In her second official briefing before the White House press corps, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about a comment she made on Feb. 25 on Fox Business Channel, in which she said that because of President Donald Trump, “we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.”
At the time, McEnany was working for the Trump campaign as national press secretary.
On Wednesday, Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason asked her whether she would take the comment back, given what has happened since then.
But McEnany tried to turn the tables on the media, suggesting that a number of outlets also downplayed the threat of the coronavirus.
“I was asked a question on Fox Business about the president’s travel restrictions,” she said. “I noted what was the intent behind those travel restrictions, which is, we will not see coronavirus come here. We will not see terrorism come here, referring to an earlier set of travel restrictions.”
She added, “I guess I would turn the question back on the media, and ask similar questions. Does Vox want to take back that they proclaimed the coronavirus would not be a deadly pandemic? Does The Washington Post want to take back that they told Americans to get a grip, the flu is bigger than the coronavirus. Does The Washington Post likewise want to take back that our brains are causing us to exaggerate the threat of the coronavirus. Does The New York Times want to take back that fear of the virus may be spreading faster than the virus itself. Does NPR want to take back that the flu was a much bigger threat than the coronavirus? And finally, once again The Washington Post, would they like to take back that the government should not respond aggressively to the coronavirus.” She then wrapped up the briefing and left.
The way that the virus was handled by media outlets already has been the source of some consternation, but it seems to err on the side of an over reliance on experts, including those from the Trump administration.
In a piece for Vox’s Recode last month, Peter Kafka wrote,”If you read the stories from that period, not just the headlines, you’ll find that most of the information holding the pieces together comes from authoritative sources you’d want reporters to turn to: experts at institutions like the World Health Organization, the CDC, and academics with real domain knowledge.
“The problem, in many cases, was that that information was wrong, or at least incomplete. Which raises the hard question for journalists scrutinizing our performance in recent months: How do we cover a story where neither we nor the experts we turn to know what isn’t yet known? And how do we warn Americans about the full range of potential risks in the world without ringing alarm bells so constantly that they’ll tune us out?”
The Post‘s Aaron Blake last month wrote that the comparisons of what Trump and his defenders said and what those in the news media were reporting or concluding are not necessarily apples-to-apple comparisons, as the virus’ threat was being taken more seriously in late February than it was in late January.
What is clear is that the coronavirus was not ignored in the news media, to the point where, in early February, there was some consternation that the outbreak was being sensationalized. A Time study of coverage in January showed that 41,000 English-language articles mentioned the word “coronavirus,” while just 1,800 articles mentioned “Ebola” outbreak in the Congo in August, 2018. Last month, after Trump claimed that the media ignored the virus, CNN published a summary of its coverage, starting on Jan. 6.
As she tried to put the focus on the media, McEnany was clearly prepared for the question, as she read from notes as she went down the list of examples. More than anything, it signals that she will come to the briefings armed with lines of attack on the media itself.
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