CMC alumna talks partisanship, journalism, and Trump era at Athenaeum

Last week at the Athenaeum, CMC alumna Tina Nguyen spoke about journalism, partisanship, and reporting in the Trump era. (Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair)

When Tina Nguyen CM ’11 applied for her job at Vanity Fair, she did not network or flood Human Resources with messages. She was not even responding to a job posting. Instead, she drafted a cold email, erased half her resume, and pressed “send.”

Nguyen, who served as news editor for the Claremont Independent and a fellow at the Henry Salvatori Center for the Study of Individual Freedom in the Modern World, admitted that landing a job at Vanity Fair just a few years out of college was equally unexpected as it was out of character.

She recounted her story to a full house at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum Sept. 27.

“It is stunning to me and virtually everyone I’ve ever talked to that I ended up at Vanity Fair — of all places,” she said. Before assuming her current position at VF, Nguyen tried her hand at a number of conservative media outlets, making something of a name for herself among the right-wing circles.

“When I was in college, I actually smoked cigars with Andrew Breitbart once,” Nguyen said.

The crowd erupted in laughter.

After graduation, Nguyen worked for the Daily Caller, The Franklin Center, Mediaite, The Braiser, and one she describes as a “defunct paper based out of Colorado that asked [me] to write hit pieces on Democratic candidates.”

She quit after a week.

That being said, Nguyen admitted she does not generally agree with right-wing media organizations.

“I can’t take much of an opinion anymore,” Nguyen said. “The best way to describe it is that my impulse to describe [Trump’s America] overrides any sort of feeling I have to agree with [the right wing], or disagree.”

However, Nguyen said her time spent reporting for right-wing media organizations situated her to be more apt to write coverage of the Trump administration that she believes distinguishes herself in a unique way.

“I was able to describe [Trump’s America] in a way that a lot of my peers, who came up through mainstream publications, just can’t,” Nguyen said.

As Trump’s candidacy and, ultimately, presidency, leapt onto the forefront of the 24-hour news cycle, Nguyen used the background she had from right-wing publications to inform both her editors and her readers through her reporting at VF.

“I became [Vanity Fair’s] conservative whisperer,” she said. “I am something of a safari guide to the right.”   

In reference to her transition between the right-wing media world and a mainstream publication, Nguyen said she was not upfront about her previous journalism experience during the hiring process at VF. However, with time, her editors learned of her experience and grew to see her background as an invaluable asset to covering the Trump administration.

“I was lucky that when [Vanity Fair editors] found out, they saw it as an asset and not as a reflection of who I was,” Nguyen said.

With the element of partisanship weighing so heavily on journalism in the Trump era, many students peppered Nyugen with questions about how to navigate today’s political climate.

Josiah Tarrant CM ’22, who has a background in student journalism, attended the talk and hoped to learn from an expert in the field. However, Tarrant said he wished Nyugen focused more on discussing the future of journalism.

“I saw Tina speak because journalism has gotten a lot of backlash in the current political environment, and I wanted to hear a current journalist’s take on it,” Tarrant said.

Tova Cohen SC ’20, who attended the talk for her Post Holocaust Response Theory class, similarly hoped for a call to action from Nguyen’s presentation.

“I really think that the young people in this country are the ones who are going to make lasting change, but we need guidance from somebody who has some experience in the political arena,” Cohen said. “I would have loved to have heard just how we can start making these changes.”

In response to student commentary and requests for advice after she finished her presentation, Nguyen said she could not speak for the political journalism climate that current students may enter upon graduation.

“I was not about to enter a giant hell arena when I was your age,” Nguyen said.

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