Everyone in Trump's team is behaving ridiculously – so why do we reserve all our mockery for Kellyanne Conway?

Sean Spicer was asked about Conway’s remarks about Nordstrom and Ivanka Trump. ‘She’s been counselled,’' he said. But who is counselling Sean Spicer?

Rachael Revesz
Friday 17 February 2017 12:39 GMT
Everyone wants outrage – and both the media and the government have chosen to blame Conway
Everyone wants outrage – and both the media and the government have chosen to blame Conway (Getty Images)

In the 16th century, women who were suspected of being witches were tied up and thrown into the water. If they drowned, they were acknowledged to be mere mortals. If they floated, they were burned at the stake.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I can’t help but think of this when I read about US networks rushing to announce that they won’t book interviews with Kellyanne Conway due to her lack of credibility.

As CNN and Morning Joe made their disgust about the Counsellor to the President clear, most of the world’s networks were simultaneously tuning in to President Donald Trump’s first solo press conference.

This differentiation perhaps highlights one of the greatest hypocrisies of the media’s relationship with the Trump administration so far. Why has Conway become the fall guy?

Yes, of course, Conway should be called out for wrongdoing. She invented the “Bowling Green massacre” apparently to try and justify Trump’s controversial travel ban, she inappropriately advised Fox News viewers to “go buy” Ivanka Trump’s brand after Nordstrom dropped it, and she covered up Sean Spicer’s lies by claiming he provided “alternative facts”.

Kellyanne Conway tried to explain Flynn's resignation was told on national TV she 'made no sense'

Yet everyone from CNN to the BBC was present at the White House for the President’s first solo press conference this week. They packed out the room and shouted to get his attention. After one hour and 15 minutes, he had spewed more “alternative facts” than a shopping channel at 2am.

Among them, he claimed he had won the largest Electoral College landslide since Ronald Reagan. In truth, he had the lowest Electoral College victory since Ronald Reagan. He said he had done well with black voters, and asked a black reporter whether she would set up a meeting with him and the Congressional Black Caucus because they might be her “friends”. He said stock markets were up and unemployment was down, and that that was due to four weeks of him being in office. He also said reports about Michael Flynn acting inappropriately by calling Russia was “fake news”.

We were hanging on every word. And it’s not just him.

The New York Times was keen to interview conspiracy theorist machine Steve Bannon, a man who has taken credit for building what has become a mainstream news outlet for white supremacy.

All the talk shows were delighted last weekend to get their hands on adviser Stephen Miller, who was described by a Harvard law professor as a “robotic fascist” and who insisted New Hampshire had “bussed in” hordes of illegal immigrants to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Sean Spicer trots out to the podium almost every day of the week, reading his statements in such a monotone that I’m amazed the journalists packing out the room don’t fall asleep on their pens. In fact, they are all itching to ask him to repeat his lies about Russia, and about the inauguration crowd size and about rising crime.

Everyone wants outrage. And it’s entertaining. It’s the only reason CNN and the other networks stay tuned in to a Donald Trump press conference for the whole show. It’s like watching bad television, like a supermodel falling over on the catwalk, like a bunch of obese celebrities at boot camp.

Donald Trump asks black reporter if the Congressional Black Caucus are 'friends of yours'

But we need someone to blame, otherwise the media would not be seen to be doing its job by holding the powerful to account. Equally, the government needs someone to blame for their mistakes, otherwise they will be drowned in controversy and their approval ratings will drop to the floor.

Both the media and the government have chosen to blame Conway.

Sean Spicer was asked about Conway’s remarks about Nordstrom and Ivanka Trump.

“She’s been counselled,” he said.

But who is counselling Sean Spicer?

Even Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the committee of oversight and government reform, has vowed to “investigate” Conway – just as he maintains he is still pursuing his “investigation” of Hillary Clinton. There are no similar concerns with the President’s conflicts of interest, his family sitting in on classified meetings or his ties to Russia.

Who is investigating Jason Chaffetz?

SNL makes frequent jokes about Conway’s hair and make-up, characterising the woman as a witch who is sexually obsessed with CNN host Jake Tapper – admittedly, Kate McKinnon got her voice just right – but overall it felt more sexist than clever.

Blaming Conway merely serves as a convenient distraction for the bigger picture. When headlines were blowing up about Conway and Nordstrom, Michael Flynn was getting fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his calls to Russia. Trump knew for weeks.

Who is investigating Trump? If Conway’s exile was really about lack of credibility, the media wouldn’t have given such a large platform to Trump on the very first day he announced his candidacy in June 2015 when he called Mexicans drug dealers and rapists, and provided the platform every day since then.

When Trump was tweeting about Pence getting booed at Hamilton the musical, the President-elect was settling a multi-million dollar fraud lawsuit – and escaped mass media scrutiny. When Melania Trump plagiarised Michelle Obama during her RNC speech, silent staffer Meredith McIver was quickly blamed.

Maybe SNL got it right by comparing Conway to a witch: after all, her public shaming is nothing more than a witch hunt.

And while Kellyanne Conway burns on the stake, the media is the uncomfortable executioner, and the establishment gets off scot-free.

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