On Friday, journalist Trey Yingst opened up his Twitter app and tapped out a rather succinct first principle of his profession that, on first blush, might have struck many of his more than 51,000 followers as fairly obvious. “Demanding answers from government officials is not activism, it’s journalism,” he wrote. “Accountability and truth matters.”
Straightforward enough, and something few people would likely take issue with. What was extraordinary about the tweet, though, is the fact that it came from a foreign correspondent who works for Fox News — and that it was in defense of CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, a White House correspondent who the Trump administration has been going out of its way to harass for a few years now.
The latest example of how the administration has done so, and the specific motivation for Yingst’s tweet, came on Friday, when White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany offered a sharp rebuke to Collins’ attempt to be called on for a question during the day’s press briefing. It was the first McEnany has led since October 1, and right before abruptly leaving the briefing, McEnany snapped at Collins’ attempts to ask a question: “I don’t call on activists.”
What Collins did next is a variation of the same thing she’s done over the last three years, every other time the administration has gone out of its way to isolate and try to rattle her.
“I’m not an activist, and you haven’t taken any questions since Oct. 1,” Collins replied, as McEnany left the room. “… And you just took about five, Kayleigh. That’s not doing your job. Your taxpayer-funded job.”
Not only did this episode spark quite the bizarro journalistic Upside Down, with a Fox journalist coming to the defense of a CNN correspondent against a Republican White House that equates tough questions with some kind of near-treason. It might also have gone unnoticed or forgotten by most people — who only saw Twitter users like CNN’s Jake Tapper praise how Collins handle herself — that this White House has tried to single out and screw with Collins from the get-go.
Collins, who joined CNN in 2017 as a White House correspondent, will still be in the briefing room come January, after the Biden administration has moved in and a new press secretary has been installed.
And here is some of what she, presumably, won’t have to put up with anymore:
Things like Trump World rallying Internet trolls to attack her en masse. Like the time one of the Twitter accounts run by the Trump campaign tried to mask-shame her:
Or tantrums thrown at her for asking tough questions — like back in April, when Collins was among the reporters in the White House briefing room and tried to get President Trump to respond to a question. “No, that’s enough,” Trump said, dismissing her entreaties. “The problem is, you don’t write the truth.” When she persisted, Trump continued: “No, not CNN. I told you, CNN is fake news. Don’t talk to me.”
This encounter seemed to be the impetus for an attempt by the White House at the end of that week to get Collins to move to the back of the briefing room.
From May, here’s President Trump deciding that the only way to deal with Collins’ relentlessness in trying to ask a question is to — fine, we’ll just end the press conference altogether:
At another White House press briefing, with Collins appearing to be alone in the front row because of reporters spacing out to abide by social distancing rules, President Trump went out of his way to ignore Collins to respond to essentially anyone and everyone else. At the end, he left the room, ignoring Collins’ questions she tried to ask as he walked away.
Then there was the time, back in 2018, when Collins got called into the office of former Trump administration deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine — a former Fox News executive. Accompanied by then-press secretary Sarah Sanders, Shine told Collins she’d been disinvited to a Rose Garden open press event “because they thought the questions I had posed to the president (earlier) were inappropriate and inappropriate for that venue,” to use Collins’ description of the encounter.
What to make of all this?
At this point, there’s no need for any kind of sanctimonious defense here of the importance of the Fourth Estate, and about how indispensable a free press that vigorously does its job is to the functioning of a democratic republic. And there have already been a flood of articles picking apart that quasi-confrontation between McEnany and Collins, and the silliness of calling the latter an “activist.”
Here’s something that most people don’t understand about journalists, though, and which is worth pointing out in light of this particular White House’s treatment of a particularly tough correspondent:
About the only thing left to say about Collins and the work she’s produced over the last few years — delivering one scoop after another and a relentless tonnage of daily reporting in the face of an embarrassingly antagonistic White House — is that, notwithstanding the treatment mentioned above, she’s the kind of journalist who makes other people think about becoming one, too. And thank God for that.