Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources Sunday, White House counselor and South Jersey native Kellyanne Conway sparred with host Brian Stelter in a 20-minute interview.
Stelter pressed Conway at least six times to answer this question: How does President Trump know that special counsel Robert Mueller has not found any evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election?
Every time, Conway instead characterized CNN and other media outlets as biased, at one point pressing Stelter to reveal whom he and his wife, NY1 traffic anchor and Fox 29 alum Jamie Stelter, voted for during the 2016 election.
“I did not vote for president. I left that spot blank on the ballot that day,” Brian Stelter replied. “But it’s not appropriate for you to go around asking people who they voted for.”
“You probably didn’t think she needed your help,” Conway replied, referring to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Here is the full interview:
While Stelter tried to get answers out of Conway, many journalists had a question for the host: Why have Conway on in the first place?
“She’s just going to lie more. And you’re going to broadcast those lies,” asked Vox reporter David Roberts. “Has she EVER done an interview and not mentioned Hillary Clinton’s name?” Stelter’s colleague, CNN producer Jason Morrell, asked on Twitter. Vox’s Carlos Maza called it “bonkers” that the show booked guests like Conway, “essentially rewarding them for being unreliable sources.”
Stelter also bristled when panelist Max Boot, a Washington Post columnist and CNN contributor, called Conway a liar. Asked by Stelter to explain, Boot pointed out several falsehoods Conway pushed during the interview, such as falsely claiming Democrats walked away from the a deal on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA.
“It’s lie after lie, essentially,” Boot said.
New York University journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen wrote on his blog Press Think that Stelter’s comment during the interview that he was “glad” Conway appeared on the show revealed the true reason for her interview — to ward off criticism that the network is biased against Trump.
“Interviewing Kellyanne Conway places us in opposition to our core audience — which is exactly why we do it, Kellyanne. To prove to the world how open we are to your voice, even when ‘they’ are not,” Rosen explained.
Stelter declined to comment for this story. On Twitter, the CNN host defended his decision to book Conway for interviews.
“She reports the POV of many Trump voters. So, I strive for thought-provoking Q’s,” Stelter wrote. “I think her answers AND non-answers are revealing.”
100s of people have asked this today. Answer: Conway is a key W.H. aide. She speaks to POTUS. She reps the POV of many Trump voters. So, I strive for thought-provoking Q's. I think her answers AND non-answers are revealing. Judge the transcript: https://t.co/kjSLI37qls https://t.co/aNVmoDjvQv
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) May 20, 2018
Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor, said Stelter’s explanation would be satisfactory if he were dealing with a conventional relationship between a news organization and the White House. But with the constant attacks aimed at news outlets like CNN and repeated falsehoods offered as facts, he isn’t.
“She doesn’t answer his questions. She aggressively asserts Trump talking points … and she continually tries to delegitimize CNN and other news organizations,” Kennedy said. “It was a really ugly, vicious performance on her part. It also fits into the Trump M.O.: Everything and everyone is partisan, so nothing matters. There is no truth.”
Kennedy also said he’s uncomfortable with shows, such as MSNBC’s Morning Joe, refusing to let Conway come on (co-host Mika Brzezinski has harshly criticized CNN for allowing Conway to appear, calling it “politics porn” and “a gross tabloid management ploy for ratings”). But of all the Trump loyalists, Kennedy said, Conway is least qualified to appear on TV after she coined the phrase alternative facts to describe former White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s false claims about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd.
“Maybe I would do this: Insist on interviewing her on tape rather than live,” Kennedy suggested. “Promise that you’ll air the whole thing if you have to. But give yourself time to sift through the falsehoods so that you don’t have to try to fact-check in real time.”
Of course, Reliable Sources isn’t the only CNN show where Conway appears. At one point last year, her combative appearances on The Lead and State of the Union with Philadelphia native Jake Tapper became such a hot topic that Saturday Night Live mocked them in several skits, including one that went a little dark mocking Conway’s obsession with appearing on cable television.
During an appearance on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert last week, Tapper also tried to explain why he thought there was journalistic value in having Conway face questions on CNN.
Tapper didn’t really disagree with Colbert’s premise that Conway can’t be trusted to tell the truth (Colbert called her a “collection of deceptions with a blonde wig stapled on top”). But he defended having Conway on his show this month to respond to questions over Trump’s truthfulness regarding a $130,000 payment to silence allegations of an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels.
“I thought it was worth the time to have Kellyanne Conway come on and for me to challenge her on the notion of why does this president tell so many lies,” Tapper explained, noting to the laughing audience that she didn’t take issue with the premise.
“She said, ‘The president does many things,’ ” Tapper told an amused Colbert. “Which, you’ll have to concede, is true.”
Correction: A quote by Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy was initially misattributed to CNN producer Jason K. Morrell.