Rachel Maddow’s free press argument with Kellyanne Conway is awesome

On Thursday night, MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” included an extended interview with Trump Campaign manager turned strategist Kellyanne Conway. The back half dealt with something that Maddow was fairly certain Conway had not discussed before on the record: Melania Trump’s defamation lawsuit and how it relates to Peter Thiel’s master plan to destroy Gawker, as her lawyer, Charles Harder, was the lawyer paid by Thiel to find clients who had beefs with the blog company. The result was Maddow trying to have a calm, rational discussion, and Conway trying to deflect at almost every turn.

For those not familiar with the Melania lawsuit, back in September, she filed a defamation complaint against both The Daily Mail and somewhat obscure blogger Webster Tarpley, which asked for $150 million in damages. Citing Suzy, a magazine based in Melania’s birthplace, Slovenia, the now-deleted articles (the Mail’s has been archived) referenced a report that alleged the soon to be First Lady secretly worked as an escort when she started modeling in New York. However, while the article does mention the allegations, author Natalie Clarke made it perfectly clear that they should be taken with a shaker of salt:

This week the Mail spoke to the author of the piece, under the condition of anonymity. He insisted the seemingly fantastical story was correct, but all he would say to corroborate it was the information came from sources in America.

[Modelling agency owner Paolo] Zampolli, however, was very clear. He told the Mail the allegations were ‘f****** rubbish’. ‘My agency was never an escort agency . . . come on,’ he said.

There is no evidence to back up these startling claims made in Suzy magazine.

While there’s no copy of Tarpley’s post on any of the major internet archiving websites, what’s quoted in Melania’s complaint implies that he didn’t take the same tone as Clarke. Regardless, both the Mail and Tarpley issued retractions after getting letters from Harder. That’s a big part of what Maddow wanted to know: Is this something we can expect from the Trumps once the family patriarch is the President of the United States? Conway wouldn’t give a clear answer.

Maddow: “Why press ahead with the lawsuit after the retraction?”

Conway: “Why is it OK to treat her that way?”

Maddow: “I’m not talking about her treatment…”

Conway: “But that’s what this is about, though. If you’re going to lie about Melania Trump…”

Maddow: “I also have no opinion on the Hulk Hogan sex tape. But I do have an opinion on using a legal strategy, a novel legal strategy, to disappear a journalistic enterprise.”

Conway: “That’s not what this is about, I think in her case…”

Maddow: “Why use the same lawyer?”

Conway: “Because he’s effective! He did a great job!”

Maddow: “He’s effective at this legal strategy…”

Conway: “That was one type of case that he handled, but that’s not the goal here. The goal here is to, I think, punish and call out people who lie about Melania Trump.”

At that point, Maddow looped back to the retraction issue, eliciting a comment from Conway about how that doesn’t undo the damage. Maddow proceeded to cover her face and exclaim “My God, you guys are endorsing this strategy!” in the moment immortalized by this article’s featured image.

That exchange was just a small part of a truly amazing segment. There’s a whole lot more both before and after.

[Photo: MSNBC screen grab]