Hours after isolated audio and the White House’s own transcript revealed that a White House reporter did not aim a profane slur at White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, and McEnany herself, suggested the issue was still in doubt and not “totally clear.”
During Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Al Jazeera English correspondent Kimberly Halkett was caught on a hot mic mumbling a quick retort after McEnany waved off her attempt to ask another question. Part of conservative Twitter immediately concluded she called the press secretary a “lying bitch,” prompting a brief online frenzy.
Halkett, however, quickly pointed out that she actually said, “OK, you don’t want to engage.” A slowed-down, isolated clip of the audio also shows that the reporter clearly said the press secretary didn’t “want to engage” with her. Finally, the official White House transcript seemed to put the matter to rest when it included the “engage” line by Halkett.
Or so we thought.
Calling the White House briefing an “actual sideshow,” primetime star Tucker Carlson suggested on Tuesday night that Halkett may have profanely insulted the press secretary in a bid to go viral and become a “Twitter star.”
“So a huge controversy broke out today over what exactly she said,” Carlson said. “Many heard a slur, swearing. Others said, no, she said something completely defensible. You can decide for yourself.”
After playing a short clip of the moment, the conservative host then wondered aloud whether Halkett swore at McEnany.
“We don’t know, I could kind of see both sides of that,” he proclaimed, adding: “The point is, a lot of people assumed that she did because we’re living in a moment where it’s entirely conceivable that a White House reporter might DO that.”
The following hour on Fox, Trump confidant Sean Hannity also played the “you decide” game while adding that he polled his staff and the issue was still in doubt.
“At one point, sounded like a reporter calling, why yes, the press secretary a ‘lying B-word,’” Hannity said. “Others heard the reporter say she didn’t want to engage. OK. I literally did my own poll of my staff. They say it’s about 50/50. But we learned earlier, might be a history of using that word, but we give the benefit of the doubt. We’ll let you decide.”
Just as Carlson did, Hannity played a clip of the Halkett-McEnany exchange before coming back and reiterating that his staff was split on what they heard. He went on to say that his show “doesn’t rush to judgment” while simultaneously sowing more seeds of doubt.
“We let people decide and while it’s not totally clear what was uttered under the breath, it’s obvious these briefings are incredibly tense, always combative,” he added.
Moments later, Hannity welcomed on McEnany and immediately asked for her “thoughts” on the matter, indicating that he believed Halkett tossed out the slur even though members of his staff “disagree” with him.
McEnany, for her part, said she was willing to give the reporter the “benefit of the doubt”—only after saying her staff was undecided on the issue while attacking Halkett as “cruel and rude.”
“I polled my staff and my staff was 50/50,” she replied. “But unlike what the media does to me, does to this president, does to anyone in the Trump administration, which is not to give us the benefit of the doubt but actively take things out of context, chop up our words in a way that’s politically convenient to them and distorts the entirety of the message, unlike the dishonest brokers I’ve seen in the media, I won’t do that to a reporter who showed animosity, who was cruel, who was rude, who wasn’t seeking answers for the American people.”
“I’ll say this,” McEnany concluded. “I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt if she says she didn’t say that, something they have never given this president actively taken out of context.”