Listen to this episode of Working with guest Juliet Eilperin:
Not all of those who spend their days at the White House actually work for the administration. This week on Working, we spoke to one such individual, Juliet Eilperin, the Washington Post’s White House bureau chief. To some extent, describing Eilperin’s career entails tracing an expanding circle: She got her journalistic start as a student at Princeton University covering the university’s administration. In the decades that followed, she worked on a variety of other beats, including Congress and the environment. But in 2013, she turned toward the Obama administration, a path that she’s been on ever since.
Eilperin explains in this episode that she was initially uncertain about making that shift. For a reporter accustomed to deep, investigative reporting, the White House might seem like a straightjacket. Daily briefings—which are never, Eilperin tells us, on time—take up much of your time. Further, the press office generally controls access to administration officials, and it can be hard to get anyone to make a statement on the record. Some of those issues linger for Eilperin: Even after years on the beat, she’s still not sure the president knows her name, let alone how to pronounce it when he calls on her.
Despite such concerns—both initial and ongoing—Eilperin suggests she found her footing relatively quickly, breaking stories early on about the troubled rollout of healthcare.gov. Ultimately, she tells us, she’s come to find her role satisfying. “For all the downsides and headaches that come with covering the White House, you’re covering someone that’s making decisions that affect not just Americans’ lives, but people across the world,” she said. Going into detail about what that involves, she discusses everything from what reporters wear when they’re headed to the White House to what they do while waiting for the press secretary to speak.
In this episode of Working, Eilperin also discusses her changing understanding of the administration itself, especially as it enters its final months. “There are all of these ways in which you feel [the administration] has entered a different phase,” she claims. Fittingly, then, she aims to do journalism that “sheds light on the president in this moment,” capturing not just the decisions made within the White House but also the way those decisions reverberate beyond its walls.
And in a Slate Plus extra, Eilperin tells us about some of her early work and shares a few fascinating details from a book that she wrote about sharks. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at slate.com/workingplus.
Podcast production by Mickey Capper.