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'Daily Beast' Editor-In-Chief Says Unusual Reporter Pairing Is Behind Latest Success


Bert and Ernie. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. We're going to add now to that list of opposites the team at The Daily Beast covering the Trump White House. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports that the unlikely duo has been helping the site break stories.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: John Avlon is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast. The site reaches a younger audience with a taste for pop culture and politics.

JOHN AVLON: We want our reporters to have voices and profiles that people care about and follow. It's not about the anonymous byline anymore. It's, you know, a brand. A news brand is as strong as the folks you have on the team you put on the field.

FOLKENFLIK: To cover the Trump presidency, Avlon fixed on two millennials who hold clashing political beliefs.

AVLON: The pairing of these two is not accidental. I love that we've got two great aggressive, hungry, voicey (ph) young reporters covering the White House who come from different places.

FOLKENFLIK: First, meet Asawin Suebsaeng.

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG: We affectionately call it the Trump White House omnishambles beat.

FOLKENFLIK: Omnishambles is a term lifted from a British satire of politics. In this country we might say dumpster fire - strong words. But then Suebsaeng came from Mother Jones, a crusading left-of-center magazine. He joined The Daily Beast a few years back after writing a piece on drone strikes and Marvel Comics that caught Avlon's eye.

SUEBSAENG: The Daily Beast - like, we are a tabloid. And the president is - has always been...

FOLKENFLIK: He's a tabloid president.

SUEBSAENG: He's a tabloid president.

FOLKENFLIK: Avlon paired Suebsaeng on the White House beat with Lachlan Markay. Markay started as a reporter for the right-wing Heritage Foundation's news site. More recently, he had been reporting for the right-of-center Washington Free Beacon. Markay broke hard-hitting stories on the Clinton Family Foundation and on Hillary Clinton's campaign. And he became a paid analyst on Fox News. Yet Markay was ready to move on.

LACHLAN MARKAY: It can be tough to cover the phenomenon of the Trump administration when you're trying to sort of hew to a conservative perspective on the news. And I've found that ideology for me was becoming less of a motivating factor in my coverage and more of sort of an impediment to the stories that I wanted to write.

FOLKENFLIK: Together, the two reporters have covered a ton of ground. The pair revealed that Trump had decided not to believe numerous accusations that Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore had preyed upon teenaged girls while a prosecutor in his 30s. They dished on the details of former administration aide and former "Apprentice" reality star Omarosa Manigault Newman's theatrical departure from the Trump White House. Again, Lachlan Markay.

MARKAY: Obviously we come at the day's political events from different personal political perspectives. And we happen to be sourced up in different parts of Trump world.

FOLKENFLIK: They have chronicled the fissures inside the administration and, in so doing, shed light on the politics and the policies affecting the country.

MARKAY: And it's why we're, like, co-bylining stories so often, is because some tip will come up or some story idea and we're barely stepping on each other's toes at all.

FOLKENFLIK: It's easy to understand why conservatives in the White House would talk to Markay, who made his name at major conservative touchstones. But why would they talk to Suebsaeng?

SUEBSAENG: The crazier and more chaotic any particular White House or administration is, the more people, even if they know I'm a leftist who obviously is not supportive of Donald Trump, will want to vent. And that is incredibly true with the Trump era.

FOLKENFLIK: Major media organizations have tried to remind the public why they matter. The Washington Post's new motto is democracy dies in darkness. CNN created a commercial campaign around its commitment to facts. The New York Times ads cite the importance of truth. All three say they're trying to present reporting that's right down the middle. The Daily Beast's John Avlon defines his charge a bit differently.

AVLON: We're nonpartisan, but not neutral. And so bringing these two perspectives together, I think, helps us stand out from the pack.

FOLKENFLIK: Most recently, the two reporters wrote about the loyalty Republican senators are now showing Trump. They were joined by a third reporter, Sam Stein, previously a leading writer at the liberal Huffington Post. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAWN LEE SONG, "PLAYBOY BUNNY") 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.