Second in an occasional series on White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, to prove the impossibility of speaking for President Trump.

The questions White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany faced in Monday’s briefing weren’t difficult to predict. The New York Times on Friday reported that President Trump had been briefed on intelligence that a Russian military unit offered money to militants with ties to the Taliban — bounties, in effect — for attacks on coalition forces, including U.S. troops. McEnany issued a statement on Saturday denying one aspect of the report: “While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, national security adviser, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”

On Sunday, President Trump himself pushed the no-briefing line on his own Twitter account, writing:

Flooded with questions about the situation at Monday’s briefing, McEnany repeated a pair of talking points — the president hadn’t been briefed, and “there is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations and in effect there are dissenting opinions from some in the intelligence community with regards to the veracity of what’s being reported.”

Asked by Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason whether President Trump has any message for the Russians based on this intelligence, McEnany responded, “No, because he’s not been briefed on the matter, as I noted. There’s no consensus among the intelligence community and there are, in fact, dissenting opinions.”

And so the briefing went, with the topic alternating between Russia-briefing and the spiking number of coronavirus cases. Hold on, asked one reporter: “If he hasn’t been briefed, how is he certain that Russia didn’t put out these bounties?”

That particular question triggered McEnany’s closing remarks, which went like this:

The president is briefed on verified intelligence and, again, I would just point you back to the absolutely irresponsible decision of the New York Times to falsely report that he was briefed on something that he, in fact, was not briefed on and I really think that it’s time for the New York Times to step back and ask themselves why they’ve been so wrong, so often.
The New York Times falsely claimed Paul Manafort asked for polling data to be passed along to Oleg Deripaska before having to issue a correction. In June of 2017, the New York Times falsely wrote all 17 intelligence agencies before having to issue a correction that it was only four agencies.
In 2017, February of that year, New York Times published a story claiming Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence, which even James Comey has said was almost entirely wrong, New York Times.
New York Times published a column in March of 2019 by a former Times executive editor that asserted the Trump campaign and Russia had an ‘overarching deal that the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary [Clinton] for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.’ That’s what we call the Russia hoax, which was investigated for three years with taxpayer dollars before ultimately getting an exoneration in the Mueller report.
It is inexcusable, the failed Russia reporting of the New York Times. And I think it’s time that the New York Times, and also the Washington Post, hand back their Pulitzers.

Boldface emphasis inserted to highlight a measure of how far Trump & Co. have corrupted the discussion of media. Publishing a correction is an indication that the news outlet in question is honest and trustworthy, not the opposite. In chastising the Times for doing so, McEnany presupposes the opposite.

McEnany’s closing statement marks the spot where her past as a Trump defender on cable news merges with her present as the president’s top spokesperson. The key to success in a combative segment is to nail one or two talking points, and with any luck, to emerge with the final word on the topic at hand. As press secretary, of course, McEnany serves as the producer, the guest and the anchor of her segments. That means she gets the last word every time. “I think her overall style is different from her predecessors just as the president she serves is different from any of his predecessors,” says George Condon, a longtime White House correspondent. “She is not there to please reporters; she is there to please the president. And her style is more like someone appearing on a cable news show to make a point. . . . That is her background and it’s what the president likes.”

The theatrical finishes require preparation, citation of quotes and other fine points designed to place an exclamation point on the sessions. In early May, for instance, McEnany was asked about a comment she’d made on cable news in late February, before assuming the press secretary position: Referring to Trump, she riffed, “He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.” When Reuters’s Mason asked whether she had would take back that assurance, McEnany was absurdly prepared with a bushel of hokum:

I guess I would turn the question back on the media and ask similar questions: Does Vox want to take back that they proclaim 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 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.

Then she left the room. To do otherwise would have been unthinkable, considering just how preposterous was her frenzy of whataboutism.

During her June 1 briefing, McEnany came equipped with video showing instances of police solidarity with activists in the George Floyd protests. After showing the video to the assembled reporters, McEnany couldn’t help but include a bit of media criticism: “Across the country, we’ve seen examples of police protecting protesters, and protesters embracing police, and it’s been beautiful to watch. Those images have not been played all that often,” said McEnany.

She quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and left the lectern. Not a single reporter shouted a question as McEnany left the room. How often has Trump accomplished such a feat?

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