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Cockburn Media US Politics

Kayleigh McEnany’s media jujitsu

‘Gotcha’ questions no longer have the intended effect

May 9, 2020

1:42 PM

9 May 2020

1:42 PM

Kayleigh McEnany, President Trump’s new White House press secretary, has breathed new life into the briefing room and already proven herself to be a formidable opponent for the media.

Unlike her predecessor, Stephanie Grisham, McEnany has been preparing for her moment at the podium for years. She rose to prominence in 2016 as a CNN contributor by duking it out on panels where she was routinely outnumbered as the lone pro-Trump voice. McEnany later joined the 2020 Trump re-election campaign  as its national press secretary. Her time in front of the camera debating Trump haters clearly paid off — she has been prepared twice already for ‘gotchas’ from members of the White House press corps, throwing their questions right back in their faces. It’s textbook jujitsu: controlling your opponent’s force and redirecting it against them.


When asked if she would take back a comment about Trump not allowing the coronavirus to come to the US, for example, she started listing headlines from various mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post and New York Times downplaying the threat of COVID-19 and asking if they would like to take those back as well. When asked about a TV appearance in 2015 in which she called Trump ‘racist’, she blamed CNN for publishing misleading headlines about the President and then asked reporters to consider calling out the network’s many guests that falsely claimed there was evidence of Russian collusion for years.

It’s a masterful bait and switch — avoid actually answering the question and instead turn the media into the defendant. McEnany clearly knows the media’s routine and is prepared for it; before diving into one of those questions, she replied with a grin, ‘I’m glad you asked that.’

Cockburn is most intrigued by McEnany’s giant book of secrets, which she flips through during the briefings and occasionally reads headlines or statistics from its pages — is a signed copy too much to ask for? McEnany’s other clear strength is her polish. She’s attractive but not gaudy, preferring pants and double-breasted blazers over cleavage-baring dresses. She retorts with a smile rather than a grimace and never raises her voice. Trump ought to be quite pleased with his new dojo master.


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