Well, that didn’t go as planned.
Reuters reporter Jeff Mason, I suppose, has — as part of his job — the obligation to test any White House press secretary as a rule and any new press secretary as an especial rule. Whether or not this obligation was ever fully exercised under previous administrations, I don’t particularly know.
He’s been a White House correspondent since 2009 and served as vice president of the White House Correspondents Association from 2015 to 2017, but I don’t remember him asking pointed questions during his time in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at 1600 Pennsylvania until 2017 for reasons you can probably guess on your own.
Before then, I do remember him on occasion engaging in hard-hitting reporting like this:
President Obama at the Jolly Pumpkin in Detroit. pic.twitter.com/4BScyL4JdB
— Jeff Mason (@jeffmason1) January 20, 2016
During President Donald Trump’s administration, meanwhile, I best remember him for squawking like an injured parrot after being precluded from covering a dinner at the second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi after he engaged in speaking truth to power by … asking questions at an event at the summit the media were specifically discouraged from asking questions.
Obama wouldn’t have ejected him from the Jolly Pumpkin for the same thing, would he have? Trump’s America, folks. Read your Orwell.
Anyhow, Mason did his job on Wednesday by testing new White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany — who was previously the national spokeswoman for the Trump re-election campaign — on statements she made about the novel coronavirus in her earlier job. He probably wished he’d done a bit more homework on the matter first.
“In a previous life, before you were press secretary, you worked for the campaign,” Mason said. “And you made a comment, I believe on Fox, that President Trump would not allow the coronavirus to come to this country. Given what has happened since then, obviously, would you like to take that back?”
McEnany first clarified that the statement she made involved an appearance on Fox Business in which she was asked about the intent behind the travel restrictions with China and she “noted the intent behind the restrictions, which is that we will not see the coronavirus come here.”
This is a bit different from what Mason’s question implied. (The media-centric website Grabien has the video of McEnany’s Feb. 25 interview with then-Fox Business Network anchor Trish Regan.)
Here’s the crux of McEnany’s issue, though: Mason had apparently forgotten what his fellow scribes had also said on the matter.
“I guess I would turn the question back on the media and ask similar questions,” McEnany said.
“Does Vox want to take back that they proclaimed that the coronavirus would not be ‘a deadly pandemic’? Does The Washington Post want to take back that they told Americans to ‘get a grippe, 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’?” she continued.
“Does The New York Times want to take back that the ‘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’?
“I’ll leave you with those questions, and maybe you’ll have some answers in a few days,” McEnany said in closing, and cue mic drop.
McEnany wasn’t just making those headlines up. Townhall has some here. The NPR one is here. As it turns out, Vox has deleted the Twitter post McEnany was apparently referring to, The Daily Caller reported back in March. But McEnany’s point was clear. You’re going to want to watch that one again and again.
This exchange, for reasons unexplained and inexplicable, doesn’t turn up in a search of Reuters’ stories about Wednesday’s media briefing. In articles specifically including information from McEnany, Mason was apparently much more willing to affix his byline to reports on Beijing’s adherence to its new trade deal with Washington– a story somewhat drier than one suggested by this question, although of more importance the national discourse in the long run.
McEnany’s mic drop questions deserve to be answered, though. If the extent of the coronavirus crisis was ill-predicted by many, including a media that could hardly wait to trot out the shopworn xenophobia plot line about travel restrictions with China, why should the president be castigated by a media that has engaged in nary a moment of self-castigation over the entire matter and now pretends they were onto this all along?
Either way, I’d say McEnany’s performance is a sign Americans ought to get their popcorn ready during her tenure as press secretary. I wonder if they serve any at the Jolly Pumpkin.
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