White House Hot Seat: Ashley Parker of the Wash Post on the Unfolding Aftermath of Comey’s Firing
May 11, 2017
BOB SCHIEFFER: I’m Bob Schieffer.
H. ANDREW SCHWARTZ: And I’m Andrew Schwartz.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And these are conversations about the news. We are in the midst of a communications revolution. We have access to more information than any people in history. But are we more informed, or just overwhelmed by so much information we can’t process it?
MR. SCHWARTZ: These conversations are a year-long collaboration of the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Our guest this time is Ashley Parker, a White House correspondent for The Washington Post. She came to the Post this year after 11 years at The New York Times, where she was a reporter. Mostly covered politics over the years. I first met Ashley in 2008 when she was a researcher for Maureen Dowd. And I remember it very well, meeting you in New Hampshire. And that was a pretty interesting campaign, Ashley, but I got to say – (laughs) – it doesn’t come up to this one, does it?
ASHLEY PARKER: (Laughs.) No.
MR. SCHIEFFER: What is it like to cover this White House?
MS. PARKER: It’s – so, I should say, this is the first White House I’ve ever covered. So I don’t have a tremendous point of comparison. But as you pointed out, I started with Maureen Dowd. I got to watch the 2008 campaign up close with her. I covered Mitt Romney. I covered Jeb before that. And I think this White House just feels like nothing we’ve ever – certainly nothing I’ve ever experienced before, from the way that news organizations are even structuring their staffs. Most White House teams, including ours, including the Times, including The Wall Street Journal, have six reporters. And I at first you think, six? That seems like a crazy large number. But it feels like just enough to kind of keep up with what’s going on.
At the Post we have this new position called the Hot Seat in our daily rotation, which is basically the person who their alarm clock is essentially Donald Trump’s tweets. (Laughs.) And when you’re in the Hot Seat, which I was last week – it’s the worst rotation at the Post – you literally – I set my alarm for 6:00, 6:15, 6:30, 6:45 and 7:00. And the alarm goes off. And I basically check to see if Donald Trump has tweeted. And if he hasn’t, I hit snooze. And if he has, I pop out of bed and start writing. (Laughs.) So it is a very busy, you know, all-encompassing job. But it’s also incredibly invigorating and exciting. And you sort of work these long days. But sort of – the stories are so exciting that you’re producing. And you kind of sometimes can’t believe what’s coming out of this White House, that it doesn’t feel as maybe exhausting as it should. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: But this early morning tweet patrol –
MS. PARKER: It’s the worst. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: And I know the New York Times does the same thing.
MS. PARKER: Everyone does it.
MR. SCHIEFFER: As I understand it, they have a reporter who comes on duty at 6:00 and an editor who comes on duty at 6:00. And, you know, being a morning newspaper, as you know, they used to roll into the office around at around 10:00 or something like that.
MS. PARKER: That’s typically one of the best things about being a journalist, is getting to work at 10:00, you know. And you know, you work late, but it’s totally changed our schedules. It’s sort of frontloaded them to the morning.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, do you have shifts for everybody on the White House beat, or?
MS. PARKER: Yes and no. So we have six people. We have two shifts. The Hot Seat I just told you about, which is a weekly shift. And then we have sort of the more traditional duty reporter, who is the person who is on duty, sits in the briefing room that week, asks the question. If Trump is at Bedminster or Mar-a-Largo, we go with him there. You know, if the president takes a day trip, the duty reporter goes there. And then the four other people are kind of working on also getting thrown in on day stories or enterprise or more feature-y stuff. So it’s kind of a good balance.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Are all of you at the White House, or do you work out of the office, or how does that work?
