Paula Reid has, for the moment, moved from the White House to her house.
The CBS News White House correspondent is still working her job full-time. But for the last few days, she hasn’t been doing it at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I’m still making calls all day long, talking to sources, but sometimes, I’m doing it in my pajamas,” says Reid, who has been with CBS News for a decade.
Reid is quarantining for two weeks after sitting in the front row during a recent White House press briefing with Kayleigh McEnany, the White House Press Secretary who recently disclosed she had tested positive for coronavirus – part of a string of officials at the White House who have also done so, including President Trump. “She was not wearing a mask. She also brought three young press assistants who sat very close to me,” says Reid. “None of them were wearing a mask. All four of them have now tested positive.”
Reid continues to test herself and has not had a positive as of yet. “I’m staying at home out of an abundance of caution,” she says, part of a policy put in place by CBS News’ parent company, ViacomCBS.
Yet she is emblematic of the domino effect the White House’s coronavirus outbreak has had on a closely-watched portion of the national press. White House correspondents are frequently spotted on camera lobbing questions at the president and various officials, and are often better known than many of their counterparts on other beats. Indeed, Reid gained notice in recent months for some of the questions she has asked President Trump and members his coronavirus task force, prompting the president to say of her, “It wasn’t Donna Reed, I can tell you that.”
The outbreak among White House officials has spurred concerns at several major TV outlets. At Fox News Channel, top on-air figures like Bret Baier, Sean Hannity and Martha MacCallum were exposed to Chris Wallace, the moderator of the first presidential debate. Wallace later tested negative. ABC News has had to grapple with anchors and other personnel being close to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who helped coach Trump’s team for the first debate and then appeared as an analyst during ABC’s debate broadcast. NBC News and MSNBC have also worked to provide wellness for personnel.
Four journalists assigned to the White House have tested positive for coronavirus, according to a memo sent earlier this week by the White House Correspondents Association. “The events of the past week have understandably raised concerns and sparked frustrations about working conditions at the White House. We share them,” the WHCA board said in a memo sent on October 7, adding: “The WHCA has repeatedly pressed the White House at all levels to take steps to improve the safety conditions for journalists working there — and specifically to avoid knowingly putting in unnecessary jeopardy those serving in the pool who must be present as the eyes and ears of the American public. At a bare minimum, that should entail following the administration’s own guidelines on protecting people from the spread of the virus.”
The organization has urged its members present at the White House on or after September 26 to get tested for coronavirus before returning to work there. The group has also encouraged its members “to continue avoiding working from the White House grounds entirely if possible.”
For eight pandemic-tinged months, Reid managed to keep going to work, even as many in the news business started to hold forth from home. She recently had to do her first remote appearance, even contributing from home to CBS News’ coverage of the vice-presidential debate, anchored by Norah O’Donnell with Gayle King and John Dickerson.
“There is a significant risk to reporting from the White House,” Reid explains. “There has been a very lax attitude by the West Wing with this virus. They don’t socially distance. They don’t wear masks, and you come in close contact with these people. We are doing all we can to protect ourselves.”
She doesn’t take the issue personally, she says. Her job requires her to “get as close to the story as I can,” a “commitment” she and her husband made when the pandemic first broke. She has chosen to not take select assignments based on her concern for personal safety, deciding at one point to forego an opportunity to fly aboard Air Force One and at another to not attend a Trump campaign rally. “It’s not personal,” she says. “It’s part of the job. I understand they have these policies” regarding coronavirus, and “all I can do is try to protect myself.”
Working from home isn’t too much of a hardship. One of Reid’s first full-time journalism roles with CBS News was as a digital reporter, a job that required her to work as a sort of “one-man band,” she says. “I can still assemble a tripod and stand up lights,” she says. A lot of the things she learned in her previous role, she adds, “came in handy.”
Every journalist walks a unique path in the business, and Reid arrived at CBS News from a non-traditional background. She graduated from Villanova University with a law degree last decade and then began clerking for judges. But she soon got an itch to be a reporter. “I really wanted to be Jeffrey Toobin,” she explains, making a reference to the author and CNN and New Yorker legal analyst.
If all goes well, Reid intends to be back at her post next Thursday. “We are taking precautions, and it’s part of the story.”