Here's the "Meet the Press" transcript from this morning. Chuck Todd doggedly tried to embarrass Conway over the Press Secretary's statements about the crowd size at the Inauguration. Let's count how many times Todd asked the question and see how Conway fought back every way she could. Todd I think had great material, and Kellyanne had a hard-to-defend position, but she never weakened.
Round 1: Todd begins with a statement that is clearly very well prepared down to the last word:
I'm curious why President Trump chose yesterday to send out his press secretary to essentially litigate a provable falsehood when it comes to a small and petty thing like inaugural crowd size.But it needs to be a question, so he tags on: "I guess my question to you is why do that?"
Conway gives a very long answer, pointing to other things Trump did yesterday, the victory in election, the relative unimportance of crowd size (when Todd himself just called it trivial), the general unfairness of the press toward Trump, the high television ratings for the inauguration, the prediction of rain. None of this answers the question, for which Conway should have been prepared. She talks vigorously, but this was pure filibuster. Todd wins Round 1.
Round 2: Todd agrees with her on the point that she actually agreed with him about, the relative unimportance of the crowd size. So why send the press secretary out — the first time the public sees him in action — "to utter a provable falsehood" on this unimportant subject?
Instead of answering the question, Conway goes into offense:
Chuck, I mean, if we're going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we're going to have to rethink our relationship here.What type of terms?! There's no personal insult to Spicer. The negative term — "provable falsehood" — is aimed at the statement, which seems to have been forced on Spicer. Conway's failure to defend the statement now feels like a concession that it was indeed false. She switches to talking about a falsehood that came from the press — the mistaken belief that Trump had the MLK bust removed from the Oval Office. There's a big back-and-forth between Todd and Conway over how bad the MLK mistake was. I'd give Todd Round 2.
Round 3: Todd observes that Conway has still not answered the question. She claims that she did, but she did not. Todd says:
You did not... answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood? Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office--Conway gives a schoolyard "No it doesn't," then gets personal against Todd:
Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck.As if Chuck's being a big drama queen. And then we get the sound bite of the whole morning, as she attempts, at long last, to refute Todd's idea that it was a "provable falsehood":
What-- You're saying it's a falsehood. And they're giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point remains--Todd sees the gem he has caused to come into existence and plucks it out to hold in his hand and admire:
Wait a minute-- Alternative facts?Conway tries to plow on, but he repeats the Conway's terrible phrase:
Alternative facts?... Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods.Big win for Todd in Round 3.
Round 4: Todd begins again: "So... you did not answer the question... you sent the press secretary out there to utter a falsehood on the smallest, pettiest thing." Conway seems so feisty in the video, and she can talk with vivid confidence through absolutely anything. It's possible to cheer for her. What a woman! Have we ever seen a woman like this before? But in the written transcript, her evasiveness is ridiculous. She gives a vague there-is-no-truth answer:
Maybe this is me as a pollster, Chuck. And you know data well. I don't think you can prove those numbers one way or the other. There's no way to really quantify crowds. We all know that.We hear Chuck Todd laughing, and Conway says:
You can laugh at me all you want.Chuck Todd mars his performance with the assertion: "I'm not laughing." Talk about a provable falsehood. He's clearly laughing. He's got good reason, of course, but it is unprofessional. This gives Conway an opening:
Well, but you are [laughing]. And I think it's actually symbolic of the way we're treated by the press. The way that you just laughed at me is actually symbolic of the way-- very representative of the way we're treated by the press. I'll just ignore it. I'm bigger than that. I'm a kind and gracious person. But let me tell you something else, I'm really glad that NBC News and Chuck Todd all of a sudden are so thrilled to cover crowd control because we were mocked daily for talking about the significance of our historic rallies during the campaign. Donald Trump brought in historic crowds to Michigan to Wisconsin, to Pennsylvania, to Florida, to North Carolina. And on great days we were ignored and on most days we were mocked. And those crowds did matter because he built a movement...This is a good pivot: The press wants to lean hard on the size of the Inauguration crowd, because it's biased, and that is proved by the way the crowds during the campaign were ignored. Conway wins this round.
Round 5: Now, Todd is the one speaking about relationships: "Listen... this is not about us." But he repeats the original question — "what I don't understand is why he's litigating this?" — this time talking about not Spicer, but Trump: "Why stand in front of a memorial at the C.I.A. and talk about crowd sizes?"
Conway responds with her own question — "What else did he say to the C.I.A. though?" — and doesn't wait for an answer. She asserts that he doesn't want to talk about it, then launches into describing the substance of the other things that Trump said at the CIA, the Senate's failure to confirm all the Cabinet nominees, and "lies have been told" about Trump's relationship with the CIA. This leads to a substantive discussion of the CIA, getting away from the still-unanswered question. I'll give this round to Conway.
Round 6: Todd gets back to the question: "Why was it necessary to send out the press secretary on his first day in office to utter a provable falsehood that now calls into question everything the press secretary say-- will say from... here on out... for many Americans?"
Conway says "No it doesn't" and then accuses Todd of pursuing his own political will in selling that message:
You want them to hear that. You want them to hear that I'm not answering your questions, which I'm doing. You want them to hear that they can't trust our press secretary. I think that it is a very--dangerous statement to make.Todd rephrases his question: "What was the motive to have this ridiculous litigation of crowd size?"
She reacts to the opinionated language:
Your job is not to give your opinion, Chuck. Respectfully, your job is not to call things ridiculous that are said by our press secretary and our president. That's not your job. You're supposed to be a news person. You're not an opinion columnist.This round is a clear win for Conway.
Round 7: Todd pleads: "Can you please answer the question? Why did he do this? You have not answered it. It's only one question."
Conway takes control:
I'll answer it this way. Think about what you just said to your viewers. That's why we feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there.Whoa! After socking Todd on his unfortunate phrase — "ridiculous language" — Conway repeats her own terrible phrase, "alternative facts." Or can she find a way to make the phrase work for her?
Todd paraphrases her statement into a provocative question: "It's a political tactic to come up with alternative facts and try to set up the press as your enemy?"
Conway rejects the move:
No, I didn't say that at all. And that's not why I'm here in this building. I'm here because of all the provable, quantifiable facts, because of the devastation and destruction in our schools with our health care, in our economy, with our small business owners....This goes on for a while, listing various factual matters as if Todd doesn't care about them and ending with: "You want to talk about provable facts? You've missed it all along."
I'm giving this round to Todd because Conway reminded us of her own worse phrase without somehow turning it to a positive, and Todd took advantage of the occasion by flipping it into an excellent paraphrase.
Round 8: Once again, Todd repeats the question: "You never answered why or the motivation of what was necessary about doing that yesterday."
Conway replaces his question with her questions: "Tell me why you just referred to us as ridiculous. Tell me why we were lied about with the MLK bust."
Todd accuses her of "deflecting" to avoid answering the question. Conway barrels on about the MLK bust: The press was looking for "any snarky attempt to try to undercut this president." And:
I mean, we can't have this kind of relationship.Back to the "relationship." Todd says: "I completely agree" and says he has been trying to answer her questions and she's been attacking him. I'll give this to Conway for putting Todd on the defensive.
Round 9: Todd announces they've run out of time: "You have another interview to go to. I have the rest of the show to go to. Kellyanne Conway I appreciate coming on to share your views." That's nice enough. Both combatants are still standing. I call Round 9 a draw.
Final score: 4 to 4. It's a draw. Nice going, you crazy kids.