U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Reporter says White House senior adviser threatened to 'delve' into her personal life

Incident Details

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway speaks to reporters at the White House in October. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

— REUTERS/Tom Brenner
October 23, 2019

Caitlin Yilek, a breaking news reporter for the Washington Examiner, wrote that she was berated and threatened by top White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway during a phone call on Oct. 23, 2019.

Yilek had published an article the day before about President Donald Trump considering Conway as his next chief of staff; Yilek included details about the feud between the president and Conway’s husband, George Conway. Tom Joannou, Conway’s assistant, contacted Yilek that evening asking for her phone number.

The morning of Oct. 23, Joannou called and requested that their conversation be off the record, but moments later Conway took over the call, initiating a new, on-the-record conversation. Conway appeared to be furious with the reporter’s coverage, and berated Yilek for what she classified as lazy, irrelevant and sexist reporting.

In a transcript of the call published by the Examiner, Conway says, “So, I just am wondering why in God’s earth you would need to mention anything about George Conway’s tweets in an article that talks about me as possibly being chief of staff. Other than it looks to me like there’s no original reporting here, you just read Twitter and other people’s stuff, which I guess is why you don’t pick up the phone when people call from the White House because, if it’s not on Twitter or it’s not on cable TV, it’s not real.”

Conway also accused Yilek of “trying to undercut another woman based on who she’s married to,” and dismissed Yilek’s explanations of why information about George Conway was considered important contextual information.

Near the end of the call, Conway said: “Listen, if you’re going to cover my personal life, then we’re welcome to do the same around here.” Yilek later characterized the statement as a threat that “the White House would delve into the personal lives of reporters if they wrote about her husband.”

Conway disputed Yilek’s version of events, saying in a lengthy statement, “What I said on that call I’ve said publicly on-the-record before, including on TV, in speeches, in driveway gaggles with reporters. I did NOT indicate the call was off-the-record, but the reporter certainly thought it was.”

Neither Conway nor Yilek responded to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s requests for comment.

In a video published by The Washington Post, a reporter asked Conway to clarify what she meant by “cover her personal life.” Conway responded, “Right, so, don’t use the word ‘threaten’ and don’t use the word ‘investigate’ and stop being so silly.” She did not, however, elaborate on her original intent with the statement to Yilek.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].