Part 4—Yesterday's efforts by Todd: To appearances, Conwayism, which leads us to Babel, can almost look like a form of mental illness.
Chuck Todd confronted the strange condition on yesterday's Meet the Press. For the full transcript, click here.
Back in October, Todd had weirdly punched through a journalistic fourth wall. In decidedly non-journalistic fashion, he'd weirdly vouched for Kellyanne Conway, weirdly declaring that she "is a very good person."
For background, just click here.
Yesterday, that "very good person" was accusing Todd, again and again, of all sorts of deliberate misconduct. Mainly, though, the very good person was refusing to answer a fairly basic question.
At the top of yesterday's program, Todd played tape of Trump press secretary Sean Spicer making the following statement about the Trump inauguration:
"This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe."
Todd then showed several photographs—photos which seemed to show that Spicer's statement was wrong, at least in the "in person" part. He showed the pair of photographs two separate times.
Based on the photos which Todd displayed, it seemed fairly clear that Obama's 2009 inauguration had been watched, in person, by a much larger crowd. On this basis, Todd kept asking Conway why Spicer had made his claim, which Todd said was "provably false."
Again and again and again and again, Conway refused to answer.
Todd kept asking; Conway kept ducking. For the record, here's the first way Todd asked this basic question:
TODD (1/22/17): And joining me now is the counselor to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway.To watch the whole interview, click here.
Ms. Conway, welcome to the White House North Lawn, which will become a familiar place for you, I think. Let me begin with this question:
The presidency is about choices, so I'm curious why President Trump chose yesterday to send out his press secretary to essentially litigate a provable falsehood when it comes to a small and petty thing like inaugural crowd size.
I guess my question to you is, Why do that?
In our view, Todd has already made several journalistic mistakes. Somewhat weirdly, he has also welcomed Conway to the White House, a somewhat weird piece of behavior Conway chose not to exploit.
That said, Todd had asked Conway a rather basic question. He'd said that Spicer's claim about crowd size was "provably false." Assuming facts not in evidence, he'd then asked Conway why Trump told Spicer to make the false claim.
Despite a bit of embroidery, Todd's question was fairly clear. For the record, this was the first, rambling example of Conway's refusal to answer:
CONWAY (continuing directly): Chuck, the president did many things yesterday and the day before that are very meaningful to America. He signed executive orders to stop Obamacare and all of its problems. Many people have lost their—millions of people have lost their insurance, their doctors, their plans.Has Trump's inauguration really been watched, "in person," by the largest crowd in history? Conway wandered the countryside, failing to answer.
So that stops right now. He's going to replace it with something much more free market and patient-centric in nature.
And on this matter of crowd size, I mean, for me, I think the most quantifiable points of interest for Americans should be what just happened a few months ago that brought him here, the 31 of 50 states he won, the 2600 counties, the 200 counties that went for President Obama that now went to President Trump, and the fact that 29-30 million women voted for Donald Trump for president. They should be respected. Somebody should cover their voices as well.
I'm about things that are quantifiable and important, I don't think that—I don't think ultimately presidents are judged by crowd sizes at their inauguration. I think they're judged by their accomplishments. And we know that President Obama and his accomplishments, that there's a lot of unfinished business there.
And on this matter of crowd size, I think it is, I think it is a symbol for the unfair and incomplete treatment that this president often receives. I'm very heartened to see Nielsen just came out with the ratings, 31 million people watching the inauguration. President Obama had 20.5 million watching his second inauguration four short years ago.
So we know people are also watching the inauguration on different screens and in different modes and that there was—I mean, for me, there was a prediction of a downpour of rain, I think, that deterred many people from coming.
But no question, there were hundreds of thousands of people out on the mall—
So far, Conway had said nothing which spoke to Todd's actual question. Finally, Todd broke in:
TODD: All right, Kellyanne, let me stop you here because you make a very reasonable and rational case for why crowd sizes don't matter. Then explain— You did not answer the question.Had Trump been watched, "in person," by the largest crowd in history? It seems quite clear that he was not—that Spicer's claim actually was "a provable falsehood."
