White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s stock rose considerably yesterday during the daily coronavirus press briefing. At this, her second briefing since taking the job, the White House press corps, which was in typically hostile form, introduced her to the “hard-hitting question,” aka gotcha.
Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason, who is an occasional panelist on Fox News Channel’s “Special Report with Bret Baier,” reminded McEnany of a comment she made in Feb. 25, in which she said that thanks to Donald Trump’s leadership, “we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.” Mason asked her whether she would like to take the comment back, given what has happened since then.
Here was her reply:
I was asked a question on Fox Business about the president’s travel restrictions. I noted what was the intent behind those travel restrictions, which is, we will not see coronavirus come here. …
I guess I would turn the question back on the media, and ask similar questions. Does Vox want to take back that they proclaimed the coronavirus would not be a deadly pandemic? Does The Washington Post want to take back that they told Americans to get a grip, the flu is bigger than the coronavirus? Does The Washington Post likewise want to take back that our brains are causing us to exaggerate the threat of the coronavirus? Does The New York Times want to take back that fear of the virus may be spreading faster than the virus itself? Does NPR want to take back that the flu was a much bigger threat than the coronavirus? And finally, once again The Washington Post, would they like to take back that the government should not respond aggressively to the coronavirus?
The 32-year-old McEnany completed her dazzling performance with this zinger: “I’ll leave you with those questions. Maybe you’ll have some answers in a few days.” With that, she left the podium. As she exited the room, a member of the press, sounding like he had just been sold a lemon by a used car dealer, can be heard calling our haltingly, “You were— you were— you were prepared for that!” Well, yeah duh.
Here’s the entire exchange:
THIS IS GOLD:@PressSec is asked by a reporter about her previous comments on coronavirus and she flips the question on the media and references specific stories, asking if they'll be retracting them.
She then left the briefing as they screamed.
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) May 6, 2020
An article appearing at Deadline shortly after the news conference ended attempts to save face, arguing that the press has done the best job it could in the face of information from “sources you’d want reporters to turn to” that was often “wrong, or at least incomplete.” Those sources, according to Vox’ Peter Kafka, include “experts at institutions like the World Health Organization, the CDC, and academics with real domain knowledge.”
The problem with this rationalization is that everyone involved — the media, our political leaders — was provided with the same information from the same experts. But the coronavirus is unprecedented in the history of public health crises. Everyone erred to some degree.
The Deadline piece concludes by noting that “more than anything, [McEnany’s rebuttal] signals that she will come to the briefings armed with lines of attack on the media itself.” To which one who has watched the media circus might reply, “It’s high time someone did.” (RELATED: WH press corps achieves new heights of rudeness with its ‘gotchas’ at COVID-19 briefing)