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Andrew Beatty's been shot at, covered earthquakes and civil wars and even travelled the world with the US President... and that's not fake news

Northern Ireland-born journalist Andrew Beatty explains to Adrian Rutherford what it's like up close and personal with Donald Trump and why he's glad to have left the White House beat

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania
Barack Obama
Andrew Beatty as part of the Press team on Air Force One

Andrew Beatty describes himself as a recovering White House correspondent. He has just finished a four-year posting in Washington, working at the heart of America's divided political system, reporting on the chaos of the Donald Trump administration.

For the last 20 months he has documented daily life in what the president's own staff have reportedly called 'Crazytown'.

It is a long way - in every sense - from his childhood in rural Northern Ireland. He once thought he might be a chef.

"I fell into journalism by accident," he explains. "I had always been interested in the news, but not necessarily as a career."

He was getting ready to study in Brussels when an internship opened the door to a career which would eventually lead to the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.

His work has included postings to Libya, Panama, South Africa and assignments in Haiti, Lesotho and Indonesia.

He has been shot at - more than once, though he says it was never personal - and travelled the world with two US presidents.

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More recently he has had rare access to the chaos and controversy of the Trump White House. Now, after almost four years as AFP's man in Washington, Mr Beatty has taken up a new role in Australia.

"It was addictive for sure - you are running around with the President of the United States - but for me it was time to shift gears a bit," he says, explaining his move.

From Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone, Mr Beatty (38) graduated from Queen's University with a degree in philosophy and anthropology.

It was at Queen's that he met his wife Lara, who is from Spain. They have two children - Eva (six) and Amelia, who has just turned three.

He moved to Belgium with the intention of doing a master's degree, but before the course started he took up an internship with a news website in Brussels. After being offered a job, he scrapped plans to continue studying.

Later, Mr Beatty worked for the European Voice, a weekly paper owned by the publishers of the Economist, then the Reuters news agency.

In 2009 he joined AFP, the world's third largest news agency, which employs 2,500 people around the globe and has bureaux in 150 countries.

His first posting in Washington led him to cover the Federal Reserve - the US banking system - and treasury during the financial crash.

Later he worked in Haiti, in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake, and Libya during the 2011 civil war.

In Johannesburg he covered the death of Nelson Mandela, then returned to Washington at the start of 2015 as AFP's White House correspondent.

Mr Beatty explains: "We traditionally have four-year postings - it was modelled on the diplomatic service originally, so you go somewhere for four or five years and then you move on to the next post, which is great if you want to move about."

It is a fast-paced job, which has brought more than the odd scary moment.

He describes being shot at while in Libya covering the final days of the Gaddafi regime. It happened as he travelled close to Tawergha, a town to the east of Misrata.

"Someone fired at us as we were driving at about 100mph with what we think was a Zu-23 - a Russian anti-aircraft gun, a pretty high calibre thing," he recalls. "Obviously in Misrata we were shelled all the time. I knew it wasn't personal.

"In Panama I had someone threaten me with a sawn-off shotgun at a demonstration for a local construction workers' union - those demonstrations against the government got really tetchy at times.

"Then I was in a car that was shot at in Haiti because they were looting a supermarket after the earthquake. The owner was letting these guys fire to disperse the crowd and I happened to be talking to some people at the time."

In Washington, Mr Beatty was part of a pool of reporters who travelled home and abroad with presidents Obama (above) and Trump.

His work included trips to Peru, Japan, China, Laos, Ethiopia and across Europe.

In June he was in Singapore for the historic meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

He has also accompanied vice-president Mike Pence to places such as Afghanistan, South Korea and Indonesia.

One visit, with Obama to a mosque in Baltimore in February 2016, was particularly memorable.

Mr Beatty recalls: "I took my shoes off to go into the mosque, but I must have set them somewhere the Secret Service didn't like.

"I came out and couldn't find them, the motorcade was leaving - it doesn't wait for anyone but the president - so I had to run out in the snow in my socks, and walk into the White House without shoes, my feet dripping wet."

Mr Beatty's time in Washington included the final two years of the Obama administration and the chaos of Trump's early days.

"With Trump, the job changed dramatically," he says.

"It's more like firefighting, responding to the latest crisis and covering the latest controversy that emanates from his White House."

The recent BBC series Reporting Trump, which followed a group of New York Times journalists, gave a glimpse into the job.

Mr Beatty's working day would be between 16 and 18 hours long, sometimes more.

