UW- Eau Claire hosts Philip Rucker for virtual 2021 Ann Devroy Memorial Forum

Senior Washington Correspondent for The Washington Post discussed lessons learned while reporting in the age of Trump

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Phillip Rucker of The Washington Post addresses the virtual audience at the 2021 Ann Devroy Memorial Forum.

When Senior Washington Correspondent at The Washington Post Philip Rucker reiterated a question to then-President Donald Trump at a COVID-19 press briefing, he did not expect the response he got. Trump responded by calling Rucker “a total faker” and “fake news” on national television.

“I used every muscle in my body to keep from defending myself, to not defend my honor, to not say to his face, ‘I do not write fake news.’ That would be anyone’s natural instinct right? To punch back?” Rucker said. “But I remembered what Marty (Baron) said. We are not at war, we’re at work.”

Rucker shared with the virtual audience at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Ann Devroy Forum how he stayed calm in such a tense moment, his experience covering the Trump administration and the unique lessons he learned about journalism in 2020 during his speech titled “Lessons from Reporting in the Age of Trump” on April 15.

In addition to this story, Rucker highlighted some key experiences he’s had during his career and how they’ve shaped him as a journalist today.

Every year UW-Eau Claire hosts the Ann Devroy Forum where some of the most remarkable professional journalists present the Ann Devroy Fellowship.

The Ann Devroy Fellowship was created in memory of a former Washington Post reporter and a UW-Eau Claire journalism graduate, Ann Devroy, in 1997 after she died of cancer. Devroy worked at The Post for eight years and covered four separate presidential administrations.

Rucker is co-author of “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America,” a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, and serves as a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

While he admitted he never knew Devroy personally, Rucker informed the audience that her legacy of tenacity and hard work has lived on at The Post.

“Soon after I arrived at The Washington Post as a college intern, some sixteen years ago, I started hearing the name Ann Devroy,” Rucker said. “I learned of this tenacious bulldog of a reporter, this woman that would run circles around the men with her news scoops. A singular correspondent who instilled fear in the hearts of presidents.”

The Devroy Fellowship provides a scholarship and a three-week experience at The Washington Post.

Ta’Leah Van Sistine, a third-year student and current editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper, The Spectator, received the Fellowship.

“I constantly learn from Devroy’s legacy when I report for The Spectator, Blugold Radio Sunday and my journalism courses because Devroy exemplified how the tenacious pursuit for information is crucial in journalism,” Van Sistine said.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event was held virtually this year over Zoom. Community members, media organizations and students attended as virtual audience members.

Because the 2020 Devroy Forum was canceled due to COVID-19,  the event honored last year’s Devroy fellow, along with Van Sistine, at the 2021 virtual event. The 2020 Devroy Fellowship winner is Madeline Fuerstenberg, who also served as the former editor-in-chief of The Spectator.

Both Fuerstenberg and Van Sistine gave acceptance speeches at the beginning of the forum and shared their own thoughts on the past year of reporting.

“In the year since I received this recognition, the world has changed in countless ways,” Fuerstenberg said. “We’ve faced a pandemic that’s claimed thousands of lives, we’ve witnessed violence at our nation’s capital and we’ve seen a revolution for racial justice unfold across the country. And throughout it all journalists have been on the front lines,” Fuerstenberg said. “If she was still with us today, I have no doubt Ann Devroy would have been front and center.”

Rucker shared attributes about Devroy that he noted in his preparation for the event, ones that he felt apply today to all journalists.

“For Ann, reporting was about revealing information to the public and holding the powerful to account. It’s that simple,” Rucker said. “Ann was incredibly persistent in that pursuit, she had the finest B.S. detector, she had zero tolerance for incompetence or malfeasance, indefatigable in chasing scoops early in the morning and late at night,” Rucker said. “No reporter cultivated or maintained trusted sources like Ann. She made it her mission to know everybody, to talk to everybody, to draw everybody into her confidences.”

During his speech, Rucker told the audience that he ‘never signed up for this war’, referring to the ongoing battle of trust between the media and former President Donald Trump.

Audience member and Beginning Journalism student at UW-Eau Claire, John Lyberg, said he found Rucker’s message inspiring.

“This sentiment can be discouraging, but it also gives me motivation, personally to dive deeper into why conditions have turned this extreme, especially in U.S. media,” Lyberg said.

Watch the forum in its entirety here.