During the daily White House coronavirus task force press briefings, CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang has been asking important questions—and drawing the ire of President Trump.
Most notably, when she asked Trump last Friday to clarify Jared Kushner‘s reference to the federal stockpile as “our stockpile” and not for the states to use, the president told her, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” accused her of asking a question in a “nasty tone” and insisted that Kushner gave a “perfect answer.”
Trump has become increasingly antagonistic toward reporters during these daily coronavirus task force briefings, with Jiang and PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor two of his most high-profile targets. Include NBC News’ Peter Alexander in that mix as well, who the president bizarrely said was “a terrible reporter” last month.
We caught up with Jiang on Tuesday, and got her thoughts about that episode last Friday and how her job has changed in this COVID-19 era.
TVNewser: How do you approach going into the coronavirus task force briefing each day knowing you’re likely going to get berated by the president? It seems as though he is getting increasingly antagonistic each day, with a prime example being Friday’s briefing.
Jiang: I spend a lot of time preparing for every briefing by writing questions by category—for example, separating ones I have for the doctors and then questions about the Defense Production Act. I also scour the president’s previous comments and tweets so I can follow up. All that is to say, the last thing I am worried about is whether he will lash out at me. What I do anticipate is how he may try to sidestep certain questions. That’s why it’s so important to think about every word with the goal of getting answers that will help viewers make sense of what’s happening.
How has your approach to covering President Trump changed?
I think those of us who have covered President Trump for a while have become conditioned to handling a massive amount of news all the time. I always describe it as studying for both a final exam and a pop quiz everyday. We are constantly chasing so many threads that build on each other, yet we have to be ready for the unexpected at all times. I think covering him now is different because we have access to him daily. But that means other White House sources are more hesitant than before to share information because he might contradict them at 5 p.m.
Why do you believe these daily briefings are useful for the public?
I think it’s important to hear from the president of the United States every day during this uncertain time. There can be bouts of noise and distractions, but it’s our job to cut through all that to flag policy changes, health guidelines and economic relief for people at home. I also think it is incredibly helpful to hear from others on the task force, especially the doctors.
You have been on the White House beat for a little while now. Aside from the obvious physical distancing changes, how has the job changed for you during this COVID-19 era?
As journalists we are trained to disconnect from the story. Before COVID-19 hit, I could unplug at the end of the day, or at least take mental breaks. That’s impossible now. I can never read enough articles about other aspects of the story I’m not covering. I can never watch enough news when I’m “off” because there’s always something breaking. Plus, we are all dealing with the virus on a personal level. We are just as worried about our loved ones as everyone else.
It’s also tougher to report out a story because we are spending so much less time on campus. I would often run into sources in the West Wing or near the White House, or set up a meeting nearby. Now we have to rely on emails and calls, which are a lot easier for people to ignore.