MS. PARKER: So the duty reporter is always at the White House. We work out of the office. But I will say, I’ve found and some of my colleagues have found that even if you’re not on duty it often makes sense – and this is just sort of good reporting anywhere – to wander over. You often see more stuff when you’re there. You can walk into lower press. You can walk into upper press – which you could always do, with any White House, is my understanding. But with Trump – the Trump White House especially, you know, you can be standing there and Donald Trump will walk by on his way to the residence or, you know, whoever – Kellyanne Conway or Hope Hicks or someone who’s not necessarily getting back to you as quickly as you’d like. You can kind of see them in person and grab them and buttonhole them there. So we try to go there as much as possible.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So what is the atmosphere at the White House? We all watch the briefings, which is – in a way, you can’t turn away. It’s almost like a car wreck – (laughter) – you kind of – maybe you don’t want to look, but you find yourself looking at watching Sean Spicer turn himself into a pretzel. I mean, it’s become like a magic show or something. Is it the same kind of atmosphere off camera as it is on camera?
MS. PARKER: Yes and no. I mean, I do think in any White House that there is a little bit, especially – not to disparage TV reporters at all – but there is a little bit of a performance art, especially traditionally that front row of correspondents. I mean, you would know better than I. But you know, you sort of have to make good TV and have good images. And the dynamic does change when the cameras are on and off. But kind of that testiness and that feistiness that you see exhibited from Spicer at the podium, at the lectern, has increasingly also become his behind the scenes and his private demeanor as well.
I think he’s under tremendous pressure from Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, to push back on anything negative about Reince. He’s certainly under tremendous pressure from the president who watches, you know, every briefing. We reported and had heard that the president had a small lunch, a working lunch, with the top people who he really needed to be talking to. And instead he on pausing the lunch so everyone could watch Sean Spicer’s briefing. And this White House, you know, correctly or incorrectly, but very deeply and truly believes that they are under assault from the media. And that does come through in sort of how they deal with us.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, now we’ve seen Sarah Huckabee for the last couple of days in a – in an upfront role. Is this something that we expect to continue? I was told yesterday Spicer didn’t do the briefing because he was on Reserve duty?
MS. PARKER: Yeah. So I actually will say I was initially skeptical as well. I called his unit and I called the Navy Reserves and I confirmed he was actually doing – (laughs) – his Navy Reserve duty. But it did sort of have the feel of, you know, when Letterman is gone and they bring in a guest host, and sort of an auditioning for Sarah Huckabee potentially.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Yes.
MS. PARKER: And I thought she did quite a good job. I mean, what’s interesting is, to me, she has a little bit – you know, obviously her father, Governor Mike Huckabee – she has a little bit of his folksy charm. It’s not that she’s not giving the same answers at all, but where Sean sometimes has a tendency to get his back up – and that is something the president likes. The president likes people who are combative and feisty. Sarah sort of does all the same obfuscating and, you know, going down different tangents. But she has that kind of folksy charm. And it changes the temperature in the briefing room, and so far has made it a little calmer.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So when you’re dealing with this White House, do you find them trustworthy? I mean –
MS. PARKER: So it’s an interesting question. I think – you know, I think, like any reporting, you want to talk to as many sources as possible. And kind of what you report is the best version of the truth as you currently understand it, up against deadline. But I will say – and, again, I’ve never covered another White House – but I’m very skeptical of taking something as sort of gospel for any one person. You know, there were some campaigns where you knew of someone – if someone said something to you this was the truth, right? I think you heard something from someone and you run it back by five or six other people.
And I will also say, in their defense, sometimes the – when there is misinformation, of course, sometimes it’s deliberate. That’s been reported, deliberate misinformation. Sometimes it’s just that these poor press people are not operating with the most up-to-date information because either the shop – the comm shop is a little bit scrambled, or because, you know, someone talked to the president at 10:00 a.m. and at 10:00 a.m. he really was planning on withdrawing from NAFTA, and that’s what they believe to be true and that’s what they’re passing on to you. And by noon he’s changed his mind and Canada and Mexico are great partners and he’s going to stay in. And just the information is changing so rapidly. So they’re not necessarily lying, as much as providing the best information as they know it.
