Even for locals, Trump-era Washington is dizzying. Now imagine explaining it to the world.
Washington correspondent for the United Kingdom’s daily newspaper the Telegraph
Trump approval rating in the UK: 28 percent
“When you are in DC, it can be easy to get stuck in the 24-7 news cycle. But you have to remember that readers at home are not following every twist and turn. Like with Mueller—every time there’s a new development in the Russia investigation, you think that’s a huge deal, but for the average reader back home, this doesn’t make much difference in the broader scheme of things.
“For our midterms coverage, I spent a bit of time in Kentucky. I was speaking to people connected to the only abortion clinic left in the entire state, and then to the protesters outside. In the UK, abortion isn’t quite as controversial—it’s kind of accepted that women have a legal right to an abortion. So just explaining something that’s quite different between our two countries is also very interesting. Trump is definitely good for readership.”
US chief correspondent for France’s daily newspaper Le Figaro
Trump approval rating in France: 9 percent
“Almost 85 percent of our coverage is Trump. Everything is about him—the way he behaves, the way he tweets about NATO, about partnerships that have been in place for decades and that suddenly seem to be at risk. But also, when you write long, precise investigations about how environmental regulations are destroyed and canceled, I mean it’s unbelievable—it’s very interesting for the audience in France and in Europe. The environment is of concern for everybody. When you see that they canceled the regulation that was forbidding coal mines to pollute rivers with their waste, it’s a kind of story that everybody is amazed by.
“As far as I know, this has always been a coveted job. If anything, it might be more scary than it used to be, because it was considered to be a very interesting, very visible position, but also, I would say, somewhat comfortable. Now it has become so heavy, the work. It’s really heavy. The Trump era is good for my business—I will not complain. But I need some vacation.”
“It’s like a car accident that you can’t look away from.”
White House/Washington correspondent for Brazil’s network-TV station GloboNews
Trump approval rating in Brazil: 16 percent
“We had very intense national elections in Brazil last year, very polarizing, so our coverage was pretty much focused on that. But President Trump still manages to be in the headlines almost every day. One time, he was departing from Marine One and I got to ask him a question. It was right after the first round of the Brazilian presidential election. I asked if he was following it, and he reacted as if he didn’t know what I was talking about. He was being a little rude—he definitely understood me.
“Brazilians are paying close attention to the Trump/Bolsonaro relationship. [Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist who draws comparisons to Trump, is Brazil’s recently elected president.] There is an understanding that Bolsonaro likes Trump. And Trump was one of the first to reach out to Bolsonaro after the election.
“In the beginning of 2018, we thought no one back home would be paying attention to us as foreign correspondents. But thank God we have Trump and we are busy every day.”
Washington correspondent for Israel’s Haaretz, a daily newspaper
Trump approval rating in Israel: 69 percent
“My first week was the week of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Haaretz didn’t have a Washington correspondent for a few years—and then with the 2016 election, everything gets very interesting all of a sudden. . . . This is a President that has a Jewish son-in-law and a Jewish daughter working as his advisers. Those are not things you see in every administration. But I’ll tell you something: Some other figures who I did not think our readers would become aware of have become quite famous in Israel. Anthony Scaramucci, for example. I think Israelis are not very politically correct, and so they enjoyed the idea that there is this outspoken White House adviser who told it like it is.
“Trump is impossible to translate. It’s one of the biggest challenges—the way he speaks, where there are these open-ended sentences that go on and on and suddenly there are parentheses and then he puts another level of parentheses and another story. I try to paraphrase him in the beginning of the article to give the bottom line, but then later I also put in the entire quote with all its silliness and awkwardness for people to judge and understand how it was said.
“We focus on the US/Israel relationship, the broader American policy in the Middle East, and the American Jewish community. [The synagogue shooting in] Pittsburgh and [the Unite the Right white nationalists’ rally in] Charlottesville—those were two stories that I had to cover on the ground that were really difficult. I imagined I would write about politics, legislation, not about neo-Nazi terror and violence. Coming from Israel, I have covered wars and terror attacks, and I’ve been to Syria and to other conflict zones. I thought that what would be relevant in my coverage here is my expertise covering political, diplomatic issues, not my expertise covering war zones and terrorism.”
Washington bureau chief for Germany’s weekly magazine Der Spiegel
Trump approval rating in Germany: 10 percent
“Germans are fascinated by the Trump administration. It’s like a car accident that you can’t look away from. . . . I went to the press conference [after the midterms] where Trump attacked the press and Jim Acosta [of CNN]. I was really surprised to find there was a huge interest in Germany about this issue, because it’s an American debate with very little effect on German car manufacturers or anyone else. We also look for very specific stories—[during the midterms] we went to Rust Belt states like Michigan because some of our readers can relate to the crisis of the auto industry there.
“I always have to include one or two paragraphs where I try to explain why Trump is still in office—that it’s not that easy to impeach a sitting President, that it’s not a standard procedure. . . . It’s high stakes, it’s high adrenaline, and it’s fascinating to see how this country will find a way forward from this mess.”
US bureau chief for Singapore’s daily newspaper the Straits Times
Trump approval rating in Singapore: 27 percent
“I came in October 2016, and I’ve been filing at quite a substantial rate—sometimes up to four or five stories, or even more, per week. There’s absolutely no shortage of interest. A big part of that is that Singapore has a huge population of expatriates from all over the world. It’s a truly global city, so when things happen in America, Singapore is affected.
“Trade is its lifeblood, so of course the US/China trade war, the Indo-Pacific policy, foreign policy in general—the US/North Korea relationship is very big. And climate change. When the hurricane hit Houston, I did a story on overbuilt cities and low-lying cities, which is something that definitely resonates in Southeast Asia.
“In some ways, this is the most challenging assignment I’ve ever had, because you have to filter out the biases. The American media is extremely biased, one way or the other. It’s a daily battle to keep up with the news. You have to master so many intricacies amid an information environment full of disinformation, misinformation, distortion, propaganda, and spin.”
This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Washingtonian.