CEDAR FALLS — At a Dec. 11, 2015, campaign rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, presidential candidate Donald Trump singled out The Des Moines Register and reporter Jennifer Jacobs.
“The Des Moines Register is the worst,” he told the crowd. “You have some reporter named Jacobs. She is the worst.”
Jacobs is on better terms with President Trump these days as the White House reporter for Bloomberg News.
The Quad City native, a graduate of Assumption High School and Iowa State University, began her career with The Courier covering Northeast Iowa and later Cedar Falls from 1993 to 1999. She became the Register’s political writer after a stint at the Syracuse Post-Standard.
Now she is part of the 12-person White House press pool that meets regularly with the president and accompanies him on trips at home and abroad, including the G-7 meeting in France in late August and his June summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
Jacobs also has covered trips by Melania Trump to Africa and Ivanka Trump to South America. She was in Cedar Falls on Thursday to speak at the Women In Politics banquet — a fundraiser for University of Northern Iowa scholarships for female students interested in public service.
In an interview, she recalled the 2015 rally.
“It was my first exposure to Donald Trump’s frustration with the media, which still plays out today and is amplified to the max,” she said, “I think it was all a part of his effort to undercut the media. He tends to train his supporters to only listen to him and ignore what the media says.”
What drew Trump’s ire was an Iowa Poll by the Register, indicating he had fallen behind Ben Carson. In addition, a July 2015 Register editorial called him “a feckless blowhard” and urged him to drop out. He finished second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the caucuses.
“He knows me well now,” Jacobs said. “Every once in awhile, he’ll make a dig at me, ‘Oh, I knew her when she was back in Iowa, and she wasn’t any good back then. But she’s better now.’”
“He’s been mad at me on and off,” she added, “He’ll be critical of some of my reporting and freeze me out for a period of time. There’s this zigzag, yo-yo effect, where I’m never sure if he’s happy to see me or mad. He can get very sensitive, very thin-skinned.”
In his routine dealings with the media, she said, “For the most part he’s very warm, treats us quite well and loves hanging out with reporters. He‘ll come back on Air Force One and chat with us. He loves to bring the press into the Oval (Office), so we can witness what he’s up to.”
As for Trump’s characterization of the media “as the enemy of the people,” she said, “With the press corps, as a general body, he perceives it as being against him, which is not necessarily true. It’s our job. You know we say, ‘You don’t get a free pass, you get a free press.’ That’s democracy. We’re here to ask questions and hold you accountable.”
In that regard, Jacobs said, “One of the most challenging things for us as reporters is separating truths from falsehoods. It’s hard to tell sometimes. The president can be very charming, and he is very entertaining, but sometimes the truth can be a little nebulous.
“One of the stories I broke came after he indicated there were tapes of his conversations with (former FBI director) James Comey. I wrote that there were no tapes. He said he was just saying it to keep Comey honest, which was how he put it.
“I also was the reporter who revealed that he had taken a Sharpie and had made a hand-drawn adjustment to a hurricane map to prove that Alabama was in the eye of the hurricane (Dorian),” she added.
Jacobs made a name for herself in Washington before those revelations.
Politico called her a “breakout star” in 2016, stating, “At Bloomberg News, Jacobs was part of a team that regularly broke news about the Trump campaign, from his plans for the conventions, campaign hires, campaign defections to campaign conference calls on strategy.”
Jacobs arrived near the end of the Obama administration. “I just remember how orderly everything was,” she recalled.
As for covering Trump, she said, “It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. It’s strangely hypnotic. … Half the people I talk to think the people in the Trump administration are heroes and half the people think they should go to jail.”
Jacobs said it’s not only the press corps that’s weary.
“Some of the staff are equally exhausted,” she said. “Not that they are disloyal to the president. A lot of them are extremely loyal and have his best interests in everything they do. They want him to succeed. One of them told me, ‘I get to the office everyday and have to check to see if my pants are on.’
“They’re always trying to keep him happy, but also trying to keep him from going off the rails. A lot of them will tell him, when he tweets things that are bullying, perhaps you could say it this way instead.”
One of those people is his wife.
“Melania has told me herself how she tries to guide him and not say things that are very bullying and insulting. But it’s just hard to get that through to him,” Jacobs said.
Another person who speaks his mind is Vice President Mike Pence.
“They get along so well, and they’re strange bedfellows,” Jacobs said. “But the reason is that the vice president has made it his mission to never reveal any private conversation he and the president have.
“There’s an extraordinary confidentiality. If the vice president is upset with the president, he only tells him when they are alone in a room.”
Jacobs, who broke a story en route to Cedar Falls about Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, has her hands full.
“It keeps me awake at night, trying to keep up with all the good competition and good reporting,” she said.
“Imagine the truth and reality of this White House that we wouldn’t know if we didn’t have such good White House reporters digging in there and finding out what’s going on behind closed doors.”