|Ayesha Rascoe is a graduate of the Howard University
School of Journalism and edited The
Hilltop, the school paper co-founded by Zora Neale
National Public Radio White House Correspondent Ayesha Rascoe
Reporting on a Busy Beat
By Jonathan Gramling
It almost feels like Ayesha Rascoe got in the field of journalism just as some doors were closing. Rascoe,
now the White House correspondent for NPR, wanted to be a journalist ever since she found she had an
aptitude for it in middle school. She attended Howard University and was editor-in-chief for The Hilltop, the
student publication co-founded by the great writer Zora Neale Hurston. She graduated in time to catch on
with Reuters covering energy issues towards the end of the George W. Bush Administration and the
decline of print journalism.
“I was around for the end of the Bush Administration, when we had the run up in oil and gas prices and
everything kind of peaked,” Rascoe said who was in Madison to give a series of talks at UW-Madison.
“And then the recession came in and everything crashed. I was there for that and I was there for President
Obama’s push on green jobs and clean energy and the stimulus. I was also there for the failed climate
change push, which didn’t come together, but it passed the House. Also during that time, there was the
shale revolution. You had the rise in oil and gas production in the United States. I was around when they
were trying to do something in Copenhagen. Eventually they came up with the Paris Climate Agreement.
That was the way they were going to use the clean power plan in the U.S. EPA tried to basically
administratively implement cuts in carbon emissions. That, of course, has now run into road blocks. But that was the plan at the time. There was the lawsuit over the
Clean Power Plan. Yeah, when it comes to the Paris Agreement right now, they are in the process of pulling out of that.”
In 2017, Rascoe made the jump to radio as the White House correspondent for NPR. It took some getting used to.
“I have had to figure out how to write scripts and how to read them,” Rascoe said. “There’s a whole almost performance aspect to it that comes along with radio
because people are hearing your voice. It’s very intimate and people want you to sound natural even though you are reading this script. Figuring that whole thing out
was a challenge. Sometimes in a four-minute story or a three-minute radio piece, you aren’t going to be able to get all of the details into the story that you could in a print
story. It forces you to only focus on like the very most important things because you are going to have time to do all of these background paragraphs. But I think the
great thing about radio is that you can tell a story in a different way and touch people in a different way when they hear someone saying something. You hear a crowd
roaring in response to something. It’s a different feel than just reading it. It’s easier to touch people emotionally with radio.”
It’s an exciting time to be a journalist in Washington even if the leader of the free world declares that journalists are the enemy of the people. It is a time period of
radical policy shifts being made in an environment of investigations and possible scandal.
“The press briefings can be combative at times,” Rascoe said about the briefings held occasionally by Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary. “Often with
this administration, they are pretty short. People are just trying to get information, trying to get where the President stands on certain issues. It all depends. There were
times when there was more drama under Sean Spicer. Now I think they are pretty run-of-the-mill. But there can be those kinds of back-and-forth moments. We’re
definitely asking for the responses to what is going on. Usually, they just point you to outside counsel on that issue. The Mueller investigation does come up. We do
have Justice Department reporters for which it is their primary focus. That’s not my primary focus. But because it’s such an all-encompassing issue for the White
House, we do end up asking about it at times.”
President Trump has used Twitter to male policy pronouncements, to support his allies and to denigrate his opponents, real or otherwise. Rascoe decided to analyze
the president’s tweets to see how he referred to people from different backgrounds.
“This was after he called Omarosa a dog and said LeBron James was dumb and all of that,” Rascoe said. “So I ended up going through like 900 of his tweets, so all of
his tweets over the summer basically. I looked at what the subject of the tweet was, who he was talking about, did he say something positive or negative and tracked
all of that. I talked to linguistic experts and political scientists. I did see some differences. One thing was when he did his endorsements of candidates, he would say,
‘Vote for this Republican. They are strong on crime. Don’t vote for this Democrat because they are weak on crime.’ Well one Democrat whom he said something
different about was Stacey Abrams. She said that she is ‘crime loving.’ Basically he said that she loved crime. After my story ran, he would go on and Stacey Abrams
was the only candidate whom he called unqualified. He never called any of the other Democrats unqualified. There did seem to be some difference there. We went
through context and all of that. I was very proud of that story.”
Rascoe is very content doing what she is doing right now, reporting on the hottest political beat in the world. She feels that she has been blessed and is open to
anything life has to offer.
“I’ve been really blessed with what I’ve been able to do,” Rascoe said. “I really can’t complain with what I’ve been able to do. Hopefully I can continue to grow and be
able to cover these stories and give voice to different aspect of American life and how people are being affected by policies. I hope I can continue to do that.”
Indeed Ayesha Rascoe will.