Conway not backing down over ‘threatening’ call with reporter focused on her marriage

(File photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is clearly fed up with reporters using her marriage to George Conway, a fierce Trump critic on Twitter, for political fodder.

In a phone call with Washington Examiner’s Caitlin Yilek, where each side had different ideas about whether or not it was on the record, Conway tore into the reporter over an article about her being considered as President Trump’s chief-of-staff.

But it was Conway’s parting words that Yilek and the newspaper took as a threat.

The paper acknowledged that Conway’s assistant, Tom Joannou, had called Yilek and asked that the conversation is off the record before Conway “took over the call,” that being the initiation of a new conversation and thus on the record.

After the call, the Examiner released both the audio and transcripts, claiming that the reporter was threatened.

It would be a stretch to say Yilek reveled in the sudden notoriety the controversial call delivered, but a tweet linking to an article on the call could certainly suggest as much.

Yilek tweeted: “Kellyanne Conway disparagingly told me it was improper to write about her husband and threatened to investigate my personal life in a conversation she thought was off the record. It wasn’t.”

“So I just am wondering why in God’s earth you would need to mention anything about George Conway’s tweets in an article that talks about me as possibly being chief of staff,” Conway told Yilek. “Other than it looks to me like there’s no original reporting here, you just read Twitter and other people’s stuff, which I guess is why you don’t pick up the phone when people call from the White House because, if it’s not on Twitter or it’s not on cable TV, it’s not real.”

“Respectfully, of course, it’s just lazy to talk about somebody’s Twitter feed. Do you talk about other people’s spouses in your pieces, because I’ve been looking around, I haven’t learned a single thing from any of your pieces, and I’m just wondering if you routinely talk about people’s spouses?” she continued. “Why is it relevant here? George’s position is what?”

Again, Conway brings up the sexist angle and makes it clear who the power player is in her marriage.

“Let me tell you something, from a powerful woman. Don’t pull the crap where you’re trying to undercut another woman based on who she’s married to. He gets his power through me, if you haven’t noticed. Not the other way around,” she insisted.

Yilek responded to say, “I’m just trying to do my job and what my editor tells me to do.”

“Are you an expert on my marriage? Are you an expert on my job? Are you an expert on the way this White House works? Are you an expert on Twitter?” Conway replied. “I mean, what exactly are you an expert on that would qualify you to say, to characterize the way I feel?”

After going on to stand up for her accomplishments, Conway was clear that she does not “rely on the men in my life,” while berating the reporter for relying on the men in her life — her editors — to defend her actions.

But it was Conway’s closing remarks that were characterized as a threat.

“So, listen, if you’re going to cover my personal life, if you’re going to cover my personal life, then we’re welcome to do the same around here,” she told Yilek. “If it has nothing to do with my job, which it doesn’t, that’s obvious, then we’re either going to expect you to cover everybody’s personal life or we’re going to start covering them over here.”

After the Examiner released the content of the call, Conway tweeted a response that used Yilek’s own words to suggest the reporter “certainly thought” the call was off the record.

“The false tweet below makes my point about how dangerous it is to characterize someone else’s intentions, feelings, or state of mind, even if it’s for clicks and kicks,” she said in the tweet.

Not backing down, the White House aide continued to question the reporter’s chops while saying “it seems irrelevant if not sexist to mention my husband in describing me.”

“What I said on that call I’ve said publicly on-the-record before, including on TV, in speeches, in driveway gaggles with reporters,” Conway said. “I did NOT indicate the call was off-the-record, but the reporter certainly thought it was. Toward the end of the call, she asks if I’d like to put something ‘on the record.’”

She went on to call reporters out for being focused on “getting the person rather than getting the story.”

“I’ve inquired publicly previously why and when some reporting has been reduced to palace intrigue, or some threadbare combination of reading Twitter, repeating TV, and cutting and pasting someone else’s story,” Conway said. “Why is it oriented toward ‘getting the person’ rather than ‘getting the story’? That seems more to get something off the chest of the writer than into the mind of the reader.”

Noting that reporters often ask personal questions that “seem gossipy, inappropriate and irrelevant,” she concluded: “It is easy, as I have noted, to see messy lives in glass houses nearly everywhere I turn, I don’t make it a practice to raise this with people so as to harass or embarrass them.”

Interestingly, less than an hour after the Examiner article, Mr. Kellyanne Conway posted this cryptic tweet.

“I’ve learned a lot about narcissism over the past couple of years that I didn’t know previously. In fact, I didn’t know it had a label, although I had seen it without knowing it,” George Conway wrote.

Washington Examiner editor-in-chief Hugo Gurdon responded to Conway’s release with a statement that only addressed the paper releasing the content of the call.

“Off the record conversations are agreed in good faith and in advance between people known to be participating,” Gurdon said. “They are not, and never have been, blanket coverage to shield people who pull a bait and switch, peremptorily enter the conversation, and then spend ten minutes bullying and threatening a reporter.”

Tom Tillison

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