In praise of Kayleigh McEnany

28 May 2020

3:11 AM

28 May 2020

3:11 AM

Is Kayleigh McEnany the best Press Secretary in history? I think she may be. True, it’s early days. She was elevated to the position only in April and presided over her first briefing just a few weeks ago on May 1. But so far her tenure has been glorious. Despite having attended both Georgetown and Harvard, where she took a law degree, she remains quick-witted, forthright and occupies a cant-free zone that suffuses the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room with a spirit of patriotic candor that is as welcome as it is rare in the self-involved purlieus of the so-called mainstream media.

She is also, I think it important to observe, distinctly dishy, another advantage. ‘Oooo, that’s sexist,’ the churls, scolds, pajama boys, and other moist chihuahuas of the press will object. ‘You can’t say that she is good looking. That doesn’t matter.’ Right-o, chum, that doesn’t matter. Put it in your report before you head back to the ditto pool to get your pencils sharpened.

Most press secretaries, however able, seem reflexively on the defensive. McEnany is cheerfully outgoing, a patient but no-nonsense camp counselor in charge of the problem kids. I like her air of calm competence, her well-put-together sense of style, and her frank but uncloying affirmation of religious commitment, signaled by the discreet golden cross that wears on her necklace.

All this drives the press nuts, of course, as does her habit of turning questions back on the questioner. This makes the game of ‘Gotcha!’ very difficult for the munchkins of the Fourth Estate. At a May 6 presser, one bemasked scribe attempted to taunt McEnany with a comment she made a few months back on Fox News before she was appointed Press Secretary. ‘President Trump,’ she said, ‘will not allow the coronavirus to come to this country.’

Gotcha? Nope. Not only had the little man torn the statement utterly out of context. — the context being President Trump’s efforts to keep Americans safe from such banes as terrorism and the Chinese virus — but it also totally ignored the prevailing narrative. Remember, when President Trump forbade air travel from China on January 31, the press and their masters in the Democratic party screamed that he was overreacting and that his action were ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’. Without missing a beat, McEnany let the air out of the press balloon. ‘I guess I would turn the question back on the media, and ask similar questions,’ she 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 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 maybe 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,’ she concluded, ‘and maybe you’ll have some answers in a few days.’ As she strode from the room, one of the puppies whined ‘You were prepared for that!’ It was meant as an accusation. It landed as a simple statement of fact.

Although she is unerringly polite, there is a certain steeliness in McEnany’s performance. I suspect it comes of long experience keeping troublesome minors in line. During her very first press briefing on May 1 she responded tartly to a reporter’s question about Michael Flynn, whose entrapment by the FBI had just been made public. The reporter kept harping on the fact that Flynn had pled guilty to one count of lying to the FBI (though the reporter said nothing about how Flynn had been railroaded into the plea through prosecutorial abuse). McEnany cut to the chase. ‘I guess I would turn the question on you,’ she responded, ‘and just ask, does it trouble you that the FBI said, “We got to get Flynn to lie?” Doesn’t that trouble you as a journalist? And not only that, as an American citizen?’

But McEnany’s very best performance to date came last Friday. She had supplied the press pool with several questions about Michael Flynn that ‘any good journalist would want answered.’ Why did the Obama fund opposition research to spy on the Trump campaign? Why was Flynn ‘unmasked’ by Obama’s chief of staff, former national security adviser Susan Rice, Joe Biden, and several other people in the Obama administration? Why was Flynn’s identity leaked to the press — an action, she noted, that was a felony?

She asked for a show of hands: who has an answer, class? But answer came there none. She then delivered the pièce de la résistance: ‘Maybe you’re visual learners and you guys will follow up with journalistic curiosity,’ she said, presenting a series of five slides with her questions. ‘It’s a long weekend. You guys have three days to follow up on those questions,’ she said, folding up her papers. ‘And I certainly hope that the next time I ask some hands go up because Obama’s spokesperson should be asked those questions because President Trump’s spokespeople certainly would be.’ She then stepped back from the podium and strode from the room, her elegant white pantsuit a living reproach to Hillary Clinton, while the guppies exploded in impotent indignation.

I thought it was marvelous, treating the snotty press pool with some portion of the condescension they deserve and also making a number of very good points, not only about the unfair, indeed criminal, treatment accorded to Michael Flynn, but also highlighting the wild discrepancy between the way the press treated and still treat St Barack and the way it treats Donald Trump and anyone associated with him. ‘Touché,’ I thought, ‘a palpable hit.’

Much to my surprise, however, her performance was not accorded universal praise. On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace and Jonah Goldberg tore into her. Wallace complained that ‘McEnany isn’t acting like she is working for the public. She acts like she is what she used to be, which is a spokesperson for the Trump campaign.’

‘If Kayleigh McEnany had asked Sam Donaldson and me what questions we should ask, that would not have gone well,’ he intoned. Oh dear. Not the great Sam Donaldson! Scourge of would be tyrants, speaker of truth-to-power! Where is the air-sickness bag, the one marked ‘for use with self-important blowhards’?

Goldberg went further. McEnany’s behavior was ‘indefensible and grotesque’, he said. She is like a ‘Twitter troll who goes on attack, doesn’t actually care about doing the job they have’. Hello? Her job is to represent the Trump administration to the American people. By tradition, that has been through the medium of the press. Now that the press has for the most part become a mouthpiece of the establishment left, it is questionable whether the press as currently constituted is still the best vehicle for communicating to the American people. Maybe it’s time to jettison the self-infatuated press, exclude them from the briefings, and bring in ordinary Americans to ask the questions. I offer the idea free and for nothing as part of a larger plan to fumigate the smug, out-of-touch credentialed class.

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