Day 6

'They don't like me, but I don't care': April Ryan on being black, a woman and reporting on Trump

April Ryan is one of the few female black White House correspondents and over the past two years she says both her race and gender have made her the subject of attacks. She says reporting from the Trump White House is unlike any other.

'I must be doing my job well for them to be that upset about me'

White House reporter April Ryan, author of 'Under Fire: Reporting From the Front Lines of the Trump White House.' (Paras Griffin/Getty, Rowman & Littlefield)
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"Mr. President, are you a racist?"

It's not a question typically asked of a U.S. president. But as White House reporter April Ryan says in her new book, this is not a typical presidency.

Ryan is the White House correspondent and bureau chief for Urban American Radio Networks and is an analyst for CNN. Her latest book is Under Fire: Reporting from the Trump White House.

Her relationship with the Trump administration was a difficult one right from the start.

I have never seen anything like the turmoil, the social and political polarization, the federal investigations, and the attacks on the press.- April Ryan, author of 'Under Fire'

Her first question to President Trump came one month into his term, when she asked about whether he'd be meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.

During his campaign, Trump made a priority of his so-called "black agenda," in which he would fix inner-city issues like poverty and crime. Ryan wanted to know if black leaders would be part of that conversation.

So she asked, "Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus?"

To which the president responded: "Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?"

Ryan is one of only a few black White House reporters. It's a job she's held for 21 years, dating back to the Clinton administration.

"I have never seen anything like the turmoil, the social and political polarization, the federal investigations, and the attacks on the press," she wrote in her book. "Nothing compares."

April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, at a White House press briefing in March 2017. (whitehouse.gov/screengrab)

Ryan addressed many of those issues in her recent conversation with Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Bambury began where Ryan's relationship with the Trump administration began: with her question about the Congressional Black Caucus.

Why do you think Mr. Trump asked you if you were friends with the Congressional Black Caucus?

Well, one, you need to really read the book to understand where my answer comes from. But let me let me say that a lot of people were thinking it was racial. It may have been tinged racially, but I viewed it more as sinister, because I'd just gotten into a fight with his friend Omarosa who used to be a very good friend of mine, about two weeks prior to. And she was in his ear I'm sure, like she was running around telling a lie that I was taking money from Hillary Clinton, which is not true.

Next question.

They don't like me, but I don't care. I was there before they got there, and I'll be there when they're gone.- April Ryan

I have lots to ask you about Omarosa, but I'll move onto the next question ...

We used to be friends. Very close. But once I became the enemy of Donald Trump I was her enemy. For a few pieces of silver she wanted to throw, or cut her friend's head off, and put it on a platter for Donald Trump. And that's fine for her, but it was not fine for me. I wish her well. But as far as our relationship, it's over. I can forgive, but I don't forget.

In addition to calling the media the enemy of the American people, this president also singles out reporters for criticism and you believe that he has singled you out for your race and your gender.

You don't think so? Most definitely they have. When they don't like someone they go after them. You know? It was Omarosa, it was president, then it was Sean Spicer, then it was Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Do I need to go on? The way they've attacked me and lied on me and put a target on my head. They don't like me, but I don't care. I was there before they got there, and I'll be there when they're gone.

But when they do this to you though, it makes you part of the story. And I know that you're not comfortable with that.

I'm not comfortable with that at all. I've been doing this job for 21 years. And typically reporters just kind of fade into the background and observe and watch what's going on. But I must be doing my job well for them to be that upset about me. You know, I don't know why. No, I do know why. They perceive me not as their base.

But when he asked you the Congressional Black Caucus question, you say in the book that you thought that maybe you should quit.

Well, yeah. It was a culmination of things. It was the Omarosa fight. That was ugly. Then it was [that question]. Then it was Sean Spicer. But that's all they wanted me to do. They wanted me to quit. And I said no, no, no, no, no. I won't. I ask questions a lot of people don't dare ask. And they're real questions that deserve real answers.

So on Martin Luther King Day you asked President Trump if he is a racist. Why did you feel that you had to ask that question of the president on that day?

Do you remember the timing of that? Do you remember what was happening around that?

 You know, there's been a lot of racial overtones in this White House.- April Ryan

This was after the president asked the question about why America is accepting immigrants from countries that are not like Norway.

That's right. People we came out of that meeting, federal lawmakers wound up coming out of that meeting, saying 'Oh my God, the president called brown and black nations s-hole countries.'

And then, just before that, we had Charlottesville. Just before that we had David Johnson, who was one of the soldiers who died in Niger, and it was a big back and forth about that. You know, there's been a lot of racial overtones in this White House. And then also taking the knee. It's so much on the table. So, that was the only time in that moment — with the backdrop of s-hole nations — [that] I was going to be around the president.

Many leaders, not just black leaders, but a lot of people were saying he's a racist. And you've got to be careful how you label someone because that stuff sticks. So I called the NAACP the night before and said 'What is the definition of a racist?' And they said the definition of a racist is simple. It's the intersection or the meeting of power and prejudice. That's so simple.

So I asked him, 'Mr. President, are you a racist?' Because people were saying it. And that question laid in the air so much so that by Sunday night, Monday morning, because it was a holiday weekend, he had to answer it. And they're still smarting about that question.

The number of White House press briefings is at an all time low. And it seems to me that they've been able to sideline the press corps from doing their job. That they've been successful.

Exactly. It's about access. It's about access to the principal, and information. This is not democracy. There [are] no checks and balances. And now we're chastised. We are demeaned. We're told that we're the enemy. We're told that we are the opposition party. And it's to make people not believe us, because what we are telling and questioning is truth, and they don't like it.

My protest is staying in that job because you want me gone. Nope.- April Ryan

At the end of your book you say that that your journalism is now your form of protest. But if you're taking a form of protest does that blur the lines of objective journalism and activism?

No. And let me tell you how I protest — by doing my job. I'm protesting by staying. You're not going to push me away. I tell the story the way it's in front of me. And I'm fiercely trying to tell the story as accurately as I can. My protest is staying in that job because you want me gone. Nope.

Do you believe when this administration is done you'll still be in the White House press corps?

You know what? I've covered four presidents now. Twenty-one years. I would love to cover another. I'm 51. We'll see what I have in me, but I'm not going. I mean who knows? Who knows? I could wind up being a press secretary for a president. Who knows? I don't know. But right now I love my job, and I'm there, and I'm not planning on going anywhere right now, unless you know something I don't know.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear more from April Ryan, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.

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