Dinner. Saturday night in November. Relaxing times with friends in Washington, D.C.
And then one of those dreaded mystery cellphone calls.
Josh Dawsey answered.
President Donald J. Trump on the line.
“I got a call from Air Force One,” says Dawsey, 29-year-old White House reporter for The Washington Post.
He had his computer at the dinner table. He hurried to the alley, placed his computer on a tall recycling container and typed frantically while listening to Trump explain and defend his administration’s stance on Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist assassinated in Istanbul by Saudi Arabia agents.
“I talked with him 40 minutes,” Dawsey says. “I’m not sure if that’s something most presidents would do.”
He’s right, of course. Much of what Trump does is what most previous presidents didn’t do.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, Dawsey will explain his working life during a “White House Reporting in the Age of Trump” lecture followed by questions and answers at Colorado College’s Gaylord Hall.
I can almost hear the shouting from many of you, and maybe it’s so loud I actually can hear the shouting. You consider Dawsey and the Washington Post and most of the White House press corps biased beyond repair.
So here’s my strong suggestion: Take the time to listen. Hear him state his case. This is your chance to see a living, breathing White House reporter on Colorado Springs soil. I often talk with neighbors and friends who gripe about Washington Post and New York Times coverage. One problem, and it’s a big one: They never read the Post or Times.
A little more than seven years ago, Dawsey was a senior at the University of South Carolina, where he was editor of the Daily Gamecock. Since then, he’s been busy covering, and irritating, politicians and their aides.
He covered New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for the Wall Street Journal, and their relationship was stormy. De Blasio is, by the way, a Democrat.
As a reporter for the Post, Dawsey asked a famous question of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“How can we believe what you’re saying from the podium?” Dawsey asked.
A wave of criticism and support followed.
“My goal was to figure out what actually was going on,” he says. “... I’m sure there were people who didn’t like the question, but there were times when I felt we just weren’t getting the whole truth from the podium from the White House. Why should I believe this now? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable question. When we cover Republicans or Democrats or whatever, questioning shifting stories is part of our job.”
At presidential rallies, Dawsey watches as Trump points to the fenced-in press area and delivers aggressive, if repetitive, criticism. That’s his right, Dawsey says. Trump supporters approach the press area to shout and shake fists, and the content of their yelling is no surprise. “Fake news.” “Why do you hate the president?” Still, sometimes the level of the fury is unsettling. “White-hot anger,” Dawsey says.
Yet he sees an upside to the Trump phenomenon, too.
A few weeks ago, Dawsey spoke to a packed crowd at the University of Arkansas. He knows why students filled the seats.
“People are really interested in this presidency,” he says.
“I don’t think it’s because I’m the best speaker in the world. It’s because everyone is really interested in Trump. The history making. The personality. How he makes decisions. There’s just an intense interest in politics in this country.”
Dawsey takes care to avoid portraying Trump as a cartoon character. In a podcast conversation with CBS News reporting legend Bob Schieffer, Dawsey said, “He’s not a stupid man. ... He’s not an idiot. He’s smarter than people give him credit for.”
Thursday, Dawsey will speak at Colorado College about a president like no other. A president who is, in his inimitable way, a revolutionary.
“He’s a multifaceted guy,” Dawsey says. “In private, he can be solicitous and fairly gracious and even sometimes funny. He has many sides. He’s not a simple person.”
That explains why we don’t live in simple times.