The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kayleigh McEnany’s peculiar complaint about coverage of Biden’s all-female press team

Principal assistant press secretary Chad Gilmartin and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany walk to the West Wing on Nov. 18. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

From literally the day after President Trump was inaugurated, his White House press operation has been anything but a model of honesty and good faith.

And now it appears ready to go out just as it came in.

Trump’s communications team on Sunday took issue with a Washington Post report about President-elect Joe Biden’s new all-female senior communications team. Its argument: We actually did it first.

President-elect Joe Biden on Nov. 29 tapped key campaign staff and advisers to lead his all-female senior communications team. (Video: Reuters)

Trump White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany cried foul from her personal Twitter account Sunday night.

“President @realDonaldTrump already has an ALL FEMALE Senior White House Press Team,” McEnany said. “So does @VP … So does @FLOTUS … So does @SecondLady … The completely DISCREDITED @washingtonpost once again reveals their blinding propagandist Fake News proclivities.”

The message was promoted by others at the White House and self-styled conservative media watchdogs.

There are two problems with this.

The first is that, objectively, Biden’s team will be more female. As plenty of people noted after McEnany tweeted what she did, Judd Deere carries the title of deputy assistant to Trump and deputy press secretary. Brian Morgenstern is also a deputy press secretary and deputy communications director. Biden’s principal deputy press secretary will be Karine Jean-Pierre, while his deputy communications director will be another woman, Pili Tobar.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether those are technically “senior” roles. Deere for one seemed to agree that he’s not in a senior role, retweeting McEnany’s tweet and drafting his own version of the same complaint.

But the same is true when it comes to Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris’s press team. Her top spokesperson will be Symone Sanders. That job is now filled by Devin O’Malley.

In other words, three of the seven jobs Biden filled Sunday have men serving in the equivalent roles in the Trump White House. Call it “senior” or anything else, the Biden White House’s communications team will feature significantly more women.

The second problem, though, is that McEnany et al. are erecting a straw man. The headline McEnany featured in her tweet said merely that Biden had appointed an all-female senior communications team, which is true no matter how you define “senior.” The headline doesn’t reference a claim that this is in some way unprecedented or that Trump didn’t do the same. Yet McEnany suggested that headline was somehow “fake news” that discredits The Post.

The Post report does include a reference along these lines: “It is the first time all of the top aides tasked with speaking on behalf of an administration and shaping its message will be female.” Again, we can debate “top,” just as we can debate “senior.” But, again, three of the seven jobs that were just filled by women are now held by men. And those are unquestionably top jobs when it comes to “speaking on behalf of the administration”; Deere and Morgenstern do a large chunk of that work for the Trump White House, as reporters will attest.

The Trump White House has elevated women to the top communications jobs frequently. There is no questioning that. But this is a thoroughly odd parsing by the White House — almost as if it is looking for things to complain about.