Reporting Trump’s First Year: The Fourth Estate

The Fourth Estate opened with dark storm clouds gathering ominously over the White House. It was the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration and, in the offices of the New York Times, staffers stared at the TV pictures like mourners at a funeral.

Which is ironic, as you could argue no-one has done more to revive the fortunes of ‘The Gray Lady’ than the 45thPresident: every time he lashes out at the ‘failing New York Times’, the paper’s readership shoots up.

This four-part series, from Emmy-winning documentary maker Liz Garbus, is filmed with the urgency of an HBO drama, complete with pounding score and a title sequence that’s only missing a shot of Kiefer Sutherland diffusing a bomb. 

The dynamic at the heart of said drama is the weirdly symbiotic relationship between the Times and the Commander-in-Chief, in which he appears every bit as obsessed with them as they are with him. 

In one scene, we watched journalists entering the lion’s den at a conservative convention where, as they stood surrounded by a baying crowd, Trump literally called them out as ‘enemies of the people’. In another, White House correspondent Maggie Habermas juggled cellphone calls from her kids with one from POTUS himself. ‘This is off the record,’ said Trump, followed by a tantalising bleeeeeep. ‘Anyone feel like they’ve had a stroke?’ breathed Maggie after he’d hung up.

Newsrooms are inherently dynamic places, especially now it’s a 24/7 operation, and here we saw journalists frantically typing against the clock like ER surgeons with a flatlining patient on the gurney. But this is more than a workplace documentary, as the setting provides the perfect lens through which to view these tumultuous times. At one point, we saw a reporter being asked to change the word ‘fraught’ to ‘extraordinary’. ‘Everything’s extraordinary!’ he cried.

Which is why, as executive editor Dean Baquet cheerfully conceded, for all the fear and uncertainty and chaos, it’s a thrilling time to be a journalist. ‘Great stories trump everything else, right?’ he grinned. I don’t think a pun was intended – they don’t really do puns on the New York Times.

TV extra:


Romesh: Talking to Comedians in a Pie and Mash Shop

As the title implies, this is a charmingly low-rent, British take on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Except it’s less smug, more irreverent and much, much funnier – thanks in large part to host Romesh Ranganathan’s merciless ribbing of his guests, which this week included Rachel Parris, Rob Beckett and Mo Gilligan. Even the host, though, couldn’t compete with Sally Phillips’ story which began, ‘My husband had just left me for a member of the Russian Yoga Federation…’


MsterChef USA

MasterChef USA is so insanely loud and brash (The whooping! The weeping! The fist-pumping!) it makes Gregg Wallace look like a school librarian. Gordon Ramsay is at his most boastful (‘I’m the man behind a billion dollar empire!’) and bullying – bawling at one tearful young girl like a demented sergeant major – and at the end of each challenge he orders the cooks to ‘put your hands in the air!’, like they’ve just been raided by a SWAT team. Also, what are ‘grits’? Does anyone know?

Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 28, 2018

(c) Waitrose Weekend