Peter Baker

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

As a political journalist, Peter Baker has observed many presidents, but none like President Donald Trump.

“We’ve never seen a president in real time give us all and any of his point of views on all subjects,” Baker said in an interview with The Daily Texan.

Baker covered former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for The Washington Post and The New York Times. Today, he regularly covers Trump as the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times.

Baker visited the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library on Wednesday for a book signing and guest talk. His newest book details Obama’s time in the White House. He said covering Obama is starkly different from covering Trump.

“Both presidents are interesting in different ways,” Baker said. “If Trump is the guy who doesn’t hold anything back, then Obama is the guy who doesn’t show us a lot.”

While previous presidents stuck to daily agendas, Baker said Trump’s Twitter communications are unpredictable.

“From a journalist’s perspective, it’s great because we have a window into his mindset that we’ve never had with any of his predecessors, but it also means that you never know where the news is going to go,” Baker said.

Trump created unexpected headlines by calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel on Wednesday. Baker, who has covered the Middle East extensively and was the first American newspaper journalist to report from rebel-held northern Afghanistan after 9/11, explained that this is the first time a U.S. president has declared this. Trump’s statement could create more tensions in the region, Baker said.

“Both the Israeli and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital,” Baker said. “Just declaring Jerusalem the capital without saying anything about what Palestinians may do is a very volatile act.”

But within the White House, Baker said, tensions have also grown with the FBI investigation about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, plead guilty of lying to FBI investigators. Baker, who has also previously written about Putin and Russia, said this could be a turning point in the months-long investigation.

“A guilty plea by a national security advisor is a big deal,” Baker said.

Baker said the news has definitely shaken up the White House.

“It’s almost a paranoid atmosphere,” Baker said. “There are White House aides that will tell you they are worried their colleagues are wearing wires.”

Dealing with the dramatic Russia investigation and political polarization may prevent the White House and Washington, D.C., from addressing policy issues like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Baker said.

“I don’t think President Trump wants DACA to go away,” Baker said. “I think he would just assume there would be a law he can sign that puts a DACA-type program into place, but the Democrats and Republicans aren’t working very well together right now.”

Trump’s critiques of news-media, including The New York Times, have become well-known. But Baker said past presidents have also disliked journalists’ coverage of the White House.

“It’s not our job to be popular,” Baker said. “But you know, in the end, I’m not worried about name-calling. … Our job is to be professional, independent observers and reporters.”

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

The media often portrayed President George W. Bush as Vice President Dick Cheney’s figurehead, but their relationship was far more complex and conflict-riddled than the public realized, according to Peter Baker, New York Times White House correspondent. 

Baker promoted his recently released book, “Days of Fire,” which details the Bush-Cheney relationship during their eight years in the White House, at the inaugural event of the William P. Clements Jr. Center for History, Strategy and Statecraft on Thursday. Following the talk, Baker signed books for event attendees. 

Baker said he wanted to write the book to reexamine the events of the Bush presidency, which he said were often glossed over immediately following the highlighting events of the Bush presidency.

“Journalists who cover events in the moment get 10 percent of it. We get the essential truth, but we miss so much more,” Baker said. “Only in the venture of reexamining, re-reporting, you start to fill in the picture.”

Baker said Cheney only became an influential vice president because Bush confided in him and allowed him to be.

“It was based in reality that Cheney was one of the most influential vice presidents in office, but he was never the guy wanting things,” Baker said. “He was like-minded with President Bush, who invested in [Cheney’s] trust, authority and access to give him opportunities to become an influential vice president.”

Though Bush and Cheney saw eye-to-eye during the first term, Baker said, they began drifting apart after years into the Iraqi war.

“Vice President Cheney was focused single-mindedly on the danger the country was in after 9/11,” Baker said. “That became his North Star. [Bush] begins to try to build a sustainable policy that will last beyond his presidency. Cheney thought these were mistakes, that he was compromising too much.”

Tawheeda Wahabzada, first year global policy studies graduate student, said she remembers little about the Bush presidency, but she would like to revisit the time period to gain insight into the politics and dynamics of Bush and Cheney.

“I’ve always perceived in the past — maybe because of the media — Cheney was the driving force and controlling everything,” Wahabzada said. “But hearing about the vast differences between Cheney and Bush and their disagreements on so many issues surprised me.”

Jacqueline Chandler, program manager of the Clements Center, said Baker’s close ties with the White House make him an important source for information about past and current presidencies.

“Anything you can learn about a past presidency is a hot topic,” Chandler said.