"A typical day would mean going into the White House after dropping my kid off to school," he adds. "You walk through the gate and you have no idea what that day will bring.

"It could be air strikes in Syria or the result of a school shooting in the US or a local issue that the president has to address.

"You work 16-18 hours a day under any president, but under Trump it was more, because it was like trying to drink from a fire hose.

"The news was absolutely non-stop. Almost everything was breaking news, and almost everything was interesting for the world."

There was no typical shift. For a president who prefers plain speaking to the language of diplomacy, a single tweet could set that day's agenda.

Mr Beatty adds: "He's spectacularly good at dictating the news agenda.

"With his tweets in the morning he completely decides how a whole bunch of journalists have spent their day, including me, for the last two years."

Trump, he says, is completely different to any president the US media has seen before.

But how?

"He's different in the sense that he has very few fixed positions on anything," Mr Beatty says.

"The only constant in his presidency so far is his appeal to his base of voters.

"If something looks like it's not going to please them, then he's willing to completely shift position.

"You saw that in the aftermath of the shooting at the school in Florida (17 people died when a lone gunman opened fire at a high school in Parkland in February).

"His gut instinct was there should be more gun control, but he saw that this was deeply, deeply unpopular with his donors and his base voters, and he just U-turned completely and proposed this far-fetched idea that teachers should be armed instead."

Reporting the White House hasn't always been easy.

The conduct of former Press secretary Sean Spicer generated comparisons to authoritarian regimes. At the time, Mr Beatty remarked on Twitter: "Honestly, covering Mugabe was more straightforward than this."

The president has regularly taken to Twitter to rage against what he terms the fake news media.

Yet as part of the White House Press pool, Mr Beatty had regular briefings with Trump, and always found him courteous.

So, what's he really like?

"There's an element there of him playing to the cameras and playing to his base with the criticism," he adds.

"In all of the encounters I've had with him face-to-face, which over the last two years is certainly dozens, he has always been completely polite. Even when it's off the record, he's incredibly polite and wants to know that everyone is comfortable.

"When he gets out in front of a rally he knows that it plays well to trash the media.

"Whether it's calculated or instinctive, he understands that he wants to undermine anybody who can challenge his authority.

"You can see that not just with the media, you see it with courts, in his business career with creditors. It's not new, I don't know if it's instinctive or calculated, but it's what he does."

Mr Beatty was writing the main AFP news piece on election night in November 2016 when Trump was elected president.

He admits to sharing the surprise that voters had put Trump in the White House.

"I didn't have the story about Trump winning as well prepared as I did the one about Hillary Clinton," he adds.

"You could run that election 10 times over and Hillary would win nine times."

He explains the election of Trump as a mass protest vote from a deeply divided nation, adding: "In US politics it is quite normal at the midterm elections - the Congressional elections - for voters to give the ruling party a bit of a kicking.

"I don't think we expected people to essentially cast a protest vote for president and put Trump in there.

"If you talk to Trump voters, there are some who will tell you they didn't expect him to win."

A series of books have claimed to give an insight into a chaotic White House.

Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury recounts tales by aides of a president with a short attention span, bouncing from issue to issue.

More recently, a book by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward described an administration having a "nervous breakdown of executive power".

It quoted White House chief of staff John Kelly as branding the Trump White House 'Crazytown'.

Trump dismissed both books, but Mr Beatty insists: "It's 100% accurate.

"I was in the building every day and you could see that effectively the administration doesn't exist.

"There is a bunch of people running around who work for Trump who are responding to his tweets and responding to what he says.

"In the same way as everybody outside, they don't know what's coming, they don't know how to implement some of the things he's asking for."

Now, after almost four years in post, Mr Beatty has moved to Sydney to take up a new role with AFP.

He is news editor for the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands region, although for the last week or so he has been in Indonesia, reporting on the deadly earthquake and tsunami which has left more than 800 dead.

"It was time to move on - I have two small kids, so after four years of very, very long days and lots of travel inside the United States and abroad, it was time to see them a bit more, and my wife," he adds.

His Twitter biography describes him as a recovering White House correspondent.

Living in Australia brings a very different pace of life, with a different but busy news agenda.

"We have a lot of sports stories, wildlife stories and stuff like that," he adds.

"But our patch also includes Papua New Guinea, where there are lots of earthquakes, and the Pacific Islands, which are really affected by climate change, so there is no dearth of stories."

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