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From campus to campaign trail: Alumni work together as CBS campaign reporters

File Photo by Skylar Epstein | Staff Photographer
Four alumni are working at CBS covering the 2020 election.

Alumnus and CBS campaign reporter Bo Erickson and three of his GW peers are going from the classroom to the campaign trail to cover the presidential election.

Erickson, who graduated in 2017, said he has covered Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as an embed since his campaign launch in April 2019. He said three other GW alumni work alongside him, covering various political figures for CBS they only dreamed of reporting on as a student.

“When I was at GW, I was looking toward the 2020 election,” Erickson said. “And I was hoping that if I time it right, maybe it would work out.”

In April 2019, before campaign coverage began, the four alumni gathered for a monthlong technical and editorial training with the rest of their political unit in charge of covering the presidential campaign trail. All four said the training set the foundation for their team-based coverage and helped them form lasting friendships post graduation.

“It was kind of like summer camp in terms of you’re with each other all the time, every day,” said Eleanor Watson, the associate producer of the team’s political unit who graduated from GW in 2017. “That has really bonded us for the last year and a half, just that experience.”

In addition to working together, Watson and Erickson are roommates. Watson said they share an apartment in D.C., adding that living together helped her stay her on top of her work.

“Luckily we do different things,” she said. “He’s a campaign reporter, and I’m associate producer. So it’s nice in that way. There’s an accountability. I wake up and if I have something to talk about or that I need to do, he’s a good focusing instrument for me.”

Watson started as an intern with the CBS investigative unit during the summer before her senior year. After graduating, she came on to work with CBS full time as assistant to the CBS bureau chief. From there, she took the position of associate producer for the campaign reporter team, a position which she said is “a bit of a catch-all.”

“It’s really just a service to our correspondents, who during this stretch, have a piece every night,” she said.

Watson said she works to ensure embeds are in touch with “interesting” sources, checks facts for the team’s stories and helping write-up drafts when needed. On election night, Watson will be on the Decision Desk at the CBS New York City headquarters with the pollsters and “math whizzes” calling races while she follows developing stories and feeds information to the embeds on her team.

“I do want to stress that it is such a team thing,” she said. “I think we all are in different places on a daily basis, but we’re so connected as a team. And that has been just a huge reward for me.”

Musadiq Bidar, a CBS embed covering Vice President Pence who graduated in 2015, said the ongoing pandemic has shaken up the campaign trail, disrupting travel plans to cover the Iowa caucus and travel to Mexico after Super Tuesday.

“Before you know it, we had mini little operations set up in our bedrooms,” Bidar said.

During his senior year, Bidar joined CBS as an intern for 60 minutes. He said he owes it to Frank Sesno, who was a professor at the time, for getting him in contact with producers of the show. After graduating, Bidar said he landed a full-time position as a news associate and was promoted to associate producer nine months later.

“I told myself, ‘Whatever I do over the next three, four years, I have to make sure that I put myself in a position where I can be a campaign reporter,’” Bidar said.

Bidar recalled a time when the four embeds were in Iowa for a “cattle call” event hosted by the Iowa Democratic Party, and the group headed back to Bidar’s apartment for a late-night meal. He said the experience helped them bond as GW graduates-turned-reporters.

“We came home at like one in the morning, all tired, all delirious, but we had this amazing family dinner that our colleagues made for each other,” Bidar said. “That was one of my favorite memories from the campaign trail. It just exemplified how we, even in crazy times, can come together and each enjoy each other’s company.”

Cara Korte, a CBS campaign reporter who also graduated from GW in 2015, said she was originally assigned to cover Texas and Colorado after embedding with Senator Bernie Sander’s campaign. But when she found herself quarantining in Florida with her parents, her position was adjusted to cover election integrity and voting.

“You have to remember back in April and May, there was no end in sight,” she said. “None of us knew if we would ever go on an airplane again.”

Before covering the election, Korte said she worked as John Dickerson’s executive and editorial assistant at Face the Nation, and as Dickerson’s associate producer at CBS This Morning. Like her fellow alumni, Korte started at CBS as an intern during her senior year for the CBS Evening News.

Korte added that the community between the embeds is invaluable, and she can lean on her GW colleagues for support while traveling or reporting.

“It’s a great resource to be able to have other reporters at your disposal when you’re traveling and covering an election,” she said.

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