An Al Jazeera reporter did not call White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany a “lying bitch” on Tuesday, despite claims to the otherwise by sizable contingent of pro-Donald Trump Twitter accounts.
At a White House press conference late on Tuesday morning, Al Jazeera English reporter Kimberly Halkett asked McEnany whether the president was as focused on foreign election interference as his obsession with baseless conspiracy theories about mail-in voting. The back-and-forth became testy as Halkett pressured McEnany to cite more recent actions the White House has taken to secure the 2020 elections and McEnany attempted to change the subject to Barack Obama and signs of a rocky rollout of mail-in voting in New York.
“There are legitimate questions about mass mail-in voting. And I know you don’t want to hear them, which is why you talk over me,” McEnany responded. Afterward, Halkett tried to ask a question about vaccine research; McEnany cut her off and both parties were recorded talking at the same time, which was definitely not helped by the fact that Halkett was wearing a mask. Numerous pro-Trump personalities then tried to drum up outrage over the clip.
Right-wing pundits with large Twitter followings such as Ann Coulter and Benny Johnson; a reporter for far-right site Breitbart; and hellhole content farm the Washington Examiner all circulated versions of the clip (some of which were actually video taken by cell phones pointed at a TV) accompanied by captions priming viewers to believe Halkett said “lying bitch.” And on first viewing, it does kind of sound like Halkett said “lying bitch”—again, especially if one was previously conditioned to listen for exactly that.
Unfortunately for anyone who would derive joy or outrage from the matter, that’s not what happened. Simple adjustments to enhance the audio of the exchange backs Halkett’s version of the story: She responded to McEnany’s refusal to answer the question with “OK, you don’t want to engage.”
Several of the conservatives who promoted the hoax retracted the claim or quietly deleted their tweets (others remain live). The Examiner deleted their initial post and replaced it with a more cowardly one: “Some are saying it sounds like a reporter called @PressSec a ‘bitch’”.
(The official White House transcript, for the record, itself confirms that Halkett said “OK, you don’t want to engage.”)
To put it another way: it took just a few seconds of people talking over each other for disingenuous right-wing personalities to amplify a bullshit claim to a massive social media audience, likely aided by bots, and then never really bother to retract the claim. When the political deepfakes get here in earnest, we’re fucked.