Fully-vaccinated White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced Sunday that she has COVID with “mild symptoms,” garnering a remarkably passive reception from the press compared to the reportorial fear, trembling, and gnashing of teeth that followed former Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s positive COVID test last fall.
CNN downplayed the news by finding experts, including the network’s own Dr. Leana Wen, a former president of Planned Parenthood, to explain why “It’s unlikely Psaki could have infected Biden with Covid-19.” Likewise, the Associated Press calmly listed all the precautions Psaki and the Biden team are taking, citing Psaki’s placid explanation that “I am disclosing today’s positive test out of an abundance of transparency.”
The non-story — and it should be a non-story, especially considering Psaki’s mild symptoms — hasn’t been treated like a big scare or a big scandal, and rightly so. We can all wish Ms. Psaki to feel better soon without fearmongering and blame-gaming.
But why couldn’t the corporate press have had the same, even-keeled reaction when Kayleigh McEnany, press secretary in the Trump White House, tested positive for COVID? History repeats itself, and when it gives us such glaring apples-to-apples comparisons, it’s a reminder of how Biden’s lapdog media don’t even try to hide the 180-degree spin.
Like Psaki, McEnany tested negative “consistently” before testing positive. Like McEnany, Psaki regularly speaks maskless from her podium. And unlike Psaki’s “mild” symptoms, McEnany reported no symptoms at all.
Yet CNN — on the news side, not the opinion desk — churned out the totally evenhanded conclusion that “McEnany’s diagnosis is a stark reminder that the administration has flouted science and best practices before and even after the President tested positive.” CNN used 579 words to describe McEnany’s positive COVID test, compared with 385 to report Psaki’s.
Individual journalists had even harsher words for McEnany’s irresponsibility. “Kayleigh McEnany directly endangered the lives of those around her, including members of the press,” raged New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi.
“It’s outrageous. Look, I don’t want to kick somebody while they are down and sick, but McEnany’s behavior, her conduct was outrageous,” CNN’s Brian Stelter said on air. “It’s more evidence of a coverup, more evidence of denialism at the White House up until the point you start coughing and you can’t deny it anymore.”
CBS News’s Ben Tracy came to the straight-faced conclusion at the time that “I felt safer reporting in North Korea than I currently do reporting at The White House. This is just crazy.”
“People are livid,” one White House reporter told Vanity Fair. “There are a lot of us, like dozens of reporters, who feel it’s unsafe to be doing it the way it’s being done.”
It remains to be seen whether those same reporters feel unsafe or directly endangered by Psaki’s actions. It’s true that Psaki and presumably the White House press corps have received the COVID shot, which was unavailable last year when McEnany tested positive for COVID. But if these journalists are so confident in the power of their own vaccination, it leaves us to wonder why they would support dragging out do-nothing mask mandates and the medical coercion of other people.
The other explanation is that the media’s heavy-handed, high-horse reaction to McEnany’s symptomless diagnosis was political theater. It wouldn’t be the only time.