I was alerted to the significance of the Kellyanne Conway couch controversy by my wife, who often seems to have her finger on the pulse of America. She came into the kitchen one morning last week and pointed to a photograph in the Sacramento Bee.
“That woman is way too relaxed in the Oval Office,” Carol said.
I glanced at the small, inside-page photo of Conway, counselor to the president, kneeling on a couch and fiddling with her cellphone. In the background, President Trump is meeting with representatives of historically black colleges and universities.
“Body language reveals a lot,” said Carol, a retired psychotherapist. “She has her shoes on, legs tucked under her, skirt up and knees open. It’s a comment about her confidence in her relationship with Trump. I can tell you this — I wouldn’t want to walk into your office and see a woman sitting on your couch like that.”
It turned out that social media was exploding with strong reaction to the photo and major media outlets were weighing in with commentary on the propriety of Conway’s at-ease position. Liberals shook their heads at yet-another Conway gaffe, while conservatives dredged up photos of a newly elected President Obama with his feet up on the Oval Office desk. The Washington Post, New York Post, N.Y. Daily News and N.Y. Times were quick to run stories and pictures about the Conway controversy.
For the Trump administration, the impromptu photo op backfired on any number of levels. At historically black colleges last week, students were critical of leaders for meeting with administration officials, including Betsy DeVos, the new education secretary.
DeVos was criticized for saying, in a statement in honor of the meetings, that the historically black colleges and universities “are real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” Some were offended by the implication that black institutions were created as a free-market choice, rather than by necessity because of segregation.
Conway’s casual pose amid all the well-dressed black leaders was another sign from the White House of a lack of respect for the black community, protesters said.
Pamela Eyring, president of the Protocol School of Washington, whose programs focus on etiquette, said it just looked a lot like a “rookie protocol mistake.” The photos of Conway probably negated whatever message of unity Mr. Trump was trying to project, she said.
Conway explained her body position by saying she had been asked to take photos of the meeting. “I was asked to take a certain angle and was doing exactly that. I certainly meant no disrespect. I didn’t mean to have my feet on the couch.”
However, as the snarky website TMZ put it, “Kneeling in the Oval almost always gets ya in trouble.”