A number of prominent journalists and outlets distorted Kayleigh McEnany’s remarks on Thursday about school reopenings, selectively quoting the White House press secretary to cast the administration as hostile to scientific inquiry and eager to reopen schools regardless of the health implications.
The Trump administration has been pushing to open K-12 schools with in-person classes this fall. School districts have struggled to find ways to implement in-person learning in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, as they attempt to balance health concerns with the challenges for teachers, students, and parents that continued remote learning presents.
“The president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open. . . . The science should not stand in the way of this,” McEnany said. “As [Hoover Institution senior fellow] Dr. Scott Atlas said . . . ‘Everyone else in the western world, our peer nations, are doing it. We are the outlier here.’” McEnany then pointed to a Journal of the American Medical Association study of 46 pediatric hospitals, which concluded that coronavirus risk for children is less than the seasonal flu.
Reporters and media organizations seized on the first part of McEnany’s remarks, with CNN reporter Jim Acosta quoting McEnany as having said, “The science should not stand in the way of this” in his summary of the comments on Twitter. That tweet has been retweeted more than 46,000 times and received more than 100,000 likes, and while Acosta subsequently tweeted that McEnany went on to say, “The science is on our side,” that tweet has received far less engagement.
The White House Press Secretary on Trump’s push to reopen schools: “The science should not stand in the way of this.”
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) July 16, 2020
Both CBS News and the Washington Post used the phrase “The science should not stand in the way of this” in captions on Twitter without mentioning that McEnany cited a scientific study to justify the administration’s stance.
CBS reporter Weija Jang cited the phrase in her own tweet on the press conference. When Jang subsequently published a transcript with McEnany’s full remark’s in context, she still highlighted the phrase.
Here is the exchange from the White House transcript in case you didn’t watch the clip above.
While @PressSec mentions a @JAMA_current study later in her remarks, when she says “Science should not stand in the way of this”,
“this” refers to Trump’s desire to reopen schools. pic.twitter.com/2J7pgKAyqS
— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) July 16, 2020
The phrase “The science should not stand in the way of this” was quoted in numerous headlines of articles summarizing the press conference. Those articles ran in NBC, Business Insider, The Guardian, USA Today, The Daily Beast, and other outlets. The attention given to the phrase led CNN’s Jake Tapper to point out that McEnany’s remarks were being taken out of context.
Folks read the ENTIRE McEnany comment about “the science should not stand in the way” of opening schools. She’s arguing that the science is on the side of those who want to open them, she cites a JAMA study. I’m not taking a position on the matter but be fair.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) July 16, 2020
“Folks read the ENTIRE McEnany comment,” Tapper wrote. “She’s arguing that the science is on the side of those who want to open them, she cites a JAMA study. I’m not taking a position on the matter but be fair.”
The widespread distortion led McEnany to term the coverage a “case study in media bias.”
Case Study in Media Bias:
I said: “The science is very clear on this…the science is on our side here. We encourage our localities & states to just simply follow the science. Open our schools.”
But leave it to the media to deceptively suggest I was making the opposite point! https://t.co/vlxk3zRsgh
— Kayleigh McEnany (@PressSec) July 16, 2020