President Donald Trump’s press secretary brought her considerable rhetorical skills to bear in a clash with one of the president’s least favorite journalists this week.
Kayleigh McEnany, who has won praises for shutting down media talking points, sparred with CNN’s Jim Acosta on Wednesday over claims that the president had innocent people tear-gassed for a “photo-op,” as Fox News reported.
Tear gas and rubber bullets?
All week, the president has taken fire for allegedly having peaceful protesters cleared out of Lafayette Square, near the White House, with tear gas so he could walk across the street to a historic church. Taken together with Trump’s threat that evening to crack down on riots with the military, the incident Monday has been interpreted by many in the media as an example of incipient authoritarianism.
Even Trump’s former defense secretary, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, condemned it, The Hill reported.
The actual details of the event have been disputed, but Acosta found a purpose for it on Wednesday in one of his many press briefing morality plays. It was classic Acosta: the perfect mixture of sentimentality, moral preening, and insinuation. Of course, there was a Martin Luther King, Jr. reference, for maximum dramatic effect.
“You mentioned Dr. [Martin Luther] King,” Acosta started off. “He likely would not have approved of what took place Monday evening across from the White House, as you probably know. If the White House, president, and his team had to do it all over again, would you have gassed and pummeled protesters to clear the park so the president could have a photo-op?” the reporter asked, according to Fox.
But McEnany wasn’t having it. “No tear gas was used and no rubber bullets were used,” McEnany fired back, to which Acosta charged, “Chemical agents were used.”
McEnany shuts Acosta down
McEnany claimed, however, that police had reason to believe they were in danger, as protesters were throwing projectiles at them, further noting that St. John’s Episcopal Church — the site of Trump’s “photo-op” — was set on fire the evening before.
“That decision was made in the morning, first of all,” she said, according to Fox. The press secretary went on:
Protesters were told three times over loudspeaker that they needed to move and what happened was it grew increasingly unruly. There were projectiles being thrown at officers, frozen water bottles were being thrown at officers, various other projectiles, and the officers had no other [choice] in that moment than to act and make sure that they were safe and that the perimeter was pushed back because as we all know, a church was burning in that very area the night before.
Acosta continued to press the matter, arguing that the “vast majority” of demonstrators were peaceful or didn’t hear police warnings, and asked the White House again for an apology. “What do you say to Americans who look at what happened on Monday and find that to be appalling?” the reporter asked, according to Fox.
McEnany was curt in her reply: “When an officer is at risk, they have the right to defend themselves.”
From any other reporter, this kind of thing would be obnoxious — but from Acosta, it’s just par for the course.