Yet, on Thursday afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted that neither of the preceding assertions was true, relying on cherry-picked counterexamples that, particularly in the case of voter fraud, didn’t even bolster the point she was trying to make.
CNN’s Jim Acosta pressed McEnany on Trump’s assertions that Twitter’s low-energy fact-checking of his untrue claims about mail-in voting were somehow beyond the pale.
“If you’re going to get into the fact-checking business, there’s no one that should be fact-checked more than the mainstream media that has been continually wrong about a number of things,” McEnany said. She listed several examples of news outlets getting stories wrong or issuing corrections for stories related to the Trump administration. One example she cited was from The Washington Post, taking issue with a March 4 story about the health system not being ready for the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were ready,” McEnany insisted, one day after the pandemic death toll passed 100,000.
Acosta noted that news outlets do make mistakes but offer corrections in such instances — unlike Trump.
“Are you saying that the president of the United States has never lied to the public before?” Acosta asked.
“I’m around the president,” McEnany replied. “His intent is always to give truthful information to the American people.”
From a philosophical standpoint, this question of intent is important when assessing whether someone is lying. From a practical standpoint, much less a political one, there’s no question that Trump is broadly indifferent to sharing accurate information with the public, as even a quick perusal of our database of his untrue statements will make clear. If you’re interested in always providing truthful information to the public, you don’t repeat the same debunked claims hundreds of times over.
As ridiculous as it was for McEnany to use half a dozen later-corrected or not-wrong stories as evidence that it was the media that had the problem with accuracy, her effort to defend Trump’s comments about mail-in voting were even worse.
ABC News’s Jonathan Karl noted that Trump’s tweets about California’s effort to expand voting in light of the pandemic were immediately and obviously false, something that McEnany waved away. But she used the moment to make a slew of claims about voting by mail that were either irrelevant or untrue, complete with prefabricated slides.
“There was a Pew study done that shows there’s plenty of reason to believe that mass — in the mass mail-in system that there is fraud,” she said. “They estimated that approximately 24 million — one out of every eight voters registered in the U.S. — are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate. … More than 1.8 million have been deceased, they estimated.”
This assertion is literally older than my two children. Who are not twins.
In October 2016, we walked through the Pew Center on the States report that does, in fact, articulate the extent to which voter rolls are clogged with old registrations, including those of dead people. Mind you, the report is more than eight years old, but it nonetheless exists.
What the study doesn’t do is suggest that this somehow correlates to fraud. When Trump elevated this argument four years ago, the report’s author denied that the study suggested that fraud was rampant, noting that “every study that has looked at this has found only an infinitesimally small number of illegal votes nationwide.” The point of the study was that voter rolls were inefficient and full of errors, not that these inefficiencies and errors actually led to fraud.
But, in the absence of evidence of widespread fraud, Trump and his allies insist that these errors could lead to fraud — ignoring that there are checks in place to evaluate the accuracy of submitted ballots. All of McEnany’s subsequent claims about why Trump was right suffer from the same initial flaw: There is no evidence that the problems she cites actually lead to fraud.
Yes, ballots have turned up in places they shouldn’t as they are sent to people who have moved or died. But this isn’t fifth grade, where you simply stick a ballot in a box and it gets counted. McEnany and Trump have never explained their theory for how an evildoer could, say, match a dead voter’s signature with the one on file. Much less why someone would risk prison to cast an additional 20 votes in a statewide race.
Part of McEnany’s defense of Trump’s tweets about California was her claim that voter registration in Los Angeles County was “112 percent” of the county’s eligible population.
Nope. We’ve debunked this one before, too, more than a year ago. Then, it was in response to conservative activist and notorious falsehood-peddler Charlie Kirk, who made the same claim about Los Angeles’s registrations. It’s just completely wrong.
More amazingly, Los Angeles has been touted by Trump and his allies as a place where “voter fraud” problems were actually addressed. The pro-Trump group Judicial Watch sued the county to get dead voters off the rolls, and won. Trump’s used that lawsuit to argue that a million people in the county were voting illegally, which, as above, they weren’t. But the point is that this was “fixed,” by Trump’s own standard — yet McEnany still hypes it.
She also again pointed to a bipartisan report from 2005 noting that there was a greater risk of fraud from mail-in ballots than from in-person voting — an actually accurate statement. The problem, of course, is that “greater risk” doesn’t mean “great risk.” You have a greater risk of being killed by an asteroid if you’re standing outside than if you’re in your house, but that doesn’t mean you’re about to go the way of the dinosaurs.
McEnany likes to point out that former president Jimmy Carter was part of the group that reached that determination. Earlier this month, given the pandemic, Carter publicly called for expanded access to mail-in ballots.
Given the point I made at the outset, that what McEnany is tasked with defending doesn’t actually lend itself to viable defense, she worked with what she had. It just wasn’t much.
But it’s not as though she was uncomfortable in that position. McEnany cut her teeth in jousting with the media as a Trump defender on CNN. During the 2016 campaign, she appeared on his least-favorite network on most weeknights, always prepared with talking points and always willing to offer cherry-picked rejoinders to try to win inches of turf in the great trench war that is a cable news panel. It’s this approach that she brings to the briefing room — a cable-news talking head eager to put points on the board for her team — rather than recognizing that her role is to convey accurate information on behalf of the administration.
And, of course, that approach is why Trump thinks she’s doing such a good job.