Media critic

Kayleigh McEnany was part of CNN’s hiring spree for the 2016 presidential election. As it became clear that Donald Trump was rampaging through the primaries, the 24/7 network discovered that its usual rotation of conservative commentators didn’t necessarily feel comfortable defending this candidate. We wonder why.

So it brought on people such as Jeffrey Lord and Scottie Nell Hughes and Kayleigh McEnany — part of a crew that lent a farcical element to otherwise pretty serious broadcasts. No matter how absurd the Trump statement or egregious the Trump misstep, these folks could be counted on to spin some sort of talking point on his behalf. As candidate Trump has transitioned to President Trump, the programming approach has remained intact. McEnany, whose Twitter bio identifies her as a “Christian. Conservative. @CNN Commentator. @TheHill Contributor.,” remains on air at CNN attempting to beat back Trump critics. This week, for example, she strained to speak for Trump’s spotty record in denouncing anti-Semitism.

She didn’t fare too well.

The embarrassments of Kayleigh McEnany, however, don’t observe boundaries. Thursday she was on the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), interviewing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She started by orchestrating a round of applause for the Trump appointee: “Cheer, you guys, if you could not be more excited about President Trump’s pick for secretary of education!”

The exhortation worked. People cheered.

Apparently not satisfied with being a cheerleader, McEnany tried sycophant as well: “You are a phenomenal pick and you’ve spent 30 years working on these issues that are so important,” she said to DeVos. “Children, protecting our future, protecting children of all races, of all identities is crucial, and you are doing that and you have a history of doing that, and I couldn’t be more excited for what you have planned for the department.”

As her “interview” heated up, McEnany tried to stay on the news by asking DeVos about the withdrawal of Obama-era protections permitting transgender students to use bathrooms according to their gender identity. DeVos reportedly had some misgivings about the move, though McEnany failed to burrow into the matter, merely asking DeVos about the “ethos” of a letter she’d released on the matter.

“This issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach to suggest a one-size-fits-all, federal-government approach, top-down approach to issues best dealt with at a personal level, at a local level,” DeVos responded, in part.

McEnany went on:

One of the things I love, just in communicating with you and your staff, I really get a sense that you want to unify the country and make real change and I think there’s even evidence of that. You know, we’re at this time when the country’s so divided and there’s so much anger and so much disrespect for one another that we need people to come together on behalf of children, in particular in your case. And the evidence I saw of that … was on Day Two, you picked up the phone and you made a call to the teachers’ union, to the ATF to Randi Weingarten and you did this despite the fact that the other teachers’ union, the NEA, put out a statement saying we refuse to have a relationship with Secretary DeVos. So you have one teachers’ union kind of increasing division and another one, because you reached out and extended a hand, reaching back and extending a hand back to you. And I believe you’re going on a tour of local schools with Randi.

DeVos had little trouble responding to that one. As the event wore on, the quality of softball improved, as McEnany asked DeVos to provide advice to conservative college students who may feel “bullied” on campus; remarking that “one of the things I loved about you when you were President Trump’s pick is the work that you have done on behalf of children in poverty. You helped 400,000 families in poverty and assisted them in school choice”; and otherwise just helping out.

Just in case DeVos hadn’t figured things out, McEnany closed this way: “This nation is so blessed to have you as secretary of education, and President Trump could not have made a better choice. I am just so thrilled for your vision and so excited.”

CPAC has every right to ensure a nice, comfy landing spot for Cabinet secretaries who schlep out to their event. And CNN has every right to hire people who are willing to ditch logic and decency to defend Trump whenever circumstances warrant. Yet there have to be some standards applied to those who draw paychecks from a news organization such as CNN. The network was correct to arrange a parting with former contributor Donna Brazile after WikiLeaks emails outed her role in passing along questions from a town hall event and a primary debate to the Hillary Clinton campaign. Those were clear violations of editorial standards.

McEnany’s act Thursday wasn’t quite as egregious. What she did wasn’t underhanded or secretive. We don’t need WikiLeaks emails to see just how un-journalistic a contributor to a mainstream journalistic outfit can afford to be these days.