News organizations had an idea of what was coming, thanks to a madcap presidential campaign in which Trump made news virtually every time he tweeted. As noted in this space, outlets such as the New York Times, The Post and Politico beefed up their White House teams in anticipation of a record workload. “We’ve never covered this kind of a president before,” New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Elisabeth Bumiller told the Erik Wemple Blog at the time.
Prior to Trump’s accession, there was a fair bit of certainty for White House correspondents when it came to planning their weekends. They could rely on a news plume stemming from the Sunday public-affairs shows, plus the inevitable presidential junkets. Saturdays trended so mellow that a Bloomberg journalist in 2015 went so far as to write in an internal memo, “Nothing happens on Saturday.”
Upending the week’s slowest news day stands as an unrecognized Trump achievement. But in addition to the calamities cited above, Trump did the following things on Saturdays: allowed his daughter Ivanka to sit in for him at a Group of 20 meeting in Germany (7/8/17); blamed “many sides” for racist violence in Charlottesville (8/12/17); withdrew an invitation to the Golden State Warriors (9/23/17); golfed as the remains of an Army sergeant killed in an Islamic State ambush were returned to Dover Air Force Base (10/7/17); told reporters in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “He said he didn’t meddle” (11/11/17); called himself a “very stable genius” (1/6/18); lauched an attack on the FBI and others (2/17/18); threatened a trade war with Europe (3/3/18); averred that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) needed to take an IQ test (3/3/18); called for the resignation of Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester (4/28/18); accused the New York Times of fabricating a source for a story on North Korea even though the source was an official in a sanctioned briefing (5/26/18); reversed course on U.S. participation in a joint Group of Seven statement (6/9/18); golfed on the day of Sen. John McCain’s memorial service (9/1/18); bailed on a scheduled visit to a French cemetery (11/10/18); said that the Finns rake forests (11/17/18); announced the imminent departure of then-chief of staff John Kelly (12/8/18); gave a two-hour speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (3/2/2019); recycled a bogus claim about doctors “executing babies” (4/27/19); tweeted his endorsement of the North Korean dictator’s criticism of Biden (5/25/19); displayed ignorance of the term “Western-style liberalism” and “busing” in a news conference (6/29/19); attacked the congressional district of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” (7/27/19); claimed that he had the authority to force all U.S. companies to leave China (8/24/19); blasted six Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and three other women of color, as “savages” (9/28/19); expunged a Twitter attack on the whistleblower in the Ukraine scandal (12/28/19); falsely accused Democrats of “defending the life of Qassem Soleimani” (1/11/2020); and many more.
With Trump out of the picture, news organizations might be justified in reducing their White House deployments. Don’t make any assumptions though. “If anything, I’d say we’re ratcheting up, at least for the next little while,” says Blake Hounshell, managing editor for Washington and politics at Politico. The site will have eight reporters and two editors assigned to the White House to track news every day, including weekends. News-crazy Saturdays, he says, were “not strictly a Trump phenomenon. I think news just happens at weird times now.”
The Post started the Trump administration with six White House reporters and ended with seven. It’ll maintain those staffing levels, says newly appointed White House Bureau Chief Ashley Parker. “The thinking is that we’re going to cover President Biden just as vigorously, rigorously, authoritatively and fairly as we covered President Trump,” says Parker.
Parker ventured no speculation about how much news the Biden White House will produce day-to-day, though she did say this: “Do I hope that the president’s Twitter feed will no longer be my alarm clock? Absolutely.”
The Times doubled its White House contingent for the Trump fire hose, though it’s still unclear just how it plans to staff the Biden administration. “There’s a lot of moving parts right now,” says Bumiller in a Thursday interview, noting that assignments haven’t been finalized.
After Trump, it would appear, Beltway newsrooms can handle anything. Bumiller mentions Trump tweets coming at odd hours, with news personnel “scattered” about, trying to open a discussion of how to proceed. Is it fair to say that those desperate scrambles are in the rearview mirror? “The fact that Biden is unlikely to be tweeting at 10:30 on a Saturday night about things that we don’t know what he’s talking about? Yes, we expect that to stop,” says Bumiller.
In her first briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the administration’s approach to combating disinformation. She responded, in part, “What we plan to do is not just return these daily briefings, Monday through Friday — not Saturdays and Sundays; I’m not a monster — but on — but also to return briefings with our health officials and public health officials.”
So maybe Saturdays will become Saturdays again — good news not only for journalists, but for everyone else who stayed glued to their news feeds for four years in anticipation of the next horror story.