Exclusive: April Ryan Reflects On Being A WH Reporter During Trump Administration
Ryan credits her ongoing commitment to journalism to her regularly-scheduled mental health counseling and a perseverance instilled in her by her family.
March 19, 2021 at 7:53 pm
Veteran journalist April D. Ryan has seen quite a bit in her career that spans three decades, but nothing would prove more jarring than the four consecutive years she spent as a White House correspondent working to provide clarity and objectivity in the dark and trying times of the Trump administration.
“There’s always retaliation in the White House. If they don’t like something you write, there’s always retaliation, but nothing like this,” Ryan said in an interview with Blavity, comparing past presidential administrations with that of recently-ousted former President Donald Trump.
Over the past few years, Ryan has stood steadfast in the public eye continuing to do the work she had trained her entire career to do. And yet, she was berated and belittled as she sat one of the few Black people in a room full of gaslighted reporters.
“What did you feel personally watching -- magnify that by a thousand," she said of how it felt to constantly be in the hot seat. "Think about however you would have felt if that was you!"
Although triumphant and on the other side of the traumatic experiences she faced on the job, Ryan credits her ongoing commitment to journalism to her regularly-scheduled mental health counseling and a perseverance instilled in her by her family.
“My parents put me through school,” she said. “My mother got her college degree while I was in high school and my father never got his, so for me to go to school and learn my craft to do what I do and they sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears -- I was not going to let some idiot take that away from me and my family.”
“And I did nothing wrong!” she continued.
The scrutiny Ryan faced at the behest of the Trump administration often stemmed from her pointed questions in regards to the Black community, like when she was challenged by Trump himself when she questioned if he would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to discuss “the inner city.”
“Are they friends of yours,” Trump infamously asked her before requesting that the reporter set up the meeting.
Although some people may have recently come to know Ryan by way of such instances of humiliation and unfounded disrespect, her outstanding career has hardly been marred by controversy.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, the self-proclaimed “news junkie” attended nearby HBCU Morgan State University where she not only completed her degree in broadcast journalism, but also began her professional career as a disc jockey for the university’s WEAA-FM, and later as a news director for Baltimore’s WXYV-FM.
During such time, she began stringing for area publications. Not long after she found herself in the White House press pool. She’s since covered five presidents and has had one-on-one interviews with former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, former First Ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, and former and current Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, among other political leaders.
She credits her college education for preparing her to be a “quadruple threat” -- someone able to work in all areas of communications -- which she said has helped her maintain her successful career.
"You should be able to do everything, and if you can't, you are going to struggle in this multi-media, social media, socially-connected world we're in," she said.
"Here you have a Black woman from Morgan State University in Baltimore who [the Trump administration] thought they could kick out of the White House, but they didn't," she continued. "They don't know the strength that's instilled in you at an HBCU, to be able to rise and fight through what they put in front of you. To change the dynamics, not only in your community and your home but in the nation and the world."
Still, the challenge of her professional life would come simply from doing her job. Following the CBC back-and-forth with Trump, Ryan continued working, asking questions regarding the Russia probe or inquiring about whether the president intended to resign. When she asked Trump about voter suppression, he called her a "loser" and threatened to have her press credentials revoked.
After so many instances, Ryan felt the need to hire a bodyguard.
"I dreaded going to work at the White House, for real," she said. "It was deadly. I dreaded dealing with the hate, the vitriol -- it was awful. I had death threats, I had the FBI come to my home, a bomb squad come to my home."
With her head still high, she decided to begin taking social media jabs at Trump, but not the superficial jabs others had routinely taken to, she would instead question his politics, motives and decisions.
"Towards the end, I called him out. There was truth in the calling out. It wasn't like 'you orange so-and-so' or calling him names. I went to the inconsistency of who he was as a person and as a president."
Then on Aug. 11, 2020, she pinned a tweet to her Twitter account that remained in place until the election of President Joe Biden.
She wrote, “For over 20+ years I moved with journalistic objectivity as it pertained to politics. I was a respected reporter in both Democrat & traditional Republican circles. But in January 2017, I started being attacked by @realDonaldTrump & his @PressSec’s for just asking questions.”
“After a point, you get tired of it. After a point, you see the truth of who the person is,” Ryan told Blavity. “He keeps showing me who he was, so I believed him. He was a carnival show who became a politician who still didn’t know how to be a politician. I've seen politicians from doing the best they can to very bad. Donald Trump was very bad, and I could not hold it."
On Nov. 7, 2020, the dedicated journalist celebrated Biden's win by removing her pinned tweet and posting, “Long live journalism” to Instagram.
To her, his election meant the return of journalistic integrity.
"We didn't have someone up there calling people names and breaking the law," Ryan said of Biden. "It felt like a return to normalcy. Now, Joe Biden got his issues as well, but nothing like Donald Trump."
In mid-January, she returned to her press seat at the White House, this time with the Black digital media outlet, The Grio.
"Black media is important not just for Democratic presidencies, Black media is important for all presidents -- for everyone," she said. "We've been telling [important and overlooked] stories for a long time. White America didn't know because they weren't listening to our stories. We need to be in newsrooms. We need to be in the White House. We also need to be in mainstream newsrooms, because we can tell the stories."
Working in digital media has also given Ryan a deeper appreciation for her wide-ranging skillset. It’s something she encourages all aspiring journalists to look to build as she continues to craft the legacy she hopes to leave behind. Another part of this legacy is perseverance.
"Keep going no matter what," she urges young Black women reporters. "Keep asking your questions. Just keep doing the work. Keep your head down and do the work."
Ryan has written four books including, The Presidency in Black and White: My Up-Close View of Three Presidents and Race in America and At Mama's Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White. She continues to work as a political analyst for CNN among her many other roles industry-related roles.