When Trump gave an undisciplined press conference a few weeks into his presidency, the DC press and pols were comparing it to late-stage Nixon, Thrush says. But he and Haberman say it reminds them of New York politics; they see Trump’s presidency more as a “national mayoralty…it’s got that scale, it has that informality,” Thrush says. “And it’s not just any mayoralty; it’s a late-’80s, early ’90s New York mayoralty.” Adds Haberman, “Some Ed Koch. A lot of Rudy Giuliani.”
Haberman is careful, even in the current free-for-all, to avoid the snide attitude many of the New York intelligentsia have taken toward Trump and his administration. She is not a fan of SNL‘s impression of Kellyanne Conway as a psychopathic fame whore. (But, she says, Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer portrayal more accurately captures him.) And probably because her mother is a publicist, she doesn’t view Trump’s press flacks, or flacks in general, as the enemy. “I used to really cringe at the way my colleagues would talk to spokespeople,” she said. One communications staffer after another told me that they appreciate the fact that she never blindsides them. “Maggie doesn’t camouflage. She’s perfectly willing to walk like a redcoat into the middle of the field and let everyone know she’s there because she’s going to get [her story],” says Kevin Madden, a Republican communications veteran who has worked for John Boehner, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney. She never hedges her angle to try to protect her access, only to give politicians an unwelcome surprise when they read the story in the morning—a practice some journalists follow that Haberman calls “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. They’re going to lose [their access] anyway,” she says. “What do they think—that it’s going in a secret newspaper?”
And while there are still hard feelings toward the Times from Hillary Clinton operatives and voters—they complain that the paper obsessed over Clinton’s e-mail scandal but failed to give commensurate ink to Trump’s ties to Russia and potential conflicts of interest, among other subjects—multiple people I spoke to who worked for Clinton are careful to draw a distinction between Haberman and the institution of the Times.
The first time I met Haberman, we were in the airy, modern cafeteria of the New York Times building in Manhattan. She was on her phone. She was also on her laptop. She was texting, taking calls, e-mailing, and Gchatting with colleagues and sources. Her daughter was home sick from school with a fever. She had a story that was about to go live on nytimes.com. CNN, for whom she is a political analyst, called. “I’m wearing a sweatshirt, and my hair is in a bun,” she told the producer. She suggested a colleague to go on TV in her stead. She was thinking aloud about her schedule—she doesn’t keep an actual calendar, not on paper, not on her phone; it’s all in her head. James Carville wanted her to come to Louisiana to talk to a class, but her kids were about to go on school vacation. The phone rang, and she started laughing when she looked at her iPhone display. “Speak of the devil,” she said into the phone. Through it all, she never missed a beat in our conversation. It was like watching someone juggle fire while standing on a tightrope.
Friends and colleagues say this is her standard operating procedure. “She is literally always doing four things,” says her friend and former New York Post colleague Annie Karni. Haberman once said in an interview that she talked to 50 people a day. Not true, says Risa Heller, a spokesperson for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner: “She speaks to 100 people a day.” One colleague says she didn’t realize there was a limit to how many Gchats you could have going at one time until she saw Haberman hit the maximum.
Brian Fallon, who was a campaign spokesperson for Clinton, says that Haberman was in touch with him and his staff so often that it was like she’d been assigned to cover them. “On more than one occasion, somebody would fly out of their desk and [announce something] that the New York Times was about to post, or a story the Times was working on, or some random bit of gossip, and then somebody else would pop their head up and say, ‘Oh, did Maggie just tell you that?’ Because she was literally talking to 16 people within our campaign at the same time.”
She says she does most of her work from her car, shuttling her kids around, dashing between the office in Times Square and her apartment. She’s called me as she was driving—swearing and running late—between an errand at the American Girl doll store and a dinner party. She’s e-mailed me from the NYPD tow pound—a place she said she’d already visited twice that month. She almost never turns her phone off. “She’s got it with her at all times,” says her husband, Dareh Gregorian. She’ll wake up in the middle of the night and, instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, pick up her phone and start working.
Last June, Haberman got the tip that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had been fired while she was sitting in the audience at her son’s kindergarten graduation. Ashley Parker, now a Washington Post White House correspondent but then one of Haberman’s colleagues at the Times, says Haberman confirmed the tip and wrote the story on her phone during the graduation. Her son didn’t have school after the ceremony, so Haberman brought him with her to a politics meeting at the Times. “She came into the Page One conference room, and there was this huge round of applause,” Parker says. “Part of it was for her son graduating kindergarten, and part of it was for Maggie for breaking this awesome scoop.”
Maggie’s magic is that she’s the dominant reporter on the [White House] beat, and she doesn’t even live in Washington…You don’t even know where she is—she could be anywhere. Like, floating in the sky.
“Maggie’s magic is that she’s the dominant reporter on the [White House] beat, and she doesn’t even live in Washington. She was the dominant Trump reporter on the campaign, and she didn’t travel with him. She’s so well-sourced and so well-connected that she doesn’t need to,” Karni says. “It’s like she’s in the building, but she’s not even in the city. You don’t even know where she is—she could be anywhere. Like, floating in the sky.”
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In late April, Haberman spoke on (yet another) panel, this one at the 92nd Street Y, with her colleague Alex Burns. She wore an iteration of her usual uniform: black pants, black jacket, reddish-pink blouse, and an air of bone-crushing fatigue. The audience was, as always, hanging on her every word, hungry to have her translate Trump into someone they could understand. One attendee chastised another for looking at her phone, saying that its light was distracting, as though we were all at a cliffhanger movie.
When the moderator of the panel, Jeff Greenfield, a veteran reporter and host of PBS’s Need to Know, remarks that a Democratic senator told him the Republican senators think Trump is “nuts,” Haberman prefaces her response with “I don’t know that I’d go with the diagnostic that you used,” but then offers—with specific details that are more enlightening and perhaps more damning—that she had lunch with a Republican senator who has been astonished to discover that Trump watches his every move in the media, calling him directly to parse his TV appearances and quotes he’s given the print press.