tries to avoid “getting sucked into the 24-hour news cycle with a president who doesn’t seem to sleep and tweets at 5 a.m.,” she says. And while she’s as concerned as her colleagues about Trump’s disdain for so-called “fake news,” she’s more preoccupied with whom Trump hasn’t called out.

“I do wish President Trump would condemn Putin, who has journalists that disagree with him assassinated,” she remarks, adding, “Obama’s administration prosecuted more journalists with the Espionage Act than any other previous president.” –S.M.

April Ryan / White House Correspondent, American Urban Radio Networks

Just three months into 2017, American Urban Radio Networks’ White House correspondent and bureau chief April Ryan has already had quite an eventful year.

Last Tuesday, she was trending on Twitter after White House spokesman Sean Spicer told her to “please stop shaking your head again” in a heated exchange during the daily briefing. Earlier, in February, she got into a public dustup with Omarosa Manigault, a Trump aide and former Apprentice star. Then, at a Feb. 16 press conference, Ryan became part of the story again when she asked Trump if he would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. Trump responded by asking Ryan if in fact she could arrange a meeting. “No, no, no,” she clarified. “I’m just a reporter.”

With 20 years experience covering D.C. politics and presidents going back to Bill Clinton, Ryan has mastered how to “keep peeling the onion back” to fully examine each story. In addition to covering the White House, she hosts the White House Report, which is broadcast to AURN’s 475 stations and on Monday Ryan was named a CNN political analyst.

Ryan believes that although faith in the media is on the decline, readers, listeners and viewers still know whom to trust. “When it comes time to find out what’s really going on, they always come back to us,” she says. –S.M.

Glenn Thrush / White House Reporter, The New York Times

The Brooklyn, N.Y., native credits his five years at Newsday, where he worked as a City Hall reporter, for prepping him to cover Trump’s presidency.

“Covering Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani provided the best preparation for Trump, who really emulates their style. The interactions we have with Trump have much more in common with a mayoral performance than it does with presidential performances,” says Thrush, who joined the Times in January after eight years at Politico, where he served as chief political correspondent.

His tense interactions with White House press secretary Sean Spicer during early briefings were immortalized in Saturday Night Live’s best sketches of the season, in which Melissa McCarthy’s Spicer openly loathed Bobby Moynihan’s Thrush (“Glenn Thrush, New York Times, booo! Go ahead …”).

“My kids loved it. It’s had no impact on the way I do my job. It’s been nice in terms of raising my profile and it probably gets my phone calls answered a little bit more quickly,” says Thrush of his SNL spotlight, adding, “I can’t do anything to control the way that Sean Spicer treats me or answers my questions. Remember, he’s the one with the microphone.” –Jason Lynch

Cecilia Vega / Senior White House Correspondent, ABC News

New to the White House beat, ABC’s Cecilia Vega has already proven herself as a tough questioner at the daily White House briefings, and behind the scenes. When press secretary Sean Spicer kept several news organizations out of a closed briefing on Feb. 24, Vega asked him, “Are CNN and The New York Times not in here right now because you’re unhappy with their reporting?” (Spicer’s answer, in short, was no.)

Vega’s move to Washington comes after she logged nearly 240,000 miles in the past two years, pressing Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for answers in their bids for the White House. Early in her career, Vega worked for the San Francisco Chronicle before transitioning to local news at ABC Bay Area affiliate KGO-TV. Three years later, in 2011, the network called and she joined ABC News as a correspondent based in Los Angeles.

Fast-forward to 2015, Vega was named anchor of World News Tonight Saturday and held that role until this past January when she was named ABC News senior White House correspondent.

“Making the jump from print to broadcast wasn’t something I thought I would do,” Vega says. “It just sort of happened. And I am so glad it did. It’s a challenging time to be a journalist, no doubt. But covering the administration is also among the most exciting and important stories in a generation.”

As for the next generation of political journalists, those watching how the Trump administration works, Vega has some advice: “The president’s position on the press shouldn’t have any impact on how we go about doing our jobs,” she notes. “It’s not us versus them. It’s about getting answers. So my advice is: just do the job. Don’t get distracted.”–C.A.

This story first appeared in the April 3, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.