NPR Political Correspondent, Don Gonyea, was anchoring at WDET in Detroit when NPR called him to Washington, D.C. to cover the White House.
That was 20 years ago. In that time, Gonyea has covered the five presidential elections and traveled the world on Air Force Once as a witness to history with former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and President Donald Trump.
“I hadn’t even started my job yet, and I’m covering what felt like the biggest story any of us was going to cover in our entire lives.” - Don Gonyea, NPR
“It doesn’t matter how many times you fly on [Air Force One], it never gets old walking across a tarmac to that airplane,” he says of the experience.
He was a teacher and a music lover, but surprisingly, it was an interview he did with folk singer, John Prine, that launched his radio career as an anchor and reporter in Detroit. While working at WDET, he established a relationship with NPR and eventually left WDET to work for Michigan Public Radio. NPR had approached Don a number of times about working for them and Don always declined until they asked him to cover the White House. He said “yes”. His first job would be to cover the 2000 Presidential Election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, an election that would be subjected to a 36-day recount of the votes in Florida.
“I hadn’t even started my job yet, and I’m covering what was not just the biggest story of the year, but what felt like then the biggest story any of us was going to cover in our entire lives,” recalls Gonyea
Gonyea spoke to WDET’s Ann Delisi about stories from the trail, including the 2000 recount, Obama’s historic election, and his experience covering Trump rallies, in a two-part episode for the “Essential Conversations” podcast.
In Ep. 15, Gonyea discusses his beginnings as a political reporter, and life in the press pool.
In Ep. 16, he talks about his experiences with the different presidents and the phone call he made to his wife the morning of September 11th, 2001.
Subscribe to Ann Delisi’s Essential Conversations podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or where ever podcasts are found.
On working as a reporter in Detroit to working in the White House with the press corps, (Ep. 15, 15:55):
“When I was in Detroit covering labor unions for NPR and other stories, I was almost always the only national reporter there. Suddenly, I’m at the White House and there’s 100 reporters all in the same area and all of us are trying to get access to the same 12 people and we’re all covering the same guy.”
On Obama during the 2008 presidential election, (Ep. 16, 7:38):
“The Iowa caucuses roll around, and he won. This is an African-American candidate in one of the whitest, least diverse states in the country and when I watched him give his speech at the convention center in Des Moines that night, it was the first time the thought even occurred to me that he could be the next President of the United States.”
On the September 11th attacks in Washington D.C. and New York City, (Ep. 16, 25:16)
“It was an attack on the nation’s Capitol and on the United States of America, on the Pentagon, on our military, and we didn’t know how many planes were in the air and there was every assumption that the White House was a potential target.”