The day after the 2016 election, I got a phone call from an old friend. Neither of us had slept much, and we spent most of the conversation exchanging shell-shocked comments of the Can you believe this? variety. Before we hung up, his voice took on a trace of irony. “Well,” he said, “this is going to be great for your career.”
I waved the remark away, but I knew he was probably right. My contentious relationship with Donald Trump was already paying professional dividends. A couple of years earlier, I’d written a widely read profile of the candidate-to-be after traveling with him to Mar-a-Lago. Trump responded to the story by throwing a theatrical tantrum, complete with Twitter insults, blacklist threats, and a Breitbart News hit piece. My publisher used Trump’s tweets to promote my book; The Daily Show had me on to recount my misadventures with “The Donald.” The further his havoc-wreaking campaign got, the more opportunities came my way—and I was hardly alone.
Tragedy and disaster have always been the stuff that journalism careers are made of. But the Trump era has been especially rewarding to a certain class of Washington reporter. As the White House beat became the biggest story in the world, once-obscure correspondents were recast in the popular imagination as resistance heroes fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. They were showered with book deals, speaking gigs, and hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. They got glow-ups to accompany their new cable-news contracts, and those glow-ups were covered in glossy magazines. Along the way, many of them adapted their journalism to cover an unusually mendacious and corrupt president (much to the delight of their new fan bases). As the story draws to an end, the reporters who got famous fighting with Trump are facing a question: What do we do now?