The implications of President Donald Trump’s infection with COVID-19 were immediately global news – but also an extremely local story. For the household staff of the White House and the Secret Service agents who protect the president, their workplace was suddenly a coronavirus hot zone, with not one but two COVID-19 patients.
The story of the workers’ fears and anger at the cavalier attitude of the president and his staff toward the virus was challenging to report, because the workers and agents knew their jobs would be in jeopardy if they were to talk openly about their concerns.
Enter White House reporters Jill Colvin and Deb Riechmann and law enforcement team leader Colleen Long, who previously covered the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Secret Service.
They leveraged longstanding relationships with a broad range of people who work in the White House and at the Secret Service to piece together a compelling story about the concern and antagonism pulsing through the building. Additional Washington reporters contributed detail to fill out the story.
While competitors took smaller bites of the apple, the AP story wove together rich details about the workers’ worries and the lack of guidance from White House officials, as well as historical context stretching back to the flu pandemic of 1918, when two sheep that grazed on the White House lawn were hospitalized.
The morning after the story ran, former first lady Michelle Obama posted a tweet that seemed tailored to the AP story, writing “My heart goes out to everyone touched by this virus, from those at the White House, especially the Secret Service and residence staff whose service ought never be taken for granted, to all those names and stories most of us will unfortunately never know.”
Days later the story still had sky-high reader engagement.