MR. SCHIEFFER: They’re just not totally informed.
MS. PARKER: Yeah, exactly.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I mean, that’s the part that I find kind of interesting. I mean, when – I was at the White House when President Carter was there. When Jody Powell, who was the press secretary, told you something, you knew it came directly from President Carter. And Powell would pass it on. Even in the Nixon White House, when Ron Ziegler would put out some information, you knew that was coming from H.R. Haldeman, the White House chief of staff. Whether it was true or false – (laughter) – he was passing on something from a senior official. Are the press people in this White House – do they have direct access to Trump? I noticed so many times when I’m watching these so-called surrogates and people representing Trump’s side of the street on television, I can’t imagine that these people have had any contact with Donald Trump. (Laughter.) Well, what is it like inside the White House?
MR. SCHIEFFER: I mean, I think some of the lower press people do not have as much direct contact with the president, although that’s perhaps common of any White House. I do think Sean Spicer is in the Oval Office speaking to the president fairly frequently. The other thing with this White House, which again exists in any White House but I think it is more stark in this White House and certainly is making itself known in terms of how they actually govern, are these kind of dueling factions. You know, you have a White House where all of these top people basically have their own PR people or chiefs of staff. You know, Reince sort of has people who handle PR for him. Bannon has someone who handles messaging for him. Kellyanne Conway hired a chief of staff. You know, the president, of course, has his people.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Kellyanne Conway has a chief of staff?
MS. PARKER: Yes, she has a chief of staff. The – you know –
MR. SCHIEFFER: How many people work for her?
MS. PARKER: Actually, that’s a good question. I don’t know. But I do know she hired a chief of staff. And the Post, we reported it. And we were sort of – we noted it, because that is a little unusual for a councilor to have a chief of staff. Who else? You know, Jared Kushner just brought in someone, sort of a right-hand man, aide-de-camp comms person, chief of staff. Ivanka has her person. And so when you’re reporting you have to also be very aware of sometimes they’re all working together but, you know, OK, this is the view out of the nationalists. And this is what the Democrats think, and the globalists, the Jared folks, and, you know, the Reince RNC shop, and everyone definitely comes to it with their own perspective and kind of pitch. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let’s bring in Andrew.
MR. SCHWARTZ: You know, when I covered the White House Ari Fleischer was the spokesman. And he really did also speak for the president. You knew he was involved in policy deliberations. And you knew he had the president’s confidence. Does the president have confidence in his communications staff that you’re dealing with now?
MS. PARKER: That’s a good question. And I think, again, it depends on the day. (Laughs.) So, for instance, we did a story on Donald Trump and his obsession with cable news. And one of our lead anecdote, which we sort of loved because it was such a fun detail, was someone had kind of said to Donald Trump, meeting of lawmakers, you know, who’s – are you going to fire Spicer first? And the president said: Are you kidding? Like, Spicer gets great ratings. I’m not firing him. You know, more people watch him than “The Young and the Restless.” So in that moment –
MR. SCHWARTZ: And they do.
MS. PARKER: And they do. He was very pleased with Spicer. But I will say, if you look at the president’s comments on the whole, the people he is most likely to sort of diminish or express frustration with are his comms shop. When he had to give himself those letter grades, I think the only negative grade he gave “himself,” in quotes, was for communications, which was really not a grade for himself at all. It was for his comms team. I think when he does have a frustration he sort of recognizes correctly that he his own best messenger. And him going out and standing before the cameras and the podium has the ability to drive the White House’s message more than anything Sean Spicer or the comms director, or anyone on that press team, could ever dream of. I mean, that is Donald Trump’s talent.
