Fox News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts on ‘Popping Brews’ With Al Gore and Taking ‘Nothing for Granted’ Covering Elections

By A.J. Katz Comment

For the penultimate edition of the 2020 TVNewser Notebook, we spoke with Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts—one of the most experienced TV newsers on the White House beat today—about his past presidential election coverage memories.

We also talked about how he is covering the current election—and doing so from what seems to be a Covid-19 hot spot: tens of members of the administration have contracted the coronavirus, including White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Up until her diagnosis, Roberts had been sitting just feet from her each day.

Is Roberts worried about going to work?

“I don’t worry in the least,” Roberts told TVNewser on Wednesday. “I take a lot of precautions to avoid becoming infected. The rest is up to fate.”

Roberts also provided us with an interesting anecdote from his coverage of Al Gore‘s 2000 presidential campaign, talked about how social media influences his coverage and (as is the case with all TVNewser Notebook subjects) shared his go-to meal when he’s on the campaign trail.

TVNewser: Provide us with an interesting anecdote from the first presidential election you ever covered. 
Roberts: I was covering Al Gore’s campaign in 2000. The final night of the Democratic convention we flew overnight to Prairie du Chien, Wis., and boarded a riverboat on the Mississippi. We spent the next three days floating down Big Muddy, hitting campaign stops in Iowa and Illinois. The last night of the trip was his then-wife Tipper Gore’s birthday. Al and Tipper were on the upper deck of the riverboat having a private dinner. We were relegated to the enclosed deck below, which was hot and stuffy because it was the height of summer in the Midwest.

As we grumbled about the goings-on upstairs, a Gore aide came down and invited us to come up and celebrate Tipper’s birthday. Al was already a couple of beers into the night, and cracked a few more cold ones with the press corps. Getting what most certainly must have been a half-decent buzz on, Gore started asking if we wanted him to call home and say hi. We all lined up as the vice president took our cellphones and called our incredulous children and spouses. Later that night (and a couple of more beers into it), we pulled into Le Claire, Iowa. It was midnight and we were three hours late. But there was a big and enthusiastic crowd waiting. I don’t know if it was the beer, or the fun he had on the journey, but Gore was better than I had ever seen him. The notoriously stiff and droning candidate was loose and having a great time. I thought to myself that night that if he kept popping brews before campaign events, he might just run away with the whole thing.

Is there anything you have learned from your previous election coverage that you’re taking into account in your overall coverage of this one?
Well, I certainly learned something in 2016, and that was never to apply the models of past elections to anything in which Donald Trump is involved. [I’m talking to you on] Oct. 7, the fourth anniversary of the Access Hollywood tape coming out. The day almost every pundit in the land declared Trump to be “toast.” So, I take nothing for granted. There is no past to inform the future.

How has social media transformed how you cover presidential elections?  
It has gobbled up every spare moment I used to use to take a brain break. In some ways, it helps me do my job. The campaigns use it as a way of getting information out, so we rarely miss anything. My colleagues on the trail are always pumping out information (as am I), so we’re all pretty well informed. In some ways, it’s incredibly annoying. I have learned that the dark area under bridges are not the only places where trolls reside.

Who is one political reporter whose work you truly admire?  
[Fox News political analyst] Brit Hume. I have always appreciated his perspective and depth of knowledge. He was a White House correspondent’s White House correspondent—not afraid to ask the tough questions, and to do it in a sharp but respectful way.

My favorite Brit Hume question was to Bill Clinton when Clinton introduced Ruth Bader Ginsburg as his Scotus nominee. Brit asked if the road to Ginsburg’s nomination “may have created an impression, perhaps unfair, of a certain zigzag quality in the decision-making process here. I wonder, sir, if you could kind of walk us through it and perhaps disabuse us of any notion we might have along those lines. Thank you.” It was an elegantly worded question, delivered with not a hint of animus or disrespect. And it drove Clinton nuts.

What’s the best meal/restaurant you have been to during election coverage over the years? 
The 801 Chophouse in Des Moines, Iowa—the 1996 caucuses. Rib-eye steak with garlic mashed potatoes. I can still taste it.

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