NPR White House Correspondent Asma Khalid discussed her experiences covering political events and trends, including the crowded Democratic primary field of 2020 and Joe Biden’s candidacy, during the annual Justice & Journalism event co-hosted by NHPR and the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership & Public Service. 

Visit here to watch the full interview.  (Quotes in this piece have been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.) 

NHPR Senior News Editor Casey McDermott conducted the interview with Khalid before an audience at the Rudman Center.  During the event, Khalid recalled covering Biden’s fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary in 2020. 

Justice & Journalism event with NPR's Asma Khalid

NHPR Senior News Editor Casey McDermott interviews NPR White House Correspondent Asma Khalid during Justice & Journalism event at the Rudman Center. 

“I don't think many of us really clearly, convincingly expected that Joe Biden would become the president because he did have a really rocky path, both in Iowa and New Hampshire,” she said. “That said, his campaign was very confident and kept telling us that once they got to South Carolina, once a greater number of African American voters participated in the nominating process, that you would see the trajectory change. And they were correct in that assessment.”

“One thing that I think always made me feel like maybe it could end up being Joe Biden in the end, was that the field felt very divided in 2020. It reminded me in some ways, though very differently, from my experience covering Republicans in 2016. When there is a very divided field, a lot of unexpected things can happen.”

Khalid’s reporting often delves into the political, cultural, and racial divides in the country.  She said divisions among Democrats in the current election cycle are notable.

I don't recall in any recent election cycle seeing Democrats or folks on the left protesting a Democratic candidate,” she said. “When we went to Scranton and Pittsburgh, at every single stop that Joe Biden had that was publicly announced, there were protesters around the war in Gaza. Sometimes they weren't very large crowds, maybe a dozen people or so, but it just strikes me that the president is facing a very different challenge this time around, unifying his own party.”


On voter discontent with the current Presidential race:

I have met voters who are very, very unhappy with how Joe Biden has handled certain things. I'll hear about the economy, for example, that they blame him for higher prices. I've also heard a deep degree of frustration among many voters about abortion, who blame Donald Trump for the reversal of Roe versus Wade. And so I think people feel upset about particular policy issues. I don't think they're particularly enthusiastic about the candidates.


On some unexpected realities of covering the White House:

I once described White House reporting to someone as feeling like I'm Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. You get there and then you pull back the curtain and you’re like, this is it? Not to say that you don't appreciate it. But the briefing room is smaller than I had expected. It's not always as glamorous as you anticipate. 


On the benefits of growing up in a politically/socioeconomically diverse community in Indiana:

I have known people throughout my whole life, who are very close to me, who have very different political opinions. It's a mixed area, that part of Indiana that I'm from, and to me it's been very interesting to understand why people feel a certain way or why they can even view the exact same situation in very different ways and how they maintain relationships, or not.

There was a varying degree of socioeconomic backgrounds. I think that is important. When you are exposed to different viewpoints at a young age, whether it's political or racial, etc., I think it broadens your mind.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt is very important, even if you have a very different world view.   One of the things I felt really was important in covering politics that I wish we had a bit more of across the board is empathy, in terms of understanding where people are coming from. Again, it doesn't mean you have to agree with them. 


On the role of the media in heightening conflict:

I want to believe that NPR is more nuanced in this, but I do think, as a whole, media tends to be attracted to people who make headlines.  And to some degree, if you look at who makes headlines, in the political space, often it'll be people who say something that is surprising or shocking to a certain degree, and then those things are amplified. But I struggle with this because at the same time, I would argue that we have a responsibility to cover things that are shocking or surprising.


On changes in the NPR newsroom:

I guess I should speak maybe more for my own personal experience.  I would say I have long been a champion in the newsroom for geographic diversity of all sorts. I remember telling editors years ago we need to have political reporters who are not just based in Washington. And I do think the network has increasingly prioritized that.

I started in 2007 as an intern, and it's a different organization. I mean, candidly, I think that this is for the better. The organization is much more racially diverse than it was in 2007. I was in editorial meetings where I was the only non-white person. I would argue we should be representative of all things -- geographically, racially, religiously. 


In response to controversy surrounding former NPR editor’s essay accusing NPR of promoting liberal views:  

I think every good news organization should have self-reflection on what's working, what has improved, what hasn't improved, and if you don't do that, you're just going to become stagnant. I think there's always merit in having that self-reflection. At the same time, on a personal level, I'll be real honest here, I don’t believe it is constructive or in good faith to kind of throw your colleagues under the bus. And it's made a lot of our work substantially harder. Is it true, all of it? No. I take issue factually with a number of things in it, but I also think if you want to have a constructive conversation, there's a way to have a constructive conversation. To me, it almost feels like it's symptomatic of the exact same things we're talking about in the country, which is throwing bombs and walking away. And that just doesn't sit well with me. That's not how things change in this country at all, in my view, for the better.