But he has also said that – we put in our story today that he sort of looks around this comm shop and he says, you know, there’s all these people there. You know, there’s Mike Dubke, the comms director. There’s Sean Spicer. And then there’s all these sort of young, underlings who came over from the RNC. There’s all these people. Why is the coverage on cable news so bad? He sort of doesn’t understand. And in their defense, I would say, for instance, if you look at this firing of Director Comey, the president was very frustrated. You know, he thought there was no comms strategy. He was correct in that. But I have to say, the reason, in part, there was no comms strategy is, A, it’s hard to spin in a positive way the firing of an FBI director who is investigating you. And, B, he brought in his comms team about an hour before the news leaked out. So even if you have the best comm shop it’s hard to come up with a coherent, compelling message when you have an hour to spin a very difficult fact.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, it certainly seems there’s a lot of tension in all these White House briefings. And I think most Americans don’t know how small that room actually is. And the room’s been renovated since Bob covered it, since I covered it. It’s nicer now, but it’s tight in there, once the camera lights come on it can get hot. It gets testy.
MR. SCHIEFFER: It also has an odor, because there are so many humans in one small space.
MS. PARKER: (Laughs.) Correct.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And so many cameramen leaving so much debris behind from their various lunches. That’s a whole other matter.
MS. PARKER: If anyone thought covering the White House is glamorous, they should come and spend an hour in our – in our workspace in the briefing room.
MR. SCHWARTZ: It’s not that glamorous. But during these briefings, you know, things have gotten testy. It feels tense. Does it feel tense to you?
MS. PARKER: It can, yeah. It can. It sort of depends on the briefing and the day. But you are right that it’s already a small room to begin with. And I think that doesn’t come through on TV. But when you get in there you’re kind of – it almost looks like a miniature set of what you expect the White House briefing room to be. And then with this White House, where there’s so much interest, not only is every seat filled but, you know, kind of standing along both doors – or both walls are kind of rows of people just standing there.
MR. SCHWARTZ: It’s standing-room only for every briefing.
MS. PARKER: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
MR. SCHWARTZ: And there’s only so many people can actually fit in there. So what happens when you’re hearing from whoever – whether it’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whether it’s Sean Spicer, and you don’t actually believe what they’re telling you. What happens?
MS. PARKER: I mean, I think you do see – just like you’ve seen in any White House briefing room – if the answer to a question is unsatisfactory reporters will – not in a concerted, planned way – but you will see one or two or three or four follow ups, right? You know, what you said doesn’t quite make sense or that answer was insufficient. We still have, you know, these seven questions. You’ll see reporters kind of coming back and coming back and coming back on the same issue. I mean, in yesterday’s briefing, right, in the wake of the Comey news, I think every question but about one – which was about if Trump was going to move the embassy in Israel – was about Comey, because there were just that many questions and the answers were not particular satisfactory. So you just sort of do the best job you can to ask the sharpest questions possible.
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, and she described – Sarah Huckabee Sanders – described what Comey had done as atrocities. And that kind of just got let go. Atrocities? It seems a little – atrocities are happening in Syria. There’s a difference.
MS. PARKER: The word felt a little – you know, more than a little strong and out of place. I mean, it was sort of, like, a jarring word that made you kind of cock your head. And also, it was doubly weird coming from an administration who, up until when they used this as a justification for firing Comey, had basically gone out and publicly praised all of these so-called atrocities, until it was a convenient excuse to explain away a firing.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Speaking of Comey, let’s talk about that a little bit. And so here, out of the blue, caught everybody by surprise, Comey is fired and the excuse is, if I understand their talking points, that he was mean to Hillary Clinton.
MS. PARKER: Mmm hmm.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And to the surprise apparently of the White House they were stunned that they got blowback?
MS. PARKER: Yeah. I think –
MR. SCHIEFFER: This sounds like people who know absolutely nothing about politics, or are just putting out something so brazen that they think they can get away with it.
MR. SCHWARTZ: It’s really hard to imagine how they were stunned by the blowback.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Were they?
