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Political Reporters Wrestle With How To Depict What's Driving Voters


And let's get a different perspective now on the New Hampshire primary. Our colleague David Folkenflik covers the media. And for months now, media outlets, including NPR, have been reporting on voter anger, which is seen as fueling the fortunes of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. David caught up with some veteran political reporters who are wrestling over how to depict what’s making voters so mad.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The concept of anger has been present in campaign coverage since at least last summer, with echoes of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements. It’s a constant subject of conversation among reporters, including Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.

MAGGIE HABERMAN: I mean, I think that if you’re attending Trump rallies, you’re seeing some very angry people. I think that if you're attending some other rallies, you’re also seeing some angry people. But I would say there’s a pretty high concentration of it at Trump events, both because of who his supporters are and because his events are big.

FOLKENFLIK: I caught up with Haberman at a college hockey rink converted into a center for the media covering last Saturday's Republican debate.

HABERMAN: There is a strong undercurrent of antiestablishment sentiment. You can describe it as angry. You can describe it as sort of outsider energy. You can describe it as people - the dwindling middle class. But whatever you attribute it to, I do think it is a factor.

FOLKENFLIK: Molly Ball of The Atlantic was there too.

MOLLY BALL: This is something that we’ve seen and felt with our own eyes and ears. This isn't an impression we got from reading a poll, right?

FOLKENFLIK: The sentiment is real, Ball says.

BALL: You go to these Trump rallies, and you talk to people. And I've talked to dozens of people at these events and at Bernie Sanders rallies too. And you ask them, are you angry? Or is this just some kind of, you know, pundit stereotype. I don't want to be pontificating from an armchair. And they say, no, I’m P. O.-ed (ph). I’m really mad at this, this and this. And it's not a formless anger. There’s some specific targets for it.

FOLKENFLIK: Americans may well think the country is more angry than it really is. A poll from Monmouth University late last month showed that more than 60 percent of Americans believed most of the country was angry at Washington, D.C. In fact, it's more like a quarter, which is real but not a jump from recent levels. I met Daryl Drejza during a Sanders event at a College in Nashua. He’s a semi-retired limo driver.

DARYL DREJZA: I’m annoyed. It's sort of like we need to have the ‘60s all over again – you know, the social injustice and Vietnam War and all that sort of stuff.

FOLKENFLIK: Drejza points to people he says are cheating the system - Wall Street executives and people in the U.S. without legal status.

DREJZA: You’ve got to help people, but you can’t also get scammed by people that aren’t even supposed to be here. And I'm paying for it. I can't pay my freakin’ mortgage. I’m old. I should be retiring. I have to work a little bit, you know?

FOLKENFLIK: Drejza supports Sanders. But he has a backup.

DREJZA: If he doesn't get it, I might just want to blow up D.C. and vote for Trump – totally just vote for that fool Trump and just see if he could blow up D.C.

FOLKENFLIK: The reverse is true too. Some Trump supporters here told me they find Sanders appealing. Polls by The Washington Post and ABC News suggest Republicans are markedly more angry than Democrats, as well they might be after eight years of a Democratic White House. Hostility flared into the open at several Trump events, particularly against journalists and people of color. Although, that’s died down.

ROBERT COSTA: I’m encountering an aversion to political correctness at every one of these Republican events. The voters are saying things they never said four years ago or eight years ago in polite conversation or private conversation with reporters.

FOLKENFLIK: That’s Robert Costa of The Washington Post.

COSTA: They’re just unloading on what they see as sweeping changes in the culture, what they see as a government in Washington that doesn't work for them. And they’re just letting it go.

FOLKENFLIK: Costa says the Republican Party appears to be at war with itself.

COSTA: All of us reporters on the campaign trail, we’re dealing every day with a Republican base that’s hard to understand because they're not really moving on an ideological access. It’s a visceral one. And we’re dealing with emotions and feelings we’re encountering with voters. And how that plays out in a race, it’s very jumbled.

FOLKENFLIK: The reporters, Costa says, are trying their best to make sense of it all, much like the voters themselves. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Manchester, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.

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