White House Ramps Up Attacks On The Media At Press Briefing

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany takes a defensive stance on the firing of Geoffrey Berman and Trump’s comments at the Tulsa rally.  Ava DeSantis writes about a heated exchange with journalists at this afternoon’s briefing.

Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

Press Secretary McEnany began the press conference by admonishing Democratic state and local level leaders for failing to “[ensure] that our streets are safe.” President Trump, said McEnany, created “law and order” in DC, by calling in the National Guard to combat the protests, following the death of George Floyd. She attributed the deaths of 14 people in Chicago, and one person in Minneapolis, to the failure of Democrats to respond similarly.

The press did not question McEnany on this familiar Trump administration line, instead questioning her on their coronavirus response, the firing of Geoffrey Berman, and Trump’s inflammatory usage of the term ‘Kung Flu’ to describe the virus.

Coronavirus Response

McEnany explained the President’s comments on coronavirus testing, at his Tulsa rally on Saturday. Trump said at his Tulsa rally on Saturday that he asked officials to “slow the coronavirus testing down.” 

The comments received backlash from the public health community. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns-Hopkins Center for Health Security, responded to Trump’s comments. “Looking at it as a scoreboard is the wrong way to think about it. To think about it as something you can manipulate or slow down based on what the numbers look like speaks to a complete misunderstanding of what an infectious-disease response should be,” said Adalja.  

McEnany: The President was trying to expose the media

When asked, “has the President actually directed officials to slow down the rate of coronavirus testing?” McEnany clarified, “No, he has not directed that.”  She lauded the administration’s effective disease response efforts, saying “we continue to test about 500,000 per day, about half a million per day. $1.8 billion is invested in NIH to find new testing capabilities.” The U.S., under Trump, “[leads] in the world on testing.”

Trump did not intend to raise public health concerns, McEnany claimed. “The President was trying to expose the media,” she said. The media, she continued, “[ignores] the fact that the United States has more cases because we have more testing, and he was pointing that out. It’s a fact that the media readily ignores.”

Journalists pushed McEnany on Trump’s coronavirus response, questioning why “this administration [is] sitting on about $14 billion of funds that have been approved, but not yet allocated?” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Health Committee ranking member Patty Murry, wrote a letter calling for the Trump administration to “immediately” distribute said funds. The letter accused the administration of leaving underserved communities without necessary resources.

McEnany responded, simply “we’re leading the world in testing, and we will continue to do so.”

On Firing Berman

The press asked McEnany to clarify differing reports on the firing of Geoffrey Berman, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “The President and the Attorney General over the weekend offered different explanations behind the firing of Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Can you clarify now why Berman was dismissed, and if it wasn’t the President’s request?” McEnany responded, “The President held Mr. Clayton in very high regard, wanted to nominate him to this position, and wanted to keep him in the government.”

She attributed Berman’s firing to his response at Barr’s request for his resignation. Berman, when asked for his resignation, said on Friday night “I have no intention of resigning.”

“As he returned to New York, Barr was working on a smooth transition, and when Berman chose to respond in the way that he did, he came to the President, and the President agreed and fired this individual, Mr. Berman,” McEnany explained. This account is consistent with Barr’s letter to Berman, which described firing him “because [he had] declared that [he has] no intention of resigning, I have asked the President to remove you…”

McEnany also addressed Trump’s claim that he did not involve himself in the firing of Berman. Asked, “why did the President say he wasn’t involved in the firing of Geoffrey Berman?” McEnany replied, “he was involved in a sign-off capacity.” The White House did not have concerns about removing the attorney before the Senate confirmed his replacement, because they are “hopeful that Clayton will be confirmed.” 

She made a claim that “no investigation will be affected by this.”

‘Kung flu’ And Media Terminology

At his Tulsa rally, Trump referred to the coronavirus as “Kung flu.” At today’s press conference, journalists clashed with McEnany over these comments. Initially, a journalist asked McEnany, “last July, President Trump declared himself the least racist person anywhere in the world. Why does he use racist phrases like the Kung Flu?” She claimed that the phrase “[points] to the fact that the origin of the virus is China.” The Chinese government, McEnany claimed “tries to ridiculously rewrite history, ridiculously blame the coronavirus on American soldiers, this is what China’s trying to do.” 

Many Asian Americans are deeply offended and worry that his use will lead to further attacks and discrimination.

A journalist explained to McEnany “many Asian Americans are deeply offended, and worry that his use will lead to further attacks and discrimination.” She ignored this issue, instead calling the media hypocritical for criticizing Trump’s terminology. “I would also point out that the media blames President Trump for using the terms China virus and Wuhan virus, when they themselves used these very terms,” she said, continuing on to list dates of articles in which the media used phrases like “China virus” or “Wuhan virus.”

The question bounced around the room, repeated by different journalists as a part of their separate lines of inquiry. Another argued, “the media has never called it the Kung Fu virus, calling it the Chinese virus and calling it the Kung Fu are very different.” McEnany, increasingly angered, attacked the journalist’s employer, saying “your network specifically repeatedly used the term, China virus and Wuhan virus, and then gone on to deride the President as somehow using a term that they themselves have used.” McEnany then turned to take the next question, while the journalist spoke over her saying “it is not the same thing.” 

McEnany ignored their concern, moving on to take unrelated questions from the frustrated group.

 


 

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