MS. PARKER: I think – yes. I think – not all of them, of course. But I think some of them, including the president, you know, were surprised. Apparently in the president’s call – he called Senator Chuck Schumer to give him a heads-up on this. And when Schumer said, you know, I think you’re making a big mistake, respectfully, sir, the president by all accounts was kind of taken aback because he thought, you know, Democrats – he correctly thought Democrats for a while have expressed frustration with Comey, had claimed Comey cost Hillary the election. And he sort of thought, so why wouldn’t you be happy that I’m getting rid of him? And what he didn’t understand was sort of the potential constitutional crisis, or at least real concerns with a president whose campaign is under investigation by the FBI firing the director of the FBI on what, in a best-case scenario, seems like very shaking pretenses.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Do you think he got any opposition – I mean, and this would be has your reporting shown this – that anybody on this staff said: Wait a minute, do you understand what you’re doing here? Do you understand what the blowback to this is going to be?
MS. PARKER: Our reporting shows that – so, there were a lot of people on this staff who for a long time did not like Director Comey and have wanted him to get in on – which would have been a fair thing to do – to get in on day one and replace the FBI director. And there were – our reporting shows there were a few people like Reince, like Bannon, who sort of had some concerns or understanding of how the narrative out of this could be bad, or the timing could be bad, or all of these things. But it was described to us as, you know, a decision that was made quite quickly and with little dissent.
There was not – on some of these issues, there is a real, you know, Paris climate or other issues, or, you know, what to do with the DREAMers, there is a real vigorous debate within the White House. And it does not seem like there was that this time. Even Jared Kushner and Ivanka, who are often – the president’s son-in-law and his daughter, who often serve as moderating forces on him – by all accounts they learned about this somewhat late. I mean, it was a quick decision. And they didn’t really try to dissuade him in any way. So, no, on this issue, I don’t think there was the tremendous dissent you might expect.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Your reporting also – if I’m correct, you were the first to realize – or report that Comey had asked for more funds to expand the investigation.
MS. PARKER: No. So actually the – I was chasing that, but the Times was the first to report it, but then we followed very quickly.
MR. SCHIEFFER: OK. (Laughter.)
MS. PARKER: But, yes. I mean, that’s another thing that just – and, again, it’s unclear if the White House even knew that Comey had asked for more funds to ramp up this Russia investigation. We really don’t know if they knew or not. But again, it’s – when you’re just sort of –
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, they’re actually denying it, are they not?
MS. PARKER: Yeah. The Department of Justice is also denying it.
MR. SCHIEFFER: But you’re solid with your reporting that he did make that request?
MS. PARKER: We feel quite confident, yeah. But you know, as you know, in politics often, like, the public perception and the narrative matters just as much as the reality. And this is just another data point of sort of asking the White House: In what world did you think there was going to be no blowback when you fired an FBI director, you know, three – you know, several days after you just found out he had asked for more manpower to investigate you? (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: Were you surprised that you were not allowed in, the American press, when Mr. Lavrov came there yesterday? And here on look in your newspaper, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times this morning, and here’s a picture of the president of the United States obviously yukking it up with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador, who has been the center of this investigation. I mean, this is the man that General Flynn was supposedly talking to. We don’t know yet what he said, but we do know that he was talking to him. What’s your reaction to that?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, the photo, by the way, is from the Russian –
MR. SCHIEFFER: From TASS, yes.
MR. SCHWARTZ: From TASS, from the Russians. No American reporter or photographer was allowed into that meeting.
MS. PARKER: Right. Well, from a pure sort of freedom of the press, press perspective, I think there is something very odd and also disturbing when a White House would allow basically state-run Russia media into a briefing that they keep their own press corps out. I mean, typically in these things – even amid the most contentious relationship – you have a White House that is always fighting to have their own press corps in there over a foreign press. I mean, you often saw that when Obama went abroad. He made a point of, you know, not letting China or whoever it was sort of ban the American media. That’s why you have the press corps.
