NPR's Tamara Keith Talks Politics and the Challenges of White House Coverage

Feb 21, 2018

WKSU is co-sponsoring a live edition of the NPR Politics Podcast this Friday in Cleveland.

It features NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, along with podcast partner Scott Detrow, political reporter Asma Khalid, and editor Domenico Montanaro.

Keith has an Ohio connection. She was a reporter at WOSU in Columbus providing local coverage of the 2004 presidential election. 

Keith says, while not every contest hinges on Ohio, we're still an important battleground state.

"In this past election, Ohio was sort of a forgone conclusion at a relatively early stage, which probably meant a few fewer visits. But as I was following Hillary Clinton’s campaign around, (there were) certainly quite a few visits near the end there, especially to the Cleveland area."

You spent the campaign with Clinton, and now we know more about what was happening during that time. The Russians were flooding social media with lies about Hillary; do you think it made a difference?
"That’s a tough question and one for which I don’t think that we will ever 100 percent truly know the answer. This election was decided in three states by fewer than 100,000 votes combined. Were people swayed? The indictment also talks about Russian efforts to depress African American voter turnout. Did that have an effect?"

It's hard to measure, but they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t have an effect...
"Well for Russia, it was sort of a low-risk, relatively low cost. Well more than a million dollars a month, but still relatively low-cost effort that potentially had great effect. So there was a lot of upside for Russia."

It seems like it’s been a pretty crazy year for Washington reporters. What would you say is the hardest thing about covering the White House right now?
"There are just so many different threads and so many different stories. Being a White House correspondent under any circumstance is a high-stress, long-hours, never-know-when-news-might-break-out kind of a job. But it’s amplified by this president and this White House in part because the public has a really intense interest in everything that President Trump does, in part because President Trump fosters that interest by being utterly unpredictable and tweeting things at any given time or making announcements or changing his position on things.


"We’ve been at this for a little more than a year with President Trump and no real rhythm has developed and then you add the Muller investigation and sort of outside forces like that and it is definitely an exciting time."

Is there a story that you would like to see more coverage of? Are there other things happening that just get lost? What would you say is the most underreported story coming out of the White House or Washington?
"That’s a good question. What’s happening in the agencies is important and we are reporting on it at NPR. My colleagues on the national desk are reporting from time to time on what’s happening at the EPA or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and some of these other parts of the government.

"At the highest levels of these agencies, they are really woefully understaffed. The president and the Trump administration simply haven’t appointed people for some pretty important jobs. Like the ambassador to South Korea, who hasn’t yet been named -- and you know we have some issues over in the region certainly."

The NPR politics podcast is coming to Cleveland on Friday; what can our audience expect to see?
"The crew of people who are coming: it's Scott Detrow, who hosts the podcast with me, Asma Khalid and also Domenico Montanaro, who is one of our editors and is a really fun guy. So the four of us will be on stage. We will be talking;we have plans of sort of philosophical, deeper conversations, long-term thinky things to talk about. But what are the odds that it will get blown up by news? Pretty good. So we are keeping an open mind about what we’ll actually end up discussing."