Politics makes for strange bedfellows and you throw COVID-19 and social distancing into the mix and you get a very strange slumber party indeed. Jen Psaki is used to fielding stupid questions from the likes of Newsmax and Fox News, but at least the reporters are flesh and blood. On Thursday she took a very stupid question from a person who was not present, one Kacey Montagu of the Daily Mail, when another reporter asked the question on Montagu’s behalf. In the COVID-19 era, reporters do colleagues the courtesy of passing on questions for other reporters who can’t be present in the briefing room due to social distancing regulations. The room can accommodate 49 reporters but with social distancing the number is 14, and that’s why the mythical Montagu was able to state that s/he couldn’t attend the briefings. Montagu was the one who asked how often Barack Obama and Joe Biden talk and what they talk about.
So who is this person? Mediaite:
The Montagu website’s FAQ section describes her as “An American Citizen. Former Secretary of State, Mayor, Senator, President Pro Tempore and Speaker of the House,” and her political views as “President Trump 2024, baby! I’m a Conservative.”
But the question was intriguing enough that CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe followed up, at some length.
“Just to follow up on your answer there regarding former President Obama, because you said they are in touch fairly regularly. Can you more clearly define fairly regularly?” O’Keefe asked.
“No, that would be violating their friendship,” Psaki said, then quickly added “The privacy of their friendship, I should say.”
“Is he fairly regularly in touch with any other former president?” O’Keefe asked.
“I would say he [Obama] is the president he is most, former president he is most frequently in touch with,” Psaki replied.
“Are we talking a few times a week? A few times a month?” O’Keefe pressed, to laughter in the room.
“I’m not going to give a, I’m not going to define it more other than to say that they engage not just about important moments in our country, but also about their own families. They have a connection on a personal level. So they discuss a range of issues when they connect,” Psaki said.
The question got so much attention that then the laser focused in on the questioner, Montagu, who proved to be a bit of a character. Politico:
Since late last year, Montagu has taken on the identity of a White House correspondent extraordinaire with a fictional outlet to boot: White House News, shortened in emails to WHN.
Montagu started two real-life Twitter handles, which are followed by some top White House officials and journalists. Montagu has filed Freedom of Information Act requests and obtained Psaki’s personal financial disclosure form, along with the disclosure of at least one other official, the president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
In communications with confidants, Montagu has posed as a member of White House Correspondents Association, claiming to be a reporter for The Daily Mail, the British tabloid known for its gossipy coverage of celebrities and political figures. Montagu also communicates regularly with top White House reporters and has had several exchanges with White House officials.
But Montagu never joined WHCA and The Daily Mail. There is no Kacey Montagu, except as a digital impersonation of a White House correspondent.
“I love journalism, and I think the Press Corps is doing a pretty bad job at the moment, so I decided I would ensure some transparency and ask some questions me and some friends wanted the answer to,” Montagu said, when reached by email and asked why they were posing as a White House reporter.
Motivation aside, Montagu’s activity is a remarkable illustration of how the online landscape, along with the age of pandemic-related virtual work, has opened up avenues for the mischievous-minded to infiltrate the top echelons of power. What’s perhaps more remarkable is that he or she did it all without raising a solitary eyebrow … until Thursday.
And Thursday was when the dippy question was asked and that got the ball rolling. Montagu is apparently a fairly clever troll.
In conversations with U.S. officials and nonprofit journalism and government-tracking outfits, Montagu said they were an 18-year-old law student from the United Kingdom who was born in the U.S. before moving across the pond with their family at age six. In another conversation, reviewed by POLITICO, Montagu said they were studying political science. He or she said they are not motivated by politics, but were socially liberal and conservative on economic issues.
Acquaintances online suspect much of the biographical information to be untrue. They believe Montagu’s White House moonlighting began as something to boast about in the online global gaming platform called ROBLOX, where users jokingly call themselves “Legos.” Within that platform is a role-playing group called nUSA, where people from across the world engage in a mock U.S. government exercise. At one point, Montagu had adopted the role of Secretary of State but resigned from that job after — as they recalled — ”the [nUSA] President went to war with some U.K. and I thought it was a pretty bad idea!”
There is a level of sophistication to how Montagu operates. The email address associated with the Twitter accounts he or she set up appears to have been used only for establishing those feeds, an associated website, and to contact reporters and the White House. Other than that, there are no digital breadcrumbs.
A Twitter account by the name Kacey ‘Lego’ Montagu has been engaging with a few individuals who have noticed Montagu’s involvement in White House press operations. But there is no identifiable information one can discern from it either. The background image is of the late Prince Philip and the avatar used is of Trisha Paytas, a YouTube star. […]
“She knew one way or another she was gonna get caught; I don’t think she predicted a Politico article being written on her,” the person, who goes by “zarta,” said in an online message. They expressed confidence that, “if this ha[d] went on, she very well could’ve obtained her own day pass and been able to travel to [D.C.] and into the White House.”
In other screengrabs, shared by the nUSA community, Montagu claims they duped WHCA by posing as a real reporter and at one point said they were on their way to being verified by Twitter. […]
By Friday, the more popular of the accounts Montagu set up on Twitter, @WHschedule, was suspended for mimicking the White House’s color scheme and not disclosing that it had no affiliation with the U.S. government.
A Twitter spokesperson told POLITICO that it violated the company’s impersonation policy.
“I enjoy allowing transparency from the administration — sadly WHSchedule has been suspended,” Montagu said in their email, “no clue why!”
Montagu’s digital journalism career appears to be over. It is certainly sobering that a troll with no discernible journalism credentials could get into the loftiest reaches of the profession, the White House briefing room. Such is the world we live in.