Today’s news that Peter Baker is rejoining the White House beat for The New York Times was a historic one for the newspaper.
With Baker’s addition, the Times now has six reporters covering 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the highest number in its 150 year-plus history, Baker told Poynter in an interview Monday.
“When I started covering the White House in 1996 for The (Washington) Post, there were two of us doing it,” Baker said. “And the Times had two people doing it. Both papers went up to about four after 9/11, if I remember correctly. And that’s what we had under Obama. I can’t think of any time in history that The New York Times had six people covering the White House.”
Why all the muscle? In a statement to Poynter, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet cited the historic nature of Donald Trump’s presidency, among other things.
“This is an historic presidency and Peter is an expert on the institution,” Baquet said in an email. “And each member of the team brings something special and different.”
On that point there can be no dispute. Baker is a 15-year veteran of the White House beat, who’s covered three presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. His abrupt transition from Jerusalem bureau chief to White House correspondent happened “in the last couple of days,” Baker said.
He happened to be in Washington, D.C. for a foreign affairs conference when editors asked whether he’d be willing to return to his old beat.
“If I’d said no, they would’ve respected that,” Baker said. “But if they ask, it’s hard not to take that request seriously.”
Joining him in the White House will be Maggie Haberman, Julie Davis, Michael Shear and Mark Landler. The Times also announced Monday the addition of Glenn Thrush, who was previously Politico’s chief political correspondent.
How does that stack up to other D.C. media outlets? Politico announced on Monday that it will boast a seven-person team covering the White House, the largest in its history. It includes Shane Goldmacher, Annie Karni, Tara Palmeri, Josh Dawsey, Eli Stokols, Darren Samuelsohn and Matt Nussbaum, per a Politico spokesperson.
Although the Trump presidency will undoubtedly give Baker a lot to write about (“I confess that I’m always attracted to a big story,” he said) the Times probably would have beefed up it’s West Wing footprint regardless of who was in the office. The glut of reporters covering the White House, combined with the frenetic pace of modern political news, requires more bodies to stay on top of a huge story, he said.
“It’s not just who the occupant is,” Baker said. “It’s a reflection of how social media and the pace of news has changed the nature of the beat. In other words, there’s such a voracious appetite for anything out of the White House. And such an unending, relentless pace, where you can’t simply wait until the end of the day to write a story.”
Baker doesn’t know yet what his specific duty will be at The White House. His wife, former Politico editor Susan Glasser, will continue in her capacity as an editorial adviser and chief foreign affairs columnist, according to a staff memo sent to Politico’s newsroom Monday. Their next priority is to get their son back in a D.C.-area school and figure out where to live.
The chance to work alongside “a terrific set of journalists” also motivated Baker to take up his old beat. He initially likened his squad to the Cubs, then later compared them to D.C.’s home team.
“I think it’s more like the 2017 Washington Nationals,” Baker said. “We’re going there, baby.”