I mean, the White House claims, I think this is in a Post story, that they kind of got rolled by the Russians as well. They thought – which, again, is not – I don’t think reassures anyone, right? I mean, Russia is arguable one of – you know, biggest geopolitical foes. And the White House is saying, like, whoops, we got snookered.
MR. SCHWARTZ: We got rolled by the Russian press corps who –
MR. SCHIEFFER: Did the White House Correspondent Association protest that, or?
MS. PARKER: So I don’t know that first hand. I would assume there’s no way they didn’t. I mean, you’ve had Jeff Mason on this podcast before. They’re very good about defending the press, the White House correspondents. But I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of that.
MR. SCHIEFFER: But, again, it raises questions to me of the competence of the White House communications team, that they would allow something like that to happen.
MS. PARKER: Well, not just –
MR. SCHIEFFER: There’s no way that people in America could feel good about that right now, it seems to me. And that’s opinion clearly stated.
MS. PARKER: Right. I don’t – it’s hard to imagine any – the White House’s explanation, I believe, is that they thought the photographer they let in was Lavrov’s personal photographer. They didn’t realize this photographer was doing double duty for TASS. So, no, I don’t think the American people would feel good about a White House that could sort of be so easily duped by Russia.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Does the word due diligence come to mind? (Laughs.)
MS. PARKER: And then secondly, there’s a real – beyond, you know, we always want access, of course. I mean, there’s an actual real security concern. There’s a reason that, you know, a country that is being investigated for meddling in our elections, that is known for trying to convert spies and bug us and hack us – there’s a reason you wouldn’t basically let a Russian agent into the Oval Office. I mean, I don’t know all the nuances of security. Presumably the Oval Office gets swept for bugs every night. But it just feels like – forget about all the other concerns, it’s a real security risk.
MR. SCHIEFFER: What do you think happens next now? Where does this Russian – investigation into the Russians go? Will Trump be able to shut it down?
MS. PARKER: I mean, I don’t – I don’t think – it’s hard – I think it would be troubling if he was able to shut it down. And I don’t think so, because some of the FBI sources we spoke to in our story said that what he did – they view his firing of Comey as an attempt to try to shut down the investigation. And that just sort of, A, raises their suspicions, their ire, and makes them kind of double down on the importance of doing this investigation.
MR. SCHIEFFER: My suggestion is that if they do, that there will be so many leaks that whatever the information is they’re pursuing, we’ll know about it, would be my guess.
MS. PARKER: Yeah. I mean, that would be my hope. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHWARTZ: You know, it’s interesting, because of that episode with TASS getting the photo, that compelled every American news organization to pay the Russians for that photo. We couldn’t – every newspaper in America, every television station, had to pay the Russian news service to get rights to use that photo. So, I mean, that’s pretty interesting, that these things are happening one after another. And it really does go to the investigation somehow. I mean, how can you go into the briefing room today and not be asking questions about abuse of power? Certainly, Americans are starting to feel that this is a dark and tense time.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Or are they?
MR. SCHWARTZ: Or are they?
MS. PARKER: I mean, I will say, that is a good question because one thing that has been interesting – and my colleague Jenna Johnson does this far more frequently than I do – but is sort of going out and talking to these Trump supporters and his base, and finding out what they think. And so I have spoken to them a bit, not on Russia. But one thing I am struck by is how much they are willing to give Trump a pass on any number of things, and how much stuff that everyone in Washington sort of goes crazy over is less of it.
And again that – of course, not to Democrats, not even to independents, where his approval ratings are sort of fast-sinking. But among those who voted for him, there is still a sort of this isn’t a huge deal, or what do you expect, or he’s doing his best with this horrible swamp of Washington. I mean, it’s kind of a credulous argument to make when the swamp of Washington is a Republican president, a Republican Senate, and a Republican House. But the president did do a wonderful job of sort of messaging about how bad and mucky, entrenched Washington is. And I think, in that way, he’s bought himself a pass.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, I mean, that’s how he – that’s how he won the presidency.
