Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter to talk Russian interference, Trump

Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter to talk Russian interference, Trump

Photo Credits: MAUREEN COLE / COURTESY

UC Davis alumnus Greg Miller to speak at Mondavi Center March 19

Last April, memos written by former FBI Director James Comey, detailing his interactions with President Donald Trump, were released to Congressional committees and then obtained by the press. In one particular conversation mentioned in the memos, Trump expressed frustration over a story in The Washington Post about his fiery phone conversations with world leaders. He proposed putting reporters in jail.

“Reading this many months later, I cringed when I saw the references to Trump’s calls and realized that I was the reporter they were discussing,” wrote Greg Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, in his new book “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy.”

Miller, who authored several of the stories published by The Post that “got Trump really, really angry,” will speak at the Mondavi Center on the evening of March 19. Tickets are free for students and the talk will focus on Miller’s time covering the Trump presidency as well as “the assault on truth” and “the assault on institutions that fight for truth.”

Miller will also speak about his time at UC Davis. A class of 1990 graduate, Miller majored in agricultural economics. Although he never wrote for The California Aggie, Miller started working at his hometown paper, the Amador Ledger Dispatch, when he was 15, returning to write during summer breaks.

“Coming from UC Davis has always helped me move into amazing places in my career,” Miller said in an interview with The California Aggie. “I want to tell students at Davis to think big. You’re in a small college town, but you still should be […] very ambitious and very confident that you’re getting a first-rate education. You can do anything and have careers of high impact.”

Speaking to the college-aged generation, Miller said the spread of disinformation isn’t something “that came and went in 2016.”

“This is a real scourge that your generation is going to be confronting for decades,” he said. “This is an issue that you and your peers who are in college now are going to be facing for your early adult lives. I don’t think it’s really a terrible exaggeration to say that the fate of our democracy and its ability to function depends on the outcome here.”

The Post has a century-long tradition of vigorous political coverage of both sides of the aisle, Miller said. While “every president bends the truth,” Miller writes in “The Apprentice,” “under Trump it has been shattered.”

White House officials under the Trump presidency have frequently bent the truth and refused to answer or dodged questions from members of the press. “The Apprentice” mentions one occasion in which Trump himself pretended to be a man named “John Barron” in a phone call with a Forbes reporter in an attempt to convince the journalist that Trump is a billionaire — a ruse and a falsehood the publication saw through. Another passage makes note of Trump’s impersonation of “imaginary characters in phone calls to journalists, describing ‘Donald Trump’ with a cascade of superlatives and fabrications.”

Miller described how he and his colleagues — seasoned journalists — have been forced to change how they approach a story.

“We’ve had conversations here about, ‘Is it okay to say the president is lying? Is it okay for that to be the core assertion in a story?’” Miller said. “These are the kind of questions we didn’t have to contend with in the same way before Trump became president. How do we continue to maintain our balance as objective journalists when we’re reporting on somebody who’s calling us the enemy of the people all the time? And how far can you go in calling out these falsehoods is a hard question.”

In addition to conversations about rethinking reporting style and process, there have been deeper and darker implications for journalists because of the Trump presidency. Miller mentioned recent bomb scares at publications throughout the country and said he and his colleagues aren’t allowed to go into the mailroom anymore. The Post also no longer lets tour groups come through the building.

“We had a person who wrote columns for us, Jamal Khashoggi, murdered in a consulate in Turkey and the president of the United States refused to believe that the Saudi crown prince was behind that,” Miller said. “These are super uncertain and unnerving time for journalists all over the world. I really worry [about] sending this signal, not just in the United States, but more broadly — that we’re not institutions to be respected, let alone believe.”

Currently, reporters in Washington, D.C. are waiting with bated breath for the release of the Mueller Report — the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III and his team into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election. Miller said he isn’t sure when the report will be finished or how much of it will be shared with the public once it is, but he had some inclinations about the subject matter.

“If all of the indictments we’ve seen from Mueller already are any guide, the final report that he’s working on is going to be a comprehensive account of all of the connections between the Trump campaign and Russia [and] all of the president’s efforts to obstruct the investigation once it was underway,” Miller said. “I don’t know whether Mueller has found smoking gun evidence that Trump colluded with Russia, but I have a feeling that this is going to be a devastating document for the president.”

If released in the next week, the Mueller Report and much more will be addressed by Miller at his upcoming talk, where he’ll tie Russian hacking in the election and the Trump presidency together with his time at UC Davis.

“The speech is really about how endangered the ideas of truth and fact have become in this era,” Miller said. “And how concerning that is for not just for journalists, but for anyone whose careers or institutions are dependent on our society’s belief that there is an objective reality out there, and I put UC Davis in that category.”

Written by: Hannah Holzer — campus@theaggie.org