The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Fox News’s Kayleigh McEnany keeps the gaslight going

Then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks with reporters during a news briefing in January. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

There are news honchos who agonize over how to treat officials who pushed the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former president Donald Trump. “I think if you are going to conduct these interviews with folks that are known gaslighters, like Ron Johnson, I certainly wouldn’t do it live, if you do it,” said NBC News’s Chuck Todd in a recent interview, referring to the Republican senator from Wisconsin. CNN’s Jake Tapper won’t bring “big liars” on his air.

Fox News has a different approach: Pay Kayleigh McEnany, who promoted the democracy-subverting lie on Sean Hannity’s show almost nightly in late 2020, to keep the mendacity alive on the network’s airwaves.

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To judge from an astounding comment on Tuesday night, McEnany is doing exactly what the network asked. In a discussion of the administration’s handling of covid-19 and Afghanistan, host Jesse Watters piled on the president: “As long as there is an American stranded and these pictures keep coming in, of Taliban hitting people, of people screaming, chaos, that’s going to be a big dark cloud that’s going to hang over his head,” said Watters. “And you got open borders. You got crime. You got gas prices. This is just a nasty mix of things that a lot of this stuff didn’t need to happen.”

In came McEnany with the context: “We are eight months into a Biden presidency, Jesse,” said McEnany. “Wrap your head around that. We still have three years and four months left. Look, when President Trump was president, you didn’t see crisis after crisis. You just didn’t see it. I shudder to think about what covid would have been like under Joe Biden.”

Boldface added to introduce a point of comparison: By the same point in his presidency — August 2017 — Trump had tallied the following crises, controversies and kerfuffles: lies about inauguration crowds; travel-ban mayhem; the dismissal of Michael Flynn as national security adviser; the request to a Black reporter to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus; accusing President Barack Obama of tapping his phones; firing James B. Comey as FBI director; lying about the FBI’s reaction to Comey’s dismissal; revealing classified information to Russian dignitaries during a White House meeting; “Covfefe”; tweeting that MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski was bleeding from a facelift; and, of course, Charlottesville.

That’s not even a complete list. Even Fox News host Sean Hannity showed a little more finesse than McEnany in repositioning the Trump years. After he discussed the crisis in Afghanistan with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday night, Hannity commented, “A few mean tweets don’t seem so bad now, do they?” As if!

There are three reasons why McEnany can get away with such easily disprovable commentary: First, she perfected the pronouncing of ludicrous claims as Trump’s final press secretary; second, she was hired after her words promoting the “big lie” helped to ignite the grandest crisis of the Trump years, that being the Jan. 6 Capitol riot; and third, it’s easy to downplay Trump crises and heinous policies on a network that didn’t treat them as such in the first place.

It’s hard to affix a value to the service that folks such as McEnany and Hannity do for Trump in the ordinary course of their blathering business. In the early analysis of the 2024 Republican presidential field, the 45th president stands way ahead of other hopefuls. Gaslighting his presidency on the No. 1 cable-news network provides a bulwark for that status quo.

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