White House correspondent and CNN political analyst April Ryan discussed her new book, Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House at Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, Oct. 10. Ryan, a Baltimore native and alumna of Morgan State University, has been a member of the White House press corps for 21 years.
Although Ryan has worked in the political sphere for decades, she went viral for a video in February 2017 when President Donald J. Trump asked Ryan, one of the only black reporters in the room, if she was friends with the Congressional Black Caucus, a group containing most of the African-American Congress members. Trump asked if Ryan could set up a meeting between himself and the group.
Ryan was scheduled to do the 10 o’clock news on CNN after this event and said that her phone would not stop ringing.
“We have never seen anything like this. I’m not going to say it’s terrible — it’s historic. As a newsperson, it’s history,” she said.
Throughout her talk, Ryan repeatedly stated that journalism’s obligation was to expose dysfunction. Even during other administrations, she said, journalists had to fight for information. Ryan stated that now, however, the details provided in White House press briefings are not to be trusted.
“I cannot discern if Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is woefully uninformed or deliberately lying for the President — we are now in the era of alternative facts,“ she said.
According to Ryan, she had great working relationships with past presidents, but her working relationship with Trump is more complicated.
This is Ryan’s third book, having also written The Presidency in Black and White: My Up-Close View of Four Presidents and Race in America and At Mama’s Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White.
During the event, she noted that the way journalists present themselves has changed with this administration. She said that it is important for journalists to have their voices known and to assert their presence.
“We’re supposed to fade into the background, but, you know, I’m not fading into the background,” Ryan said.
This was a direct reference to when Ryan asked if Trump has considered resigning after the many controversies surrounding the FBI raid on Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen’s office. Ryan said that after this question, she received death threats, but it inspired her to write her third book.
During her talk, she encouraged people to buy her book to further understand the fast-paced, bizarre news cycles of the Trump presidency. Although she did not go into detail about the contents of her book, the stories she highlights in the text reveal her frustration working as a political journalist.
Several examples of this frustration include the decades-long rumor that Bill and Hillary Clinton funded Ryan’s press work, which consequently influenced former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to not call on her for questions in the press room. Another example was when a few days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Trump referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.”
In response to this comment, Ryan called the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to inquire into the definition of “racist.” She was told that it is “the intersection or meeting of power and prejudice,” and the next day, Ryan questioned Trump directly, “Mr. President, are you a racist?”
Now, she says, she has made the president’s blacklist but has not stopped challenging the president’s authority.
Most of the audience’s questions for Ryan centered around the recent political news, including the news that five of the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray want to take their case to the Supreme Court.
“They have the right,” she said.
Ryan was also asked about the popularity of Breitbart News Network, a far-right political news outlet. Ryan revealed that she recently had a two-hour conversation with former Executive Chairman of Breitbart Stephen Bannon. She described the shift in news from pure politics to demagoguery, emphasizing that political campaigns have also shifted.
“We just think about how charismatic someone is. Kanye West is talking about running for president in 2020 or 2024. Hillary Clinton is not charismatic,“ Ryan said. “Not only does a [candidate] have to be charismatic, be a rock star and have an understanding of politics, but it has to be someone with street in them to play the dozens.”
She said that this way of campaigning is present in other political efforts, including Trump’s successful use of his persona to get his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh appointed.
“Trump has a brand that continues to shine. His brand and his efforts to win by any means necessary worked with Kavanaugh,” she said.
When the sole woman in the crowd expressed frustration about Kavanaugh, Ryan stated that the women who participated in anti-Kavanaugh protests had their voices heard.
“Even though it did not go the way they thought it would or wanted it to go, they held it up,” she said.