From debate volunteer to debate insider

Arden Farhi, AB ’07, a producer for CBS News who works at the White House and on presidential campaign trails, got his start in TV at Washington University during the 2004 presidential debate.

By the time Arden Farhi, AB ’07, returned to Washington University for the second 2016 presidential debate, he’d already been following then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the campaign trail for 14 months. As a field producer for CBS News, he’s gotten used to only a few hours of sleep per night.

Things have changed a lot in the 12 years since his first time working on a presidential debate.

In 2004, when Farhi was a sophomore at Washington University, he got an email asking for students to volunteer at the Bush-Kerry debate. He responded and was assigned to be a runner for CBS News, getting office supplies, coffee and donuts — and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see behind the camera of a broadcast in full gear.

Once-in-a-lifetime, if he hadn’t been inspired to turn the experience into a career.

“I was kind of smitten by the whole thing,” Farhi says. “There’s something about TV news that requires a sort of all-out effort and devotion … and it was cool to see how much work goes into putting something like this together.”

After finishing the week, he reached out to his coordinator to ask for a letter of recommendation for a summer internship at CBS. He agreed, and Farhi interned with the network for the next two summers. He and his friends started a sports program on WUTV, “Around the WU,” which he co-produced. He also continued playing as an infielder on the varsity baseball team and majored in political science. And just weeks after graduating, he joined CBS News as a production aide.

Over the next nine years, he rose from production aide to digital journalist to White House producer and then switched to covering the Republican side of the 2016 presidential race. Now he lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Michelle, an Indiana University Bloomington alumna who he started dating during his senior year of college.

Not that he’s home often.

His typical day starts around 5 a.m., setting things up for Major Garrett, CBS News’ chief White House correspondent whose segments Farhi’s produced for more than two years. They’ll meet up with local crews and cover the day’s news before getting on a plane, flying to the next city and going to sleep around 1 a.m.

Garrett, who has covered every debate at WashU since 2004 (with Fox News before CBS), says Farhi has been an exceptionally reliable colleague.

“We are essentially constant companions, professionally, every single day,” Garrett says. “And if you don’t have someone you can trust and whose journalistic instincts are impeccable, you can’t get your work done. My level of trust in, and my level of reliance on, Arden could not be higher.

“We’re on the road 20 hours a day every single day,” Garrett says. “No one spends that much time together and likes it, except us.”

When the campaign trail led back to WashU, Farhi says he appreciated the familiarity of his alma mater.

“There was quite a bit of nostalgia,” he says, though most of his time back in St. Louis was spent working. But as a former WashU student, he knew his way around campus, the best places to find a quiet spot (the study rooms on the 2nd floor of Olin Library) and where to grab some wings (McLain’s Corner Bar on Big Bend, an old hangout).

After the new president is inaugurated, Fahri plans to take a nap, a vacation, and then return with Major Garrett to covering the White House.

“The foreign trips are a lot of fun; we’ve been all over the world with President Obama,” Farhi says. “The day to day of the White House can be kind of a grind, but then there are moments where you say, ‘I am witnessing history — and from a front row seat.’”

Michael Tabb, AB ’14, is a video journalist and animator based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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