By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — April Ryan, a close witness of world history, stays grounded on basics in her personal and professional life; reserving family time, and abiding traditional journalistic standards.
Ryan is Tennessee State University’s commencement speaker Saturday. Her news reports and commentary from Washington, D.C. are on American Urban Radio Networks and other major news groups. As AURN’s White House correspondent, she says it’s impossible to describe that job, but she’s offered tried and true journalistic facts of life.
“Everything comes to the White House from war to peace and everything in between … so there’s nothing that’s out of the realm of possibilities to ask,” Ryan said.
Drue Smith, the flashiest Tennessee Capitol Hill reporter, used to say, “There are no wrong questions.” Smith died her hair pink before it was cool. She passed nearly four years after Ryan started at the White House.
Ryan’s many followers saw more of her in February after asking President Trump if he’d include the Congressional Black Caucus when developing an urban agenda.
“Well, I would,” Trump replied. “Do you want to set up the meeting? … Are they friends of yours?”
Remaining neutral, Ryan accepts subsequent notoriety as an unintended badge of courage.
“I’m not a facilitator. I’m a journalist,” she told MSNBC. Black congressmen told her they wanted to meet with Trump on issues. New Orleans Congressman Cedric Richmond, CBC chair, repeated CBC’s invitation, adding it’s offensive that Trump assumed all blacks are friends, and saw Ryan as a political matchmaker or his secretary.
“I was more concerned with the impropriety of being a matchmaker,” Ryan said, later adding, “That was his first solo press conference;” giving “him a little leeway.”
Ryan was nominated to be the National Association of Black Journalists’ journalist of the year before her exchange with Trump. She is NABJ’s journalist of the year.
Last month, Ryan was one of at least three White House reporters not invited to the administration’s Christmas party, an off-record event for press and administration staff. The Washington Post reports she said, “I don’t think I was overlooked… For whatever reason, they have disdain for me.”
Still, Ryan was gracious about Trump calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas
“That was a very unfortunate comment in front of a picture of President Jackson (who implemented the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that led to the Trail of Tears) and with Native Americans” in the White House; honored as code talkers. “Sometimes I just think he just doesn’t understand, or, he may not necessarily be a student of history. I don’t know… It was not one of his stellar moments.”
Ryan’s been “asking the same questions” for 20 years, but with new circumstances. Other reporters may resent her changing the subject. “So what?” Ryan says. “It used to happen a lot more than it does now… I have listeners or readers who don’t necessarily want to hear about such and such, or they (White House reporters) have exhausted such and such, so I ask about something else.
“There are a lot of African Americans who are in the press room, but when I first got there, I asked a lot of questions about minority issues.” While all issues have a minority angle, some saw her as “militant,” she said. “But that settled down.”
Now, “It’s really a part of the dynamic in that room. When something that’s going on … Katrina … Puerto Rico … Charlottesville … people ask. The black and brown community … have the highest numbers of negatives … in every category … With that, it touches everything.”
Televised White House press briefings don’t show “the reactions of people in the crowd … the mood of the room. That’s very important when you’re covering … someone of this magnitude — [including] reactions from correspondents, people at the White House, (administration) staff, the people in the room if they bring someone in.
“For the most part you get to know them very well… You’re in their working space. You’re in each other’s face. Over a four year period, you get to know each other, pretty well.”
She became a White House correspondent in January 1997.
“It’s a friendly adversarial situation … I’m still hoping to have an interview with Trump.” The press conferences are “about your life… This is not entertainment… It’s about the American public.”
Ryan’s written two books: The Presidency in Black and White and At Mama’s Knee.
“I live in the Baltimore area. I talk with presidents during the day and talk with my kids during the morning, the day and at night. First and foremost, I’m a mother … (then) a daughter, a family member. Then there’s the job, which pays the rent, which I’m passionate about. I’m a kid from Baltimore who grew up to be a White House correspondent.”