What McEnany had, it seems, were talking points left over from March, when Trump was facing criticism for linking the virus to China in less offensive terms. He was doing so then, as now, for obvious reasons. Yes, China has tried to promote the false claim that the virus actually originated in the United States. But the more obvious motivation for Trump has been reminding Americans that it emerged from China so that he could deflect blame for its effects.
As those effects have grown more severe, Trump’s efforts to point at China as the culprit have increased.
During his rally in Tulsa, Trump repeatedly blamed China for the virus, including at one point saying that economic gains were “happening at a level that nobody believed possible — and then China sent us the plague.” At another point, he criticized protesters focused on racial injustice for not mentioning covid-19, the disease caused by the virus — a name that he lamented “gets further and further away from China as opposed to calling it the Chinese virus.”
Or, apparently, calling it “kung flu.”
CBS News’s Weijia Jiang asked McEnany on Monday why Trump, the self-described “least racist person in the world,” used racist terms like that one as he was listing nicknames for the virus.
“The president doesn’t,” McEnany replied. “What the president does do is point to the fact that the origin of the virus is China.”
A bit later, Jiang asked: “What does he have to say to Asian Americans who are deeply offended and worry that his use will lead to further attacks of discrimination?”
Asian Americans are “amazing people and the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape or form,” McEnany replied, adding that “they’re working closely with us” — a non-Asian American group not clearly identified — “to get rid of it. We will prevail together."
Then she dropped what she clearly thought was a damning point.
“I would also point out that the media blames President Trump for using the terms ‘China virus’ and ‘Wuhan virus’ when they themselves have used these very terms,” she said. “The New York Times called it the Chinese coronavirus. Reuters, the Chinese virus. CNN, the Chinese coronavirus on Jan. 20. The Washington Post, Jan. 21, Chinese coronavirus. And I have more than a dozen other examples.”
Again, this was a standard line from the administration in March. And, back then, we and others pointed out that it’s a dubious comparison. Why? Because the media’s use of “Chinese virus” almost exclusively predates Feb. 11, when the World Health Organization announced the formal name of the virus and the disease it causes. From that point on, media outlets began referring to the coronavirus and to covid-19 — a switch that Trump and his administration were less enthusiastic about making.
Even if the question were whether it was appropriate for Trump to use the term “Chinese virus,” this isn’t a good argument. But that wasn’t even the question, as Jiang quickly pointed out.
“This is a different category, Kayleigh,” she said. ” ‘Kung flu’ is extremely offensive to many people in the Asian American community. To be clear, are you saying the White House does not believe it is racist?”
“I think the media is trying to play games with the terminology of this virus, where the focus should be on the fact that China let this out of their country,” McEnany said. “The same phrase that the media roundly now condemns has been used by the media.”
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins addressed this claim a bit later.
“The media has never called it the ‘kung flu,’ ” she pointed out. “Calling it a Chinese coronavirus and calling it the ‘kung flu’ are very different things.”
McEnany replied, again willfully and lazily conflating the two expressions: “The media and your network specifically have repeatedly used the term Chinese virus and Wuhan virus and then gone on to deride the president as somehow using a term that they had themselves never used.”
PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor then asked an even more pointed question. In March, Jiang first reported that someone in the White House had used the term “kung flu,” prompting Alcindor to ask White House counselor Kellyanne Conway about the term.
“In March,” Alcindor asked McEnany on Monday, “she said that it was highly offensive and wrong to use that term. Does the president agree with Kellyanne Conway, or is he now saying that that term is not highly offensive and wrong?”
“The president does not believe it’s offensive to note that this virus came from China,” McEnany replied, “and to stand up for our U.S. military, who China’s making an active effort to completely defame. That is unacceptable to the president.”
She then called on One American News’s Chanel Rion — who, also in March, had broadcast an unsubstantiated allegation that the coronavirus emerged from a lab in North Carolina and not in China.
That alone would seem surprisingly hypocritical in any other context. Here, though, it’s barely a footnote, another example of how the obsequious coverage from Rion’s network has earned it favor with a White House that treats actual journalists with open disdain. But that, by now, is so familiar as to be unremarkable.
What is remarkable about McEnany’s response to the questions about “kung flu” is simply this: The phrase is indefensible, so McEnany didn’t seriously try to defend it.