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From the Mailroom to the Front Page: Haberman Discusses her Award-Winning Career

New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman has spent much of her life far from the front page. A mailroom staffer and a bartender before she became a Pulitzer-winning reporter, she told Boston College students during a Zoom lecture on Wednesday, Haberman used her lived experiences navigating New York City as a means to build her journalistic skill set. 

“Almost everything bad and good that I’ve learned about human behavior and how to read people has come from two places—the newsroom and the bar,” Haberman said. “Your livelihood depends on the people who are sitting in front of you.”

Haberman confessed that the beginning of her career was difficult. Initially, after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, she interviewed with several major magazines to no avail. She redirected her focus to the New York City tabloids and, in 1996, first found her footing as a journalist for the New York Post.

“It was lots of shuffling papers back and forth from one desk to another, fetching coffee, sorting mail,” she said.

Haberman said she had one of her more “real” experiences as a journalist when she was only a newsroom clerk, during the one day a week the Post let clerks go into the city as reporters. When reporting on a story, she arrived at a hospital before law officials and had to break the news of a death to a family member. Experiences such as this one, she said, taught her how to look into the eyes of bystanders and identify the real witnesses of a tragic event. 

After the Post, Haberman moved to the New York Daily News, where she stayed for four years. Not clicking with the newsroom, she returned to the New York Post but worried the move would have bad implications on her career.

“I knew it was a risk,” she said. “But it still felt like the right one. It was a way to feel better about the work I was doing.”

Four years later, in 2010, Haberman had the opportunity to work for Politico. Working for the Washington newsroom, she got the chance to report on Donald Trump, who at the time was exploring a bid to contest then-President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Four years later, when Trump again began exploring a bid, he invited Haberman to break the news of his presidential campaign at a lunch with himself and some of his close aides. 

“Trump spent the lunch, where lots of Diet Coke was consumed, trying to sell me on the idea he was running, and I could tell he was getting frustrated that I was not believing it,” Haberman said. “In retrospect, that may not have been the smartest call, but it was certainly an understandable one and defensible one at the time.” 

After she finished her self-narrative, Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at BC, asked Haberman pre-submitted questions about life as a woman and mother in journalism, the 2020 election, her own college experiences, and Trump’s disparaging comments to reporters at White House press briefings.

Talking about Trump’s actions and the current political climate, Haberman argued that calling every new development “unprecedented” is dangerous, and it may work to glorify actions of previous presidents and undermine truly unprecedented moments. 

When asked about reporting in a post-2020 world if Joe Biden is elected president, Haberman said she looks forward to the prospect of more free time. 

“I’m looking forward to covering the confines of my bed for a solid nine-hour sleep,” she said. 

At the end of her lecture, Richardson asked what advice she would give herself as a freshman in college. 

“I would give myself permission to try to figure out what was right for me,” Haberman said.  

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

September 11, 2020