Interview with Richard Benedetto by Babacar Niang


SJC Brooklyn Welcomes Woodrow Wilson Fellow Richard Benedetto

Benedetto has been exclusively reporting on government and political issues for nearly 40 years. He started his career as a reporter for local newspapers in upstate New York and as a founding member of USA Today, he wrote the paper's first front-page cover story. His devotion and talent brought him to the White House, where he became a correspondent covering the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. He is now a professor in Journalism at American University where he has been since his retirement in 2006. I was privileged to sit with this idol in a one-on-one interview, as the Professor described me more about this prestigious job.

Starting with what life is really like at the White House, Professor Benedetto told us that it is not the life of comfort that people may believe it is. Reporters work in a small room that is only 40 feet long and 15 feet wide with 49 seats. They don't live there and must return to their hotels or residences each night. A maximum of 12 reporters—the press pool—  travel with the president on tour, and they will later pass on their reports to the other correspondents. Professor Benedetto also informed me that the news entity which the reporters belong to will be responsible to pay all travel fees and expenses, not the government. Consequently, he concluded that now fewer reporters, especially those among small media organizations, travel with the president because of the heavy expenses of Air Force One.

When asked if the reporters could face intimidations from the White House officials that would shape their reports, Professor Benedetto said, "not really. They don't try to influence you and there weren't lots of push-backs." However, he said that sometimes the press secretary made some "logical complaints" about an article or a report the press made on the president or the government in general.

Despite having access to the president's "house," reporters can’t always talk to the president whenever they need him. It can be difficult to interview the president depending on who is in office. But Professor Benedetto said that this tendency is now changing. Reporters are getting more access to the president, especially the current president. He affirmed that President Trump is "more accessible than any other president." He says Trump is open to the press anytime and anywhere, in addition to his tweets which the media refers to a lot to make their daily news.

In a period when the expression "fake news" is being used a lot, Professor Benedetto admitted that "some of what they say in the news is fake." However, he made it clear that what the President calls "fake news" is different from what it is actually. The president describes any news as fake "that doesn't agree with him and goes against his own political interests." Professor Benedetto believes that reporters should be more independent and that "reporting was designed to be objective and fair."

Overall, Professor Benedetto summed up his White House experience as a "great source of pride" for his family and his Italian immigrant grandfather. Being a White House reporter is prestigious "and the greatest thing that ever happen to me," he claims. Finally, he, as an expert, gave advice to students studying journalism: "do a lot of reading and learn a lot of history" to maximize their chances to become great reporters.

If heard, no doubt that this piece of advice will serve thousands. No doubt. Personally, as a big fan of politics and someone who is very curious about the functioning of government more specifically,  I enjoyed every single minute spent talking to Professor Benedetto who, in the past, was so close to the biggest leaders in the world. As a freshman college student, I’m pursuing my daydreams and can’t wait for that moment when the world of politics will “adopt” me as one of their own.