April Ryan Talks Covering the Trump Administration

The White House correspondent discussed her book, “Under Fire,” as part of the GW Black Heritage Celebration.

April Ryan sits on stage pointing a finder to her right.
White House correspondent April Ryan discussed her book, "Under Fire" at SMPA Thursday evening. (Sydney Elle Gray/GW Today)
March 04, 2019

This article originally appeared on GW Today.

By B.L. Wilson

April Ryan has been singled out for criticism from President Donald Trump, ordered to sit down in the middle of a White House press briefing, had run-ins with administration press secretaries and nearly had a confrontation with a former White House staffer.

Reporting on the Trump administration has been trying for Ryan, the American Urban Radio Network’s Washington bureau chief and White House Correspondent and CNN analyst. She now requires her own security protection after threats to her life and being named on a bombing suspect’s list.

“When I started, I didn’t know it was going to be like this,” Ryan said Thursday at the George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium. “I didn’t sign up for this.” She has no doubt that she has post-traumatic stress disorder, “That’s no joke. You’re always checking behind you.”

In conversation leading up to the discussion, part of GW Black Heritage Celebration and sponsored by the GW chapter of the Association of Black Journalists, School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno and associate professor of journalism Cheryl Thompson both agreed no president has been a fan of the media. One president, Richard Nixon, even included journalists on an enemy’s list but never publicly declared the media the enemy.

“She has found herself caught in the crosshairs of the president of the United States and many others in the country,” Sesno said.

Ryan, a former SMPA fellow, credits her resilience to both prayer and standing on truth. “For a kid from Baltimore to get to the White House and question four American presidents, be under attack and still standing, that’s a testimony,” said Ryan.

Her new book, “Under Fire,” sheds light on the confusion and relations with the media that led to the clashes with the president and his staff.

At one point, Trump threatened to withdraw the credentials of correspondents assigned to the White House and mentioned Ryan.

With the prior three presidents, she said, it was not unusual for reporters to shout out questions without waiting to be called on. In a briefing the day after the 2018 mid-term elections, reporters asked Trump about voter irregularities, and Ryan asked him, “What about voter suppression, President?”

He appeared to respond so she stood up to follow through. He ordered her to sit down, later in her absence, outside the White House, subjecting her to a personal attack.

When Thompson asked why she took the attack personally, Ryan said, “It was like in his mind I was nothing. If I walk away I look like I’m a loser.

“My children don’t need to see their momma cowed for something she didn’t do wrong.”

In many ways, she attributes what she is experiencing to the “residue” of an imploding friendship with former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman, whom she said she met when Newman was a “low-level staffer in the Clinton administration.”

The friendship ended she said when Newman “lied” about her and said she “took money from Hillary Clinton.”

As a journalist, she said, “That’s a career ender.” She confronted Newman when she learned Newman also was urging then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer not to call on her, which resulted in a shouting match outside the Oval Office.

Ryan said she watched as Hillary Clinton was attacked during the 2016 general election and did not fight back and concluded that, “When they go low, you go high, doesn’t always work. Sometimes you got to meet them where they are.”

At her lowest moments, when Spicer, for example, told her to stop shaking her head, she was ready to give up, but saw Clinton and Valerie Jarrett come to her defense. A high-ranking Republican whom she did not name told her, “They didn’t realize how formidable you were.”