A White House correspondent shares her insights on Trump at Montclair event
When former President Donald Trump called two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Maggie Haberman “his psychiatrist,” she didn’t take him seriously.
“I don't think he meant much,” Haberman, a White House correspondent for The New York Times, responded when journalist and Montclair resident Jonathan Alter asked her what she thought Trump had meant by the comment.
“It was a meaningless line that was certainly intended to flatter,” Haberman said. “He said that about other interviewers and about his Twitter feed. The reality is he treats everyone like they’re his psychiatrist because he is working everything out in real time, all the time.”
That was just one of the insights that Haberman offered while in conversation with Alter as part of the Open Book/Open Mind series sponsored by the Montclair Public Library, Investors Foundation and Watchung Booksellers. They discussed her new book, “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America,” on Thursday, Oct. 13, at First Congregational Church of Montclair.
Though talking about someone as significant as the 45th president of the United States, Haberman was still able to evoke laughter from the crowd with her dry humor. After interviewing Trump numerous times, including before, during and after his time in office, she was well versed in the controversial moves that Trump made.
Coincidentally, Haberman’s appearance in Montclair was on the same day that the congressional committee investigating the U.S. Capitol riots of Jan. 6, 2021, voted to subpoena Trump. When asked if she believes he will testify before the committee, Haberman said, “There is a chance that he will say: ‘Yes, I will appear, if you let me testify live. No constraints. No conditions.’”
During the conversation, Haberman provided a deeper insight into the chaos that ensued throughout the years Trump was in office. She also said that Trump was the most qualified candidate in terms of knowing how to work the media.
In her book, Haberman details the relationship Trump had not only with her but with many other journalists. She starts her book with some of the first words the former president said to her in 2016: “What do you need me to say?”
Although Trump repeated derogatory phrases, like “fake news,” throughout his time in office, he was aware of the need to have a relationship with the media.
Alter recalled a time he went to interview Trump at Trump Tower with NBC and Trump had food provided for the crew. “He was always available and he knew we needed copy,” Alter said. Both Haberman and Alter came to the conclusion that Trump may not understand journalism but that, as Alter said, “He was the most experienced candidate in the thing that counts the most, which is the media.”
Haberman added that his time on “Celebrity Apprentice” had prepared him for the political spotlight. “There is absolutely no question that his dexterity with being on TV was a huge value for him and gave him a huge edge over everybody else,” she said. “As much as he hates parts of the media, he loves it and needs it.”
Throughout the conversation, Haberman gave accounts from her book of things that weren't publicly known about the former president. In one instance, she said, Trump was dating a biracial woman at the same time he started dating his current wife, Melania. When meeting with her parents, Trump told the woman that she had gotten her “beauty from her mother and brains from her father, the white side,” Haberman said.
Her book is based not only on interviews with Trump but also with his former business partners, friends, girlfriends and employees. Onstage with Alter, she was quick-witted and seemed to offer logical reasoning behind each one of her answers.
But one audience question caused her to pause and gather herself. The question: “Do you think Trump is evil?”
Despite the simplicity of the question, Haberman appeared to be stumped.
“That’s a really hard question,” she said. “He is comfortable with behavior that is evil, and I think that that’s probably about as far as I can assess that.”