Fox News reporter John Roberts on Thursday tore into Twitter users berating him for asking White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany during a press briefing whether President Donald Trump denounces white supremacy.
“For all of you on Twitter who are hammering me for ... asking that question: I don’t care,” Roberts told Fox News’ Melissa Francis on-air after the briefing. “Because it’s a question that needs to be asked. And clearly, the president’s Republican colleagues ... are looking for an answer, too.”
“So stop deflecting,” he added, visibly frustrated. “Stop blaming the media. I’m tired of it.”
Trump has faced bipartisan backlash for refusing to forcefully condemn white supremacy during the first 2020 presidential debate Tuesday.
Debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked Trump if he was willing to denounce “white supremacists and militia groups” and tell them to “stand down” in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon — cities where heavily armed far-right extremists have shown up to anti-racism demonstrations as counterprotesters.
“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump responded, “but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.”
Moments later, Trump instructed Proud Boys, a violent neo-fascist street gang, to “stand back and stand by” before pivoting back to the dangers posed by “antifa and the left.” Proud Boys leadership reportedly viewed the statement as both an endorsement and a call to violence.
On Wednesday, Trump attempted to walk back his comments by claiming he isn’t familiar with the Proud Boys.
“I don’t know who Proud Boys are,” Trump told reporters. “But whoever they are, they have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work.”
Roberts on Thursday called Trump’s claim of ignorance “puzzling.”
“If he didn’t know who they were, why did he denounce them?” Roberts said. “Why didn’t he say, ‘Well, I don’t know who they are. Can you give me a little bit more information about them?’ And then make a decision about it. So this all remains very puzzling.”
During the briefing Thursday, Roberts had asked McEnanay for a “definitive and declarative statement” about whether Trump denounces white supremacy and all groups that espouse it.
McEnanay appeared to shrug off the controversy surrounding Trump’s remarks during the debate earlier in the week, listing a few past statements the president has made condemning bigotry.
“The president was asked this. He said ‘sure’ three times,” McEnany said. She later stated that Trump “has condemned white supremacy more than any president in modern history.”
But Roberts continued to press her: “Can you right now denounce white supremacy and the group that espouses it?”
“I just did,” McEnany said. “The president has denounced white supremacy, the KKK and hate groups in all forms. ... His record on this is unmistakable.”