Fox News anchor Chris Wallace took aim at White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Sunday, slamming her for going after reporters about their religious faith and for telling them what questions they should be asking.
McEnany had on Friday accused journalists of “desperately” wanting churches and places of worship to stay closed after she was questioned about US President Donald Trump’s claim he would “override” governors who ignored his demand to immediately reopen churches amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A reporter was asking what legal authority the president has to do so.
“I spent six years in the White House briefing room covering Ronald Reagan. I have to say, I never — and in the years since too — I never saw a White House press secretary act like that,” Wallace said to a panel on “Fox News Sunday.”
Donna Brazile, the former interim Democratic National Committee chair, responded that she personally knows McEnany to be an “extraordinary person” but criticized the “combative” approach she’d taken in her new role.
Wallace continued by playing another excerpt from Friday’s press briefing. During that clip, McEnany posed a series of questions ― complete with prepared slides ― that she said journalists should be asking about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg labeled McEnany’s behavior “indefensible and grotesque.”
“What Donald Trump wants in a press secretary is a Twitter troll who goes on attack,” Golberg told Wallace. “Doesn’t actually care about doing the job they have, and instead wants to impress really an audience of one and make another part of official Washington another one of these essentially cable news and Twitter gladiatorial arenas.”
Wallace added that McEnany “isn’t acting like she’s working for the public” and acts instead like “what she used to be, which is a spokesperson for the Trump campaign.”
Another panelist, Josh Holmes, the former chief of staff for Senator Mitch McConnell, defended McEnany. He claimed her behaviour was different from past press secretaries because any spokesperson in the Trump administration and campaign “finds themselves under constant attack by the press.”
“Let me just say, Sam Donaldson and me in the Reagan White House, we were pretty tough on the White House press secretaries and we never had our religious beliefs questioned or were lectured on what we should ask,” Wallace replied.
Wallace, a frequent and vocal Trump critic, was the subject of Trump Twitter outrage last month after a “Fox News Sunday” segment critical of his administration’s pandemic response.
His latest comments will likely come as another escalation in tensions with Trump. While some primetime Fox News personalities routinely stump for the president, negative coverage last week sent Trump into a Twitter tailspin against the network. On Monday, anchor Neil Cavuto had harshly criticised the president’s claim he’s using the unproven and potentially dangerous drug hydroxychloroquine to protect against coronavirus.
Trump declared Monday he was “looking for a new outlet” and on Thursday complained that Fox News was “doing nothing” to help him get re-elected in November. And on Friday, he raged at the network for airing a poll that showed him trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.