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BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith on Why Donald Trump Fears Maggie Haberman

For Variety’s latest issue, we asked BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith to write a tribute to Maggie Haberman, one of 50 people to make our New Power of New York list. Here’s why Haberman, a reporter for The New York Times, represents a new generation of movers and shakers that capture the best of Manhattan. For the full list, click here.

I learned to report from Maggie Haberman in 2002, when she was the fourth-string New York Post reporter in City Hall and we sat facing one another in the squalid basement press annex. I listened to her berate, cajole, plead, demand, laugh, sympathize and swear constantly. Above all I heard in her voice something I’ve never forgotten: That a reporter’s relationships with her sources are authentic human relationships; that her ethics are the real ethics of trust and honesty, not some transactional professional subset; and that if the fourth-string New York Post reporter was that good, I couldn’t even imagine how dazzling the guys upstairs in the real press room, Room 9, must be.

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It is now obvious to most Americans, as it was to me then, that Maggie, who has worked for The New York Times since 2015, is the best reporter in the room. She dominates the national political story to an infuriating degree. This is partly the convergence of the stars over a president whose trajectory matches hers. But it’s mostly earned every day by intensely competitive hard work. And everyone talks to her not because they think she’ll take it easy on them but because they simply have no choice. Read the transcript of her conversations with Donald Trump for a combination of adversarial combativeness and true understanding of a person. Her voice on Twitter, in the Times and on CNN is untainted by the ass-kissing you often see among access journalists.

The leather-jacketed, chain-smoking Maggie I met in 2002 connected authentically to more people every day than most reporters talk to in a week. To give Maggie a tip was to, genuinely, make her day; to give the Daily News a tip was to betray her and earn her genuine rage. Everyone in New York City soon knew that, which made her a terrifying competitor. Now everyone in American politics knows it. Last year, the top guy on a Republican presidential campaign told me he’d love to give me a certain exclusive but that if he did, Maggie would kill him. I’m confident the president of the United States feels pretty much the same way.

Iveta Karpathyova for Variety

Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed. Read the rest of our New Power of New York list.

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