Britt McHenry—the replacement-level rabble-rouser and laid-off sports reporter most famous for getting caught on video being an entitled asshole to a towing-company employee—has, for some time, been in the process of pivoting to a career in right-wing punditry. Today, the Washington Post Magazine pitched in on her efforts by publishing a toothless profile titled “The Making of Britt McHenry.”
The feature, which was doomed from its wobbly, equivocating get-go, takes as its underlying premise that a D-list dog-whistler too stupid to even do it properly is more than some Laura Ingraham wannabe with a web show on a Fox News streaming service too technologically advanced for its senile target audience to access. The author, Rebecca Nelson, gamely plays along with McHenry’s vision of the future she imagines for herself, one in which she is a “reasoned” conservative—like Russell Kirk if he whined about how NFL players should stand for the national anthem.
As bizarre as this might sound in theory, it is more so in practice. For example, take how the writer addresses McHenry smugly telling that towing company worker, “I’m on television and you’re in a fucking trailer, honey”:
What hurt the most, she says, is that complete strangers made assumptions about her family background. They said that she, lashing out over a minor inconvenience in her North Face jacket and blond top knot, was entitled, lording her degree and full set of teeth over someone just trying to do her job. But she doesn’t come from wealth, she says. She’s from a middle-class family. She’s still paying Northwestern student loans. “I think in the culture we’re in now, it’s so quick to judge people, especially on social media,” she tells me.
This is McHenry’s reasoned conservatism in action—whites who went to Northwestern are the real victims in this culture war and something something about social media—and the reporter doesn’t challenge it, although she does make time to check all the boxes you’d expect to see checked in a useless profile: Opening scene of McHenry getting her hair and makeup done before a Fox News shoot; plug for McHenry’s new digital show; some quotes from her proud dad; a brief rundown of some of her shittiest thoughts on Twitter; mention of the “incendiary” style that landed her at Fox; and then the requisite zooming-out, presenting her as someone who’s overcome hardship, and is ready to become better for it.
It’s a balancing act that’s as real on the left as on the right, among MSNBC hopefuls and rising Fox News personalities alike: If you’re trying to become the next big pundit in 2018, flame throwing is the surest path to success, because harnessing social media outrage is the best way to attract an audience. Serious, nuanced opinions don’t get as many retweets — and translated to the TV screen, they simply aren’t as much fun to watch. In this climate, can Britt McHenry — or anyone else who seeks instant cable-news stardom — really make it as a “reasoned” talking head?
The sincere use of BOTH SIDES here—seen in the wild!—works, rhetorically, to take the lens off of McHenry, and what she actually thinks and says and does, and situate her as a powerless party, acted on by “this climate.” (The network she is on has no regard or need for nuance. There’s a reason Fox News puts Shep Smith in the middle of the day and Tucker Carlson in primetime.)
The profile grants McHenry ample space to explain how “she regrets some of her more fiery tweets” without troubling to probe her underlying beliefs. This, for instance, is what how the reporter addresses what McHenry says about her claim that she was fired from ESPN because she’s white:
In May, she floated another theory for why ESPN had laid her off. “I was white & made too much,” McHenry tweeted. “First to go.” She soon deleted the tweet and tells me she regrets making the claim: “Look, there’s no need to focus on race, and that’s a tweet — any time you’re discussing new jobs, old jobs, there’s so much more that goes into it.”
So does Britt actually think white people are discriminated against? That she was? Nelson can’t be troubled to elaborate, although she does pass along McHenry’s insistence that going to Fox News could end in disaster because people would see her for who she really was:
All of this — creating a new place for herself in the world of journalism, putting her beliefs out there for everyone to criticize — was a big risk for her. She had a set career path and was successful at it. She could have had another job in sports if she’d wanted it, she says; she fielded offers last year.
Why anyone would read it as truly courageous of McHenry to glom onto the hot grift of pretending to be “reasonable”—with help from the Washington Post—while spouting the same bullshit as everyone else at that hell network is unclear here. Other points in the story are, too: We’ll have to believe McHenry that she was a strongly desired commodity in the industry, for instance, because the story doesn’t bother to say which other places tried to hire her.
There are hints in the profile that perhaps the writer is a little skeptical about McHenry, like with this tidbit about how she showed up late to brunch:
She arrived a half-hour late, very apologetic, explaining that her Uber driver, for some reason, went from her place in Arlington “all the way around the Mall” before coming back to Foggy Bottom. I’ve spent the past week immersed in her Twitter feed and immediately think of a missive from last year: “The Uber took a ‘weird way,’ is code for a girl really ran 20 minutes late.”
These moments are few and far between, though. If this profile was aiming to let McHenry hang herself with her own words, it failed. If it was taking her at face value, it’s a disaster. Either way, all it does in effect is further McHenry’s own con, aimed at carving out a career for herself and becoming a big enough voice to actually matter the way the story pretends she already does. It’s not like no one said this to Nelson. Ex-ESPNer Jemele Hill said she didn’t even know McHenry was conservative until McHenry had been fired; she thought it seemed like McHenry was “playing a character” in her talking-head endeavors. Similarly, Nelson reached out to my coworker Samer Kalaf, who has written about McHenry, for his opinion. He essentially told her that McHenry was a flailing poser who wasn’t even effective in her knock-off brand of faux-outrage conservative punditry. Those quotes didn’t make it in the story.
The profile wraps up like this:
In this partisan ecosystem, it’s a fine line between thoughtful commentator and Internet troll. The vast majority of viewers, of Fox News and every other channel, don’t want “reasoned.” They prefer vicious takedowns. Moral absolutism. Drama. But Britt McHenry is seeking something different. “I want,” she says, “to become a trusted voice.”
The credulity necessary to write this paragraph—to treat McHenry’s vaguely expressed desire to be taken seriously as anything other than advertising for her new personal brand—is astounding. We all want things; the reason McHenry doesn’t have what she says she wants is that she has spent a long time acting like a racist halfwit before a generally disinterested public, and has given no reason (even when prodded, over a long period of time, by an inexplicably sympathetic reporter) for anyone to think that’s going to change.
If you need any more evidence that this profile is garbage, Britt McHenry didn’t mind it. She can hang it up on the fridge next to last year’s attempt.
Correction (5:36 p.m.): An earlier version of this post mischaracterized a towing-company employee as a parking-garage employee. Deadspin regrets the error.