Part 1—Twelve angry claims which were false: She wasn't named for Conway Twitty. And she didn't marry Tim Conway.
Despite these disadvantages, Kellyanne Conway has become a powerful force within the world of Donald J. Trump.
The president-elect's rhetorical style is often referred to as Trumpism. If we lived in a different kind of world, competent intellectuals would be working to define the elements of that style.
We don't live in that kind of world. We do live in a world whose public debate is increasingly being shaped by Conwayism. This fact became more clear last Wednesday night, January 11, on Anderson Cooper's CNN show.
The previous day, all Hell had broken loose. Late Tuesday afternoon, CNN had reported that the nation's intelligence chiefs had briefed Trump on the contents of the latest "dodgy dossier," a 35-page collection of unverified claims about Trump.
A few hours later, BuzzFeed actually published the full contents of the dodgy document. The dossier had been floating around for months. Because its claims were unverified (and may in some cases have sounded crazy), no one else had published it.
Suddenly, BuzzFeed did, inanely saying that people could make up their minds for themselves about the array of charges.
CNN's report about the intelligence briefing had preceded BuzzFeed's document dump. Here's the way Jake Tapper reported to Wolf during Tuesday's 6 PM hour:
TAPPER (1/10/17): That's right, Wolf, a CNN exclusive.It was a CNN exclusive. Excitement seemed to be running high at the pundit-rich cable channel.
CNN has learned that the nation's top intelligence officials gave information to President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama last week about claims of Russian efforts to compromise president-elect Trump.
The information was provided as part of last week's classified intelligence briefings regarding Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 U.S. elections.
I have been working on this story with my colleagues Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez and Carl Bernstein. They all join me now.
In our view, the excitement overrode good journalistic practice in certain ways during's Tapper's report. Eventually, though, it came to seem that CNN's report had basically been accurate.
CNN broke its exclusive late Tuesday afternoon. A few hours later, BuzzFeed went all in, publishing the entire dodgy dossier/memo/report, which ran 35 pages.
By Wednesday, Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway was very unhappy about this whole affair. As a result, CNN's Anderson Cooper taped a 25-minute interview with Conway.
Cooper played tape of the entire interview during his program last Wednesday night. During that session, we got to see the general shape of the rhetorical style called Conwayism. We also saw some of the journalistic failings which help make the style so effective.
Which attributes of Conwayism were on display Wednesday night? For today, let's restrict ourselves to one aspect of Conwayism—the ability to make an angry claim again and again and again and again, even if the angry claim in question is factually false.
Let's be fair! At some point, almost everyone ends up making false or shaky claims. It also seems that certain people make many more such claims than is the statistical norm.
During her session with Cooper, Conway launched her false claim quite quickly. Below, you see the way the interview started. We highlight the bogus claim to which we refer:
COOPER (1/11/17): Kellyanne, at today's press conference, Sean Spicer conflated unsubstantiated claims that BuzzFeed released with what CNN reported. And I was surprised by that, because he said BuzzFeed and CNN made the decision to run with the unsubstantiated claim.To watch the full interview, just click here.
That's simply not true. I mean, what CNN said is that CNN is not reporting on details of that memo, as it is not independently corroborated the specific allegations.
Do you acknowledge here and now that CNN did not release the 35-page unsubstantiated claims against Donald Trump and it was misleading and untrue for Sean Spicer to suggest otherwise?
CONWAY: No, our incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, was exactly right, as was the president-elect, Anderson. CNN went first yesterday and BuzzFeed went second.
COOPER: We didn't report what BuzzFeed reported.
CONWAY: I didn't say that you did, but you linked to it in your story.
Let's be candid. In part because of Cooper's shortcomings, this conversation was already a bit of a Babel.
That said, Conway had already seemed to make a fairly specific claim. She seemed to be claiming that CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's publication of the 35-page dossier/memo/report.
Is that what Conway meant when she said, "You linked to it in your story?" Few things ever became clear during Cooper's 25-minute tussle with Conway. But it's fairly clear that Conway was claiming that CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's posting of the dossier, or to the BuzzFeed report which presented the dossier.
Again and again and again and again, Conway restated her slightly murky complaint: CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's publication of the 35-page dossier! By our count, she went on to make some version of this angry claim eleven more times.
That made it twelve angry claims in all. It was Classic Conwayism:
Conway's twelve angry claims:If you read the transcript or watch the tape, you'll see that it's perfectly clear. In these repeated statements, Conway was claiming that CNN had linked in some way to BuzzFeed's publication of the 35-page dossier.
1) "...you linked to it in your story."
2) "And so were you. You linked to—"
3) "Why do you link to the BuzzFeed story in your report?"
