The paper’s unusual decision left other journalists debating the exchange, and Conway offering a staunch defense of her conduct. Conway emphasized the division between her personal life and professional life, suggesting that a man in her position would not have to answer for his wife’s differing political views.
“I’ve previously noted that it is unusual — especially in Washington and especially in Republican politics — for a man to gain newfound fame and power through his wife,” she said in a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday evening.
The story that drew Conway’s displeasure published on the Examiner’s site on Tuesday, reporting on rumors that Trump was considering her as White House chief of staff, which Trump has denied. The piece suggested she “has been in the middle of Trump’s barbs with her husband,” referring to a long-simmering feud between Conway’s boss, President Trump, and her husband, attorney George T. Conway III.
On Wednesday morning, according to the Examiner’s account, Conway’s assistant called reporter Caitlin Yilek and asked to speak off the record. After Yilek agreed to those terms, Conway grabbed the phone.
In the audio later posted by the paper, Conway questioned why the reporter had included the line about her husband. “I just am wondering why on God’s earth you would need to mention anything about George Conway’s tweets in an article that talks about me as possibly being chief of staff,” she asked.
When the reporter argued that her husband’s feud with the president was “relevant context,” the president’s senior adviser took issue with the language used in the story.
“I’m not caught in the middle of anything except trying to understand somebody whose title is breaking news reporter, what that means,” Conway said during the phone call. Later, Conway asked: “What exactly are you an expert on that would qualify you to say, to characterize the way I feel?”
Near the end of the call, Conway made a comment that the Examiner later characterized as a threat that “the White House would delve into the personal lives of reporters if they wrote about her husband.”
“If you’re going to cover my personal life, then we’re welcome to do the same around here,” Conway said. “If it has nothing to do with my job — which it doesn’t, that’s obvious — then we’re either going to expect you to cover everybody’s personal life or we’re going to start covering them over here.”
When it published the audio on Thursday, the Examiner wrote that it made the decision because Conway had attempted to “mock” and “threaten” a reporter doing her job. The paper’s editor argued that while Conway’s assistant had requested an off-the-record conversation, Conway had made no such arrangement herself after picking up the line.
“Off the record conversations are agreed in good faith and in advance between people known to be participating,” Examiner editor in chief Hugo Gurdon said in a statement. “They are not, and never have been, blanket coverage to shield people who pull a bait and switch, peremptorily enter the conversation, and then spend ten minutes abusing, bullying and threatening a reporter. Other organizations may agree to be played for saps, but the Washington Examiner won’t.”
Conway, though, disputed the Examiner’s version of events.
“What I said on that call I’ve said publicly on-the-record before, including on TV, in speeches, in driveway gaggles with reporters,” Conway wrote in a lengthy statement. “I did NOT indicate the call was off-the-record, but the reporter certainly thought it was.”
The White House adviser also denied she intended her final words as a threat to dig into the reporter’s private life. Conway said the newspaper “lied” by framing the quote that way and pointed out that she had not used the word “investigate.”
Some journalists saluted the Examiner for releasing the call, suggesting they heard a familiar tone of intimidation in Conway’s comments.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof called the transcript a “remarkable” example of “bullying.”
But others noted that fielding phone calls from angry sources can be a commonplace part of journalism, with varying degrees of sympathy for Yilek.
“Look: Being yelled at sometimes is part of journalism,” Vox’s deputy policy editor Libby Nelson tweeted. “But the Conway transcript is such a masterclass in all the ways reporters who are (or are perceived to be) young women are insulted and undermined that it puts a knot in my stomach.”
Julia Ioffe, a correspondent for GQ Magazine who has criticized Trump in the past, questioned why the tense phone call became a news story.
“Raise your hand if you’re a journalist and a source was mean to you on the phone and you knew that that didn’t merit a separate story,” she wrote on Twitter. She followed up with a second tweet: “Now I know: next time a Trump administration official threatens me, send the transcript to @dcexaminer and they will definitely publish it.”