Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts was visibly angry after a news conference in which Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, pressed by him to denounce white supremacists, refused to so.
“For all of you on Twitter who are hammering me for asking that question — I don’t care,” Roberts said in a live shot from the White House lawn. “Because it is a question that needs to be asked, and clearly, the president’s Republican colleagues a mile away from here are looking for an answer for it too. So stop deflecting, stop blaming the media. I’m tired of it.”
A frustrated @johnrobertsFox says he's tired of people on Twitter blaming the media for asking about President Trump's comments in the debate (and since) about white supremacist groups.pic.twitter.com/UW3mBh5Mri
— Josh Wingrove (@josh_wingrove) October 1, 2020
At a briefing earlier, Roberts asked McEnany: “I would like to ask you for a definitive and declarative statement without ambiguity or deflection. As the person who speaks for the president, does the president denounce white supremacy and groups that espouse it in all their forms.”
McEnany said: “This has been answered. Yesterday, by the president himself. The day before by the president himself on the debate stage. The president was asked this. He said, ‘Sure,’ three times. Yesterday, he was asked point blank, ‘Do you denounce white supremacy?’ and he said, ‘I have always denounced any form of that.'”
She went through other quotes where she said the president “has condemned white supremacy more than any other president in modern history.”
But Roberts pressed her to make a declarative statement that the president denounces white supremacy. “I just did,” she insisted, though she never made such a statement.
She then accused Roberts of “contriving a storyline and a narrative.”
Roberts continued to press her to make a declarative statement, rather than reading from Trump’s past quotes.
— John Aravosis 🇺🇸🇬🇷🏳️🌈 (@aravosis) October 1, 2020
At the debate on Tuesday, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump whether he would denounce white supremacists. When Trump asked for a specific group, Joe Biden mentioned Proud Boys, the far right hate group. Trump told them “to stand back and stand by,” but later claimed he did not know who they were.
Later, Roberts said on Fox News that it “all remains very puzzling” why the White House wouldn’t just make a declarative statement. “If the president didn’t know who the Proud Boys were and he just threw out the name, if he didn’t know who they were, why did he denounce them. Why didn’t he said, ‘I don’t know who they are. Can you give me a little bit more information about them.”
The topic also was raised by CBS News’ Paula Reid asked about statements from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that racially motivated violent extremism “is one of the deadliest threats in the U.S.”
“Does the White House agree with that assessment, and what is it doing to combat this threat?” Reid asked.
McEnany said that Trump has said that he wants to prosecute the KKK as terrorists, and than lynching should be a national hate crime. “There’s no stronger signal that you can send than advocating for the prosecution of a white supremacist.”
Reid, though, said that Trump’s record was mixed, given that he has equivocated or said that he “didn’t want to acknowledge it or address it.”
She continued to press McEnany until the press secretary said, “You need to let me finish. It is quite funny that the media goes haywire about interrupting during debates and then chooses that very same tactic themselves. This is a White House briefing. You ask a question and you give me time to answer.”
.@paulareidcbs presses Kayleigh McEnany on President Trump's inconsistent statements denouncing racism and hate groups: "You're saying that he condemns it. I have his record right here. It's mixed. His record is mixed." https://t.co/Nj065CIsxp pic.twitter.com/IlfX1GRLaf
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 1, 2020
An unusual moment also came during the press briefing when Jon Decker, correspondent for Fox News Radio, who pressed McEnany on Trump’s claim that “they found a lot of ballots in a river.” That is one of a number of claims that the president has made about mail-in voting.
“Who is ‘they’?” Decker asked.
McEnany said that she believed that Trump was referring to “trails of mail” ending up in a ditch in Wisconsin.
Decker responded, “In this particular statement, though. Who is ‘they’ that found those ballots, and where is this river, anywhere in this country?”
McEnany responded, “Local authorities, and it was a ditch in Wisconsin where they were found and I can get that to your inbox if you would like.”
As Decker continued to question Trump’s statement, seeking details, McEnany said, “You are missing the forest through the trees here. The point is.”
“I cover the news and I like to report accurately the news, and when the president says, ‘They found a lot of ballots in a river,’ I simply want to know where the river is,” he responded.
“No, you simply want to ignore the fact of the matter,” she answered, before accusing the media of ignoring the story.
“I want to know where the river is,” Decker said.