4) "If you couldn't corroborate it, why would you even link to it? Why are you linking to fake news?"
5) "Why are you linking to this stuff? You know the Michael Cohen—you know the Michael Cohen who is mentioned in that report is not the Michael Cohen who works at the Trump organization."
6) "You're linking to the BuzzFeed report."
7) "It's mentioned in here. I'm looking at the updated CNN report. I read it right before we came on air."
8) "It's on your website. But anyway, it's on CNN.com."
9) "I think if you link to something on your website, you're reporting it."
10) "No, no, hold on! You can't say you're not reporting it if it's on your website."
11) "If you say that CNN's not reporting on something but it's on your website, does that mean CNN is not reporting on it? Because I think they are."
12) Sarcastically: "The BuzzFeed report, the BuzzFeed story is not linked on your website, it's not mentioned in the story?"
During the first half of her interview with Cooper, Conway made this claim again and again and again. Suddenly, though, she stopped making the claim. We'll speculate about the reason for that below.
Again and again and again and again, Conway made her angry claim. At CNN.com, CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's publication of the 35-page dossier!
If you watch the first half of the videotape, you'll be seeing one key part of Conwayism in action. We refer to the ability to make an angry claim again and again and again.
Having said that, let us also say this. As best we can tell, Conway's angry claim was false. She made her claim again and again, but she was wrong every time.
Conway kept insisting that CNN had linked to the dossier, or perhaps to BuzzFeed's report presenting the dossier. At one point (see number 7 above), she even said that she was looking at the CNN report which contained the link. She said she'd checked it "right before we came on the air" (presumably, right before they started taping).
Angrily, Conway kept making her angry claim. In the course of her tirade, she insisted, several times, that CNN should "clean house," so horrible had their overall journalism been the previous day.
It's a basic tenet of Conwayism. You keep repeating your angry claim, again and again and again. But uh-oh! As best we can tell, in this instance, Conway's claim was false.
As best we can tell, CNN didn't link to the dodgy dossier, or to the BuzzFeed report about it. But here's another problem:
When Cooper sat for his interview with Conway, it seems he didn't know that.
As Conway made her repeated claim, Cooper offered various responses. At several points, he clearly said that CNN hadn't linked to BuzzFeed.
Eventually, though, he flatly said he didn't know whether CNN had done so. This was Cooper's response to Conway's twelfth angry claim:
CONWAY: If you say that CNN's not reporting on something, but it's on your website, does that mean CNN is not reporting on it? Because I think they are.By this time, complete confusion reigned about an array of points. As we'll see in our next few reports, Cooper and Conway created a total Babel in an array of ways.
COOPER: BuzzFeed is not on our website.
CONWAY: OK. The BuzzFeed report, the BuzzFeed story, is not linked on your website, it's not mentioned in the story?
COOPER: I don't know. I don't know all of what's on digital program.
CONWAY: I do!
COOPER: I'm told it's not, but I don't believe that it is. I find it weird that CNN—and frankly, if CNN linked to the BuzzFeed stuff, that seems to me inappropriate. And if CNN does that, I would not, I would not support that. But as far as I know, that is not the case. I'm certainly going to check out our website and I urge people to go to our website right now and check it out for themselves.
That said, Conway stopped making her angry claim at this point, perhaps because Cooper said he'd been told that her angry claim was wrong (presumably by a producer). We'd don't know if that's why Conway suddenly dropped her repeated claim. But we'd call that a decent conjecture.
At any rate, Cooper had finally said it! He finally said that he didn't know if CNN had linked to the BuzzFeed report. Earlier, he'd seemed to say that CNN didn't link. Now, surrounded by a Babel, he said something quite different.
We wouldn't say it was Cooper's "fault" that he didn't know, coming in, whether CNN had linked. You can't know what sorts of claims will be made until someone like Conway starts making them.
We wouldn't say it was Cooper's "fault" that he didn't know whether CNN had linked to BuzzFeed. But again and again, Conwayism feeds on journalistic ignorance, incompetence and deference to power—attributes which are legion.
Today, we've seen one small part of the rhetorical style known as Conwayism. In Conwayism, you make your angry, angry claims again and again and again.
Your anger may overwhelm your accuracy, as seems to have occurred in this instance. But within the world of Conwayism, this may not gigantically matter.
Concern about accuracy may not be a major part of Conwayism. We'll be honest with you one more time:
We see a similar style at work on some of our own tribe's favorite programs. Did you happen to see a certain unnamed cable star bungling facts last Thursday night as she told us about Trump's "lies?"
Tomorrow: Basic tenet: You must always be willing to move to the next ridiculous claim