Washington did not change her: White House Correspondent Trude B. Feldman, 97

Special to WorldTribune, February 2, 2022

Editor’s Note: No journalist or public official who encountered Trude Feldman can forget her. Reflections on her work with WorldTribune.com appear below the following eulogy.

By Bill Jones

At the age of 97, writer and journalist Trude Feldman passed away last week. And what a life it was! Chosen as the daughter of a prominent California rabbi by producer Otto Preminger to travel with his company to Israel for the production of The Exodus, Trude spent her days on the ship there teaching Paul Newman, the star of the movie, some Hebrew. She was also an “extra” in the movie. Paul was not the only “star” who counted Trude as a friend. Both the actor Eli Wallach and opera singer Roberta Peters had a great respect for this five-foot tall Jewish reporter. And there were no doubt many more of which I am unaware.

Trude B. Feldman interviewing President Ronald Reagan. / WorldTribune.com

Trude’s first “gig” was covering the Eichmann trial when she arrived in Israel. What a news item to cut one’s teeth on! She attended the 122 sessions of the trial. Later she became a major fixture in the White House press room, where she often befriended neophyte reporters like myself who were just starting on the White House “beat.” She was also friends with many presidents.

Ronald Reagan, whom she had known from Hollywood, her childhood home, would often talk to Trude on the phone, a fact that was not known by the world until the publication of Reagan’s Diaries, where he mentions his talks with Trude on several occasions.  And Trude was also well aware of the intense competition in the White House press pool. She was not interested in having anyone know of her private rapport with many of the individuals she was covering. For this reason, she had also made clear to President Reagan that he had to call her on a private phone and not through the White House receptionist. On one occasion, he did call through the receptionist, but Trude demanded that he hang up and call again on a private line – which the President proceeded to do.

Trude had also been a few feet away when Reagan was shot by John Hinckley in 1981. And when the space shuttle Challenger went down in 1986, Reagan canceled the State of the Union which was scheduled that evening, but kept his scheduled interview with Trude that same day, where he expressed his feelings at this awful tragedy.

Related: Ronald Reagan and the day the Challenger exploded: A Presidents’ Day memoir, February 17, 2003

Trude also had the necessary chutzpah to get her way when she ran into obstacles in her attempt to write a story. While she has not been at the White House for several years now, I think that there is probably still a clear collective memory in the Secret Service of how she always tried to “push the envelope” in gaining access to the “powers that be.” She was also insistent on how things should be done. When she had an opportunity to interview then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, she insisted that it be a one-on-one interview. She was escorted into Weinberger’s office by a young Brigadier General, who then proceeded to sit down and take up his own pad and paper. But Trude would have none of it, of course. Weinberger explained that the brigadier was there only to keep his own record of the interview. But this would not do. So Brigadier General Colin Powell had to take his notebook and leave. It didn’t leave any bad feelings between them, however, as Trude would have access to him later as Secretary of State. Her interview on Powell’s 65th birthday was read into the Congressional Record by Senator Richard Lugar.

Trude has interviewed every president from Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton and every Secretary of State from Dean Rusk to Colin Powell.

Trude B. Feldman interviewing Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat.

There was, however, push-back from many of her colleagues who were not at all happy with Trude’s chutzpah nor with her “access” to leading political figures. When Bill Clinton gave his first interview in the initial post-Monica hubbub, it was to Trude Feldman. Other reporters were in a “tizzy” over this as the interview, as with most of Trude’s interviews, she showed her subject in the best light. Many were concerned that she didn’t go after him for the scandal. But this just wasn’t Trude’s style.

During the course of her career, she was always focused on Israel and on peace in the Middle East. She has interviewed most of the Israeli prime ministers, including David Ben-Gurion. In 1981, after the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, she interviewed Anwar Sadat. And whenever Palestinian officials came to Washington for any public events, you would usually find Trude present. She probably made her own contribution to the peace process when,  at an early stage in the process, she danced with young Prince Hussein from Jordan, an event that caused some notoriety when it was reported by Newsweek magazine; Prince Hussein’s  dance with a young Jewish correspondent perhaps portended well for future relations between Israel and Jordan.

Related: 35 years later, who will be the next Anwar Sadat?, November 28, 2007

She was persistent and she was hard-working, and she didn’t suffer fools gladly. But above all, she was a real mensch. Never interested in making a fortune or working her way up the ladder to the heights of the world of journalism, she was a White House reporter first and foremost. And while she was persistent in getting what she needed from you, she was also willing to bend over backwards to help a friend, so it was never taken as an intrusion when she asked for help in whatever capacity.

The White House “beat” was not just a job for her, nor, as often today, simply a stepping stone to a higher perch in the heady world of journalism, but a real vocation, her contribution to creating a better world. She operated on a higher plane that most journalists. While I had little contact with her in her final years in a residence home in Washington due to Covid restrictions, I will always consider her a dear friend, and feel my life was much richer for having known, and worked with her, for almost two decades.

One editor friend once referred to journalists as “misfits.” Trude Feldman did not always fit in with the White House press corps and could make life hell for anyone who tried to get between her and the person she wanted to interview (often the sitting president of the United States). For those reasons and the fact that she provided an exclusive professional product, I was happy to work with Trude. As a colleague and friend for more than 30 years, I knew her to be extremely frugal, not a political partisan and beholden to no one. But she was also a genuine human being in Washington, DC. Trude was WorldTribune‘s White House correspondent until the end of her career. How did this petite Jewish reporter manage to cast her spell on some of the most powerful leaders in the world? Quite simply she played by her own rules that I concluded were rooted in her Faith, and the subjects of her interviews came to know that she was often more sincerely concerned about them than paid staffers in their employ. Unlike many in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC did not change this hardworking reporter in the least. That quality made her special indeed. Go well, Trude B. Feldman.

— Robert Morton