'Alternative facts' and missed opportunities: CNN publishes a fawning profile of Kellyanne Conway — and completely ignores her ethical issues
On Wednesday, CNN published an article by Dana Bash entitled "Kellyanne Conway: How she became the ultimate Trump White House survivor."
The article described Conway, a veteran GOP pollster who ran President Donald Trump's campaign and serves as Counselor to the President, in glowing, admiring terms.
"There are, in fact, a lot of crucifixes and saints adorning the walls of the devout Catholic home, which Conway made additions to over the years in order to accommodate her own family as it grew," reads one passage. "Her childhood room is now a hallway, but still has memorabilia from her younger years everywhere, from her '85 graduation tassel to a corsage from when she was named Blueberry Princess."
The article also works to paint her as an icon for women's empowerment. "After law school Conway entered the man's world of Republican polling where she said she often missed out on getting clients because she wasn't on the golf course or in the bar where one would normally learn about a chance to bid on a project ... Then, in the mid 1990s CNN hired her, then Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, as a Republican 'Gen X' analyst."
And the article devotes a lot of space to letting Conway propagandize the president and her relationship with him. "I think my gender helps me with the President in that he has never been afraid, and in fact, always been willing to treat men and women in his employment the same," she is quoted as saying. "The President has helped countless women in this county. We have 157,000,000 Americans working now, the highest number ever."
The big question is: why did this article need to exist?
For starters, what is even the point of asking the main question in the headline? The reason Conway has stayed on in the Trump administration so long is obvious: she is a skillful liar and partisan attack dog who will go on television and spin anything to flatter the president. She has defended the administration's lies as "alternative facts," invented a fake terrorist attack to justify Trump's xenophobic immigration policies, routinely babbles about Hillary Clinton when asked about accusations of Trump's misconduct, and has faced ethics investigations for using her government office to promote political candidates and the Trump family business. Conway is so routinely dishonest, in fact, that some journalists have called for blackballing her from cable news, and CNN's own Don Lemon has complained that Conway is "beneath the dignity" of the network. There really doesn't need to be a more complicated explanation than that — Trump likes Conway because she lies for him.
For another thing, what is the point of giving Conway space in which to paint Trump as a savior of women? This is, to put it mildly, not a widespread opinion — Trump has boasted on tape about being able to grab women's genitals, has been accused by over a dozen women of sexual harassment or assault, and his administration has aggressively worked to gut civil and medical rights for women. 59 percent of women voted against Trump's party in the midterms. CNN's effort to challenge Conway's notion of the president as a woman's president was, at most, feeble.
None of this is to say that an article interviewing Conway is inherently a useless idea. But the questions that got asked were the wrong ones. A lot of space in the article, for instance, was devoted to asking Conway about the apparent daylight between her and her husband, conservative attorney George Conway, who has vocally stepped up his attacks on Trump, and to asking her how she manages to "have it all" as a working mother of four.
CNN could have asked her far more interesting questions. For instance, does she still stand behind the comments she made about Trump in 2016 before being hired to his campaign, calling him "vulgar," "unpresidential," and someone who "built a lot of his businesses on the backs of the little guy"? Or what about the persistent rumors that she is behind many of the White House leaks that have frustrated the administration? Or, for that matter, following up on Conway's remarks on how the president trusts her so much, could she name one thing she has actually advised him on?
All things considered, this was a serious missed opportunity for CNN. They had a chance to probe the inner workings of Trump's world through a woman who has survived and thrived in the administration — and they spent most of it on indulgent softballs that revealed no meaningful information, whitewashed her ethical issues, and let her steer the message.