Why did the president send out his press secretary, who is not just the spokesperson for Donald Trump, he could be—he is also, serves as the spokesperson for all of America at times. He speaks for all of the country at times.
Why put him out there, for the very first time, in front of that podium, to utter a provable falsehood? It's a small thing. But the first time he confronts the public, it's a falsehood?
As she wandered the countryside, Conway had failed to address this point. And as the interview continued, she refused to address this point again and again and again.
Again and again, Todd broke in on Conway's rambling remarks, reminding her, again and again, that she hadn't answered his question. By our count, he told her that she had failed to answer his question at least nine additional times.
Conway simply kept refusing to address Todd's rather basic question. As she did, she displayed a remarkable aspect of Conwayism:
The Conwayist must be willing to take offense at everything which happens around her, to the point where she may appear to be borderline mentally ill.
Conway declared herself offended by Todd again and again. Again and again, she took offense at his minor word choices, just as she'd done one week before when interviewed by Anderson Cooper.
She took offense at factual mistakes made by other journalists. She complained that Todd was being "overly dramatic."
She complained about Obamacare. She complained about "the devastation and destruction in our schools."
She complained that Todd was laughing at her. She took offense at the way Todd was referring to "our president" and "our press secretary." She complained about the way the Trump campaign had been covered by the press.
She complained about the Democrats' failure to confirm Mike Pompeo as CIA head, which was threatening "the peaceful transfer of power." She claimed that "lies have been told about [Trump's] relationship and his respect for the intelligence community."
She complained about the fact that BuzzFeed released "a dossier of junk and lies and fake news," then took offense at BuzzFeed's alleged reasons for "releas[ing] the dossier." Last week, speaking with Cooper, she had taken offense at the very use of the word "dossier," a troubling Frenchified term.
These are only some of the points concerning which Conway took offense during her endless session with Todd. Again and again and again and again, she took offense at everything around her—past, present and future.
That said, make no mistake! As she kept reacting to the latest forms of disrespect and offense, she also kept refusing to address Todd's question. Why had Spicer made a provably false statement? Again and again and again and again, Conway refused to reply.
If you watch the tape of this interview, you're seeing Full-Tilt Conwayism in action. You're also seeing a person whose partisan craziness has become so absurdly intense that she may seem to be in the grip of some form of illness.
It's a basic tenet of Conwayism! The Conwayist must truly believe, or must at least seem to believe, in her own constant sense of grievance. At all times, she must truly believe that she's being treated with disrespect. She must truly believe the relentless claims which emerge from her paranoia.
Unless we assume that she's simply being disingenuous, Kellyanne Conway doesn't seem entirely "well." This raises a basic question—how should journalists like Todd deal with Conwayism?
Last week, Cooper dealt with Conway very poorly on Day One. During a 25-minute interview, he chased her around the countryside, taking every piece of bait he was offered.
He contested her every point. Again and again and again and again, he let himself be distracted from the basic questions at hand.
On Day Two, Cooper did much better. He presented a full segment in which he calmly reviewed Conway's various bogus claims from the night before.
Yesterday, in his own Day One, Todd performed more skillfully than Cooper had done. In our view, he did make a series of minor journalistic mistakes. But rather than chase Conway around as Cooper had done, he kept returning to his one basic question:
Why had Spicer made a claim which seems to be "provably false?"
He asked the question again and again. Again and again and again and again, an angry, aggrieved, offended Conway just kept refusing to answer.
Could Kellyanne Conway be "mentally ill" in some sort of way? Or is she simply crazy?
We don't know, but people like Cooper and Todd have to learn how to deal with Conwayism. It's an offshoot of Trumpism which leads us directly to Babel.
Yesterday, Conway may have seemed borderline nuts. She took offense, again and again, at virtually everything Todd said and did. Scarily, she actually seemed to believe the ridiculous things she kept saying.
She's been this way for decades now. The press corps, and the liberal world, have persistently averted their gaze from Conway, and from a host of other ridiculous people just like her.
As recently as last October, Todd was reacting to this Babel by calling Conway "a very good person." This is one of the crazy ways we got to our current place.