Assigned to Cover Trump Event in NH, National Public Radio Reporter Goes to RI Instead

Looks like it might be time for Harvard to mandate remedial geography instruction for its students.

Following a grueling week of campaign coverage in Iowa, along with taking part in a friend's wedding, National Public Radio reporter Sam Sanders was told by his editors to take a day off -- and then get back to work by covering a Donald Trump rally in New Hampshire. 

It did not go quite according to plan, as described by Sanders in a Feb. 5 podcast with three other NPR reporters. What resulted, however, is a campaign anecdote likely to be retold for generations among National Public Radio staffers -- 

NPR REPORTER #1: Sam, there is one more thing though that the rest of us can't let go.

SANDERS (wearily): What is that, Tamara?

NPR REPORTER #1: Sam, do you want to do the honors? Can I set it up?!

SANDERS: Set it up and I'll read the tweets.

NPR REPORTER #1: I would say that this week one of my favorite 2016 campaign reporters ...

SANDERS: Oh well, thanks, Boo!

NPR REPORTER #1: ... had a rather hilarious if particularly, if you've ever had to try to get to something on time, it doesn't even have to be a campaign event, if you've ever tried to rush somewhere for work and something goes terribly awry, you might be able to relate to Sam Sanders this week.

SANDERS: Yes, so here's the setup. I will, uh, read you the tweets but basically, this Thursday, yesterday, after a week-plus traveling for work and for a friend's wedding, I was frazzled and ...

NPR REPORTER #2: Sleep deprived.

NPR REPORTER #1: Yeah, I mean, sleep deprived.

SANDERS: Yes, yes. So, here we go, tweet number one --  Twitter friends, gather 'round and let me tell you a rather funny story. I have been on the road for over a week now, get to Manchester on Bernie Sanders' jet, file a story from the airport, go on to follow Bernie for his first stops in New Hampshire post-Iowa, I'm tired but pushing through. Tweets continue, my editors are like, OK, Sam, take Wednesday off but cover Donald Trump in Exeter, N.H., on Thursday. I'm like cool, yes, day off ...

NPR REPORTER #1: New Hampshire, New Hampshire, where the primary's going to be. 

NPR REPORTER #2: New Hampshire's key, pay attention. 

SANDERS: Pay attention to that, yes. So on Wednesday I head from Manchester to Cambridge in Boston because I know those parts and, day off.

"Because I know those parts," but apparently not so well as he previously thought -- Sanders received a master's degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2009. But as he will soon demonstrate, you can lead a young man to grad school but you can't make him think --

SANDERS: I wake up Thursday morning feeling weird in Cambridge but I'm like, whatevs, it's cool, onto Exeter, gotta cover Trump. And here my friends is where it turns left. Two hours after leaving Boston, I end up in Exeter at Exeter town hall -- in Rhode Island.

NPR REPORTER #1 (repeats for emphasis): Exeter, Rhode Island.

NPR REPORTER #2: Not the right state!

SANDERS: So, I'm like driving up (more accurately, driving south) and I'm like ...

NPR REPORTER #3: To be fair, as someone who, you know, was living in New England, in Boston, and Sue, you could probably attest to this as well, you spent a lot of time up there. I mean, these towns are named the same name ...

NPR REPORTER #1: There's like 10 names of towns .... 

SANDERS: Like, I had this moment. So, one, I'm driving up and I'm like, huh, where are the camera crews? Where is the traffic? What's going on?

Why is the topography getting flatter and not hilly? Why are there so few New Hampshire license plates on other cars? Why is that huge sign on the side of the road welcoming me to Rhode Island ...? 

SANDERS: and then I'm parked and I'm like, let me look at Google (revisiting his apparent initial guide). And I open it up and it says Rhode Island and, like, my stomach dropped to my pinky toe (round of hearty laughter from the other reporters). And, like, I've never been so simultaneously afraid, humiliated, embarrassed ...

NPR REPORTER #1: Afraid of calling your editor.

SANDERS: Oh yeah! Because, like, this is it, I'm getting fired. When can I file for unemployment? This is the end.

NPR REPORTER #2: I just love too, you got in a car from Boston and drove south (more hearty laughter) for an hour and a half ...

SANDERS: And I kept seeing the signs that say south and I'm like, that's weird but I trust Google, Google's got my back.

NPR REPORTER #3: I didn't know New Hampshire moved!

SANDERS: So there was this moment when I realized I have to call my editor and say, sorry, I'm going to miss that event I'm supposed to cover 'cause I can't get there in time and I'm an idiot. So I call my editor and I'm like, first words out of my mouth and I will not say the bad word that I said. I said (inhales sharply), I f'ed up! And she's like, what? And I'm like, I'm in Rhode Island! And so she resets, she has a moment and she's like, it's OK, these things happen ...

Sure thing, once or twice every decade at the very least. Halfway through his accidental journey, did Sanders notice he was passing through the city known as Providence?

SANDERS: ... you're tired, it's fine ...

NPR REPORTER #1: Please clap (echoing Jeb Bush's plaintive request of an audience).

SANDERS: Please clap. (round of applause) Editor is Bay this week, thanks to her for being so kind about the dumbest mistake ever made on the campaign trail.

NPR REPORTER #2: Oh it's probably not actually the dumbest, but it is the awesomest!

Well, there's certainly something to be said for candor. And kudos to Sanders for publicly acknowledging this gaffe for the ages, if for no other reason than to get ahead of it before word inevitably spread beyond the porous confines of NPR.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts