#CoveringCOVID is a virtual series of one-on-one interviews with our reporters, where we pull back the curtain to better understand how they do their jobs and how the pandemic has changed it all.
This week WBUR CitySpace events and programming manager Alex Schneps interviews senior political reporter Anthony Brooks.
Anthony Brooks: I'm Anthony Brooks and I'm the senior political reporter at WBUR. And I've been doing this job since before the creation of the wheel.
Alex Schneps: That's a pretty long time. Has it changed much since the beginning?
Anthony: [laughs] The wheel or my job?
Alex: This might be an obvious question, but what types of stories does a senior political reporter cover?
Anthony: Well, I think the biggest story that I've been covering is the presidential election. And we tend to look at that story sort of through the prism of Massachusetts folks. So obviously, the Elizabeth Warren candidacy was a big story. And then the other big story that I'm covering is the Senate race between Senator Markey and Joe Kennedy III, Congressman Kennedy, who is challenging Markey. One of the other stories that I've been covering during the pandemic is the role of governors in this whole crisis. Charlie Baker is a really interesting case study. He's a Republican. We have a Republican president, as you probably know, who has created all kinds of controversy about the way he's handling this crisis. That creates an interesting dynamic between the president and governors across the country.
Alex: If it were any other time we would be in the midst of the presidential election. We'd be still sort of in primary season. How has covering politics changed?
Anthony: Yeah, I mean, it's changed in several ways. I mean, obviously, the candidates are no longer...I mean, whether it's the race for the Senate in Massachusetts or the race for the presidency across the nation...the candidates are no longer holding rallies. So this whole kind of glad handing, back slapping, high fives, hugging folks, big crowds - it's all gone. And I got to tell you, as a political reporter, I like that aspect of the job. I always found that sort of intoxicating and fun to follow. And I think political candidates are also drawn to that. So this is a real challenge for them as well, because I think one of the ways they get the oxygen that they need to exist, not just as public servants, but as people, they need that affirmation of the crowds. And they can't get that right now. So it poses not only a real logistical challenge for them in terms of how you get the message out, how you excite people to come out and vote for you. But, you know, this is the essence of who they are. It's a real existential quandary, I think, for politicians. I think that's sort of a fascinating story in itself. A lot of what I would be doing is covering rallies and talking to voters and moving around the country or the state or the region. So all of that is shut down, as you can imagine. The candidates themselves are desperate for publicity, and they're struggling to figure out how to do it themselves. So in a funny way, they're more accessible than they have been.
Alex: Do you think the constituents are missing that piece that they would normally be getting or are they really consumed with COVID?
Anthony: I think this is the big challenge for candidates is how to reach constituents right now. It's going to be: how do you reach people who might be disengaged or who might be on the fence and with just a little bit of pushing or cajoling or convincing might come their way in the midst of the pandemic? Because they don't have all of those free media opportunities that they would have without the pandemic.
Alex: Before all this was happening, health care was already the number one issue. Do you think that this is going to continue to focus that conversation even more on health care as we as we get closer to November? And do you think that that will keep people engaged?
Anthony: I think that's a great question. Yes, I think health care. I think minimum wage. I think job security. I think paying for college education. I think college debt. I think all of those sort of issues around the hollowing out of the middle class are going to be pushed to the fore, are being pushed to the fore because so many people are now out of work. And so I think a lot of the issues that the Democrats in particular we're talking about, people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, all of those issues are suddenly going to be a whole lot more real to a whole lot more people.
Alex: During a normal presidential election, it's May 4th. Where would we be right now and what would you be doing?
Anthony: So in a normal presidential year, probably what we'd be doing right now is we would probably have a Democratic candidate. You know, most of the primaries have happened. All of the energy would be looking forward toward the convention. But the thing that's missing right now are voters. I really believe in covering politics through the sort of prism of the voter. Because I want to do my reporting based on what the people want and what people are talking about and what people need so that you can sort of put those questions to the candidates. There aren't sort of ready made scenes of voters that you can get easy access to. And I'm missing that right now, I have to say.
Alex: Is there anything in particular that you have seen covered recently that's giving you some hope?
Anthony: I'm blown away by the governors. I really am. I mean, I don't think I'm going too far on a limb when I say that I think there have been mixed messages, to put it mildly, coming from Washington. And I think at a time of such enormous upheaval and uncertainty, people look to their president and look to their political leaders for hope. And I think the biggest source of that hope and stability and sense of "it's going to be all right in the long run," keeping in mind that there's enormous amounts of suffering and grief out there, I think it's thanks to the governors.
Alex: As someone who is working in the news and seeing all of these things coming in every day, a complete deluge, what advice would you give to people who are feeling extremely uncertain about the future?
Anthony: Oh, that's easy. Shut off the news, for sure. [laughs] And I say that and I urge you to keep your station tuned to WBUR and bring it right back on when you want to find out what's going on. But give yourselves a break. Take a walk. Take a deep breath. Be with your family, laugh, cook a meal, do all of those things, because that's what's going to make you feel like a real person. And then, you know, when you're there, heart rate's down and you're breathing and you're feeling somewhat human. Then turn on WBUR again and check out what's going on.
Anthony: If you are ready to come back to the news and you've had a nice healthy break, make sure you go to wbur.org/coronavirus, and tune in to 90.9 F.M. Anthony, thank you very much for your time.
Anthony: Alex, it's my pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Producer - Alex Schneps
Assistant Producer - Candice Springer
Technical Advisor - Niall Foley
Music and Audio Mixing - Adam Straus
Animation - Michael Diffin