It was perhaps the most important and telling line uttered at a White House press briefing in a long, long time. While the majority of people have been focused in recent days on White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany's absolutely savage decimation of Reuters "reporter" Jeff Mason, too few are concentrating on what happened after her mic drop.
To set the stage, in just her second official press briefing, the former campaign spokeswoman-turned-press secretary was taking questions from the media about President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In a fateful turn of events for him, McEnany pointed at the brash Jeff Mason who was loaded for bear:
"In a previous life, before you were press secretary, you worked for the [Trump] campaign. And you made a comment, I believe on Fox, in which you said President Trump will not allow the coronavirus to come into this country. Given what has happened since then, obviously, would you like to take that back?"
What happened next was a moment for the ages:
The camera doesn't show it, but all that remained in the spot where Mason had been sitting was a smoldering pile of ashes. Brutal.
But as I mentioned earlier, for my money the most important thing that happened wasn't McEnany ruining Mason's day. It was what he, or a different unidentified member of the press shouted back at the Press Secretary as she was packing up to leave. Listen carefully and you'll hear it distinctly:
"You were prepared for that!"
We aren't going to ignore what that question reveals, are we? We aren't going to pretend that it doesn't blow the lid off the silly charade of these press gaggles, are we?
What you hear in that question is an apparent indignation that the White House press secretary was prepared to give an answer to a query posed by a journalist. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that precisely what a serious journalist would want? Isn't the entire point of a press briefing designed to be so that media can ask essential questions and receive informative answers from the spokesperson of our country's executive?
Why would any serious journalist who properly understands the purpose of these briefings be upset that the person to whom he is directing his question has given ample time, thought, and preparation in the answer that they bring?
The answer is self-evident. These press briefings have become pointless stage shows for a hostile media to attempt "gotcha" questions, not to hold the powerful to account, but to elevate their own standing among their equally unserious peers.
What angered Mason (or whoever the reporter was that shouted that response to McEnany) was that they were deprived an opportunity to embarrass her personally, get pats on the back and chuckles from colleagues, and then write about it later.
Given that sorry reality, I guess I'm inclined to spend less time glorying in McEnany's skillful backhanding of a reporter's petulant attack, and more time asking why we continue to indulge these clown shows as being even remotely meaningful in the first place.