MS. PARKER: Yeah.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And time and again – I remember going to – during the South Carolina primary going to a Trump rally. And I’ve been interviewing Trump for 30 years, but I’ve never seen him on the stump. And I just wanted to see. And so another reporter and I just – she took one half of the room and I took the other. And we just went around and said: What do you like about Trump? And they – to a person – they said: We like him because he’s not afraid to speak his mind. They were not nearly so interested in issues as they were in the attitude. And I think that’s probably what you’re finding now. I think that continues to carry on. But will it sustain? And I’m not sure I know the answer to that.
MS. PARKER: Yeah, I don’t think I do either. And some stuff I wonder is, you know, repeal and replace Obamacare is a good rallying cry. It sounds good. But if you sort of look at it, what a lot of even Trump voters don’t like about Obamacare is the Obama part. They actually like the care they’re providing. And so that’s something I sort of wonder once – you know, if this plan goes through and people do lose their coverage or preexisting conditions actually do become prohibitive, and it’s not just a policy debate in Washington that’s about attitude or, you know, not being politically correct, but it’s actually someone unable to get care that they were getting before, then when do they start to turn? And do they start?
MR. SCHIEFFER: So this firing of Comey, do you see that having an impact on the health care debate, on the tax cut, on the other things that he has promised to do?
MS. PARKER: I think – it’s a good question. I think it has an effect only in as much as it is another huge distraction. And as you know, all of these big legislative priorities are difficult enough when you have the White House and when you have the Congress. It’s actually just hard to muscle through a big, unwieldy, complex bill. And that requires everyone’s full attention. And this Russia stuff that has kind of hung over them, and now Comey compounds it, is just another issue that this already, as we discussed earlier, kind of overworked, exhausted, not always highly competent communications shop, entire White House team, is going to have to deal with on top of everything else. So, yes, I think it probably makes it more difficult.
MR. SCHWARTZ: You know, one thing we’ve talked about on this podcast is that despite the president sometimes calling out news as fake news or failing news or unfair news, he’s been very accessible to the news, and his people have been very accessible to the news. And he’s put himself out there, certainly. The Washington Post is often reporting that you’re in – that your stories are using up to 30 or more sources. Do you believe all those sources? Are they all credible sources? Why so many?
MS. PARKER: I mean, so sort of – of course, we’re not going to use a source who we don’t believe is credible. We’re not just trying to tick up our number count. But as – you know, as I sort of mentioned before, one of the reasons we, A, talk to so many people is because we’re trying to get an objective version of the truth. And when everyone has a viewpoint and a – and there’s a faction, and they may not have the most up-to-date information, we find that – and this, I think, is not just specific to the Trump White House – but as journalists, I think the more people you talk to, the better your story is always going to be. So that’s one thing.
And I think the reason we – it’s become a little bit of a punchline – but the reason we put in a number of how many people we talk to is because oftentimes when we or anyone else writes stories that the White House doesn’t like they’ll sort of dismiss is as, you know, that’s one angry press staffer leaking or that’s so-and-so leaking. And we want – and I think also in this era when there’s so much distrust of the media and government institutions and everything, you know, it helps if people understand this this account isn’t just one person with an ax to grind, or one anonymous leaker, but that we talked to, whatever, more than 30 sources, and this account is sort of a full-fleshed, 360 version, as best we can tell the story, and not just one angry person.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Ashley Parker, who’s got a very good job these days. I bet you’re – amongst other things, and maybe only a reporter would understand this – I bet you are really having a lot of fun.
MS. PARKER: Yeah. I’m having a great time. (Laughs.)
MR. SCHIEFFER: Covering a very, very serious story.
MS. PARKER: Yes.
MR. SCHIEFFER: That’s the other part. Ashley Parker, thanks for being with us. For Andrew Schwartz, I’m Bob Schieffer. Thank you so much for joining us.
MS. PARKER: Thanks for having me.