At a few recent White House press briefings, reporters have posed questions to Press Secretary Jen Psaki on behalf of a reporter named Kacey Montagu, who said she couldn’t be there due to Covid-19 precautions.
In fact, the reason she couldn’t attend is much simpler: Ms Montagu doesn’t exist.
According to a new report from Politico, Kacey Montagu is a pseudonym, most likely used by a gamer on the online platform ROBLOX. Within the platform, where players call themselves “Legos”, the so-called Ms Montagu has served as secretary of state in a government simulation called nUSA. But to DC reporters and to the White House itself, she’s become a real-life journalist.
“I really wasn’t surprised she fooled these people,” another nUSA player, “pres. arnie vinick,” told Politico. “She’s been bragging about it for a while.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, it’s become common for White House reporters to ask questions on behalf of other journalists. That’s because to enable social distancing, the White House has drastically reduced the number of people allowed in the briefing room – from 49 to 14. To get their questions in, the reporters left out submit their questions digitally or through a courteous pool reporter.
And into that loophole stepped Kacey Montagu.
The mysterious gamer frequently emailed pool reporters with questions – usually after their first pool report of the day came out, so she knew who they were. In case anyone looked her up before relaying her questions, she set up fake Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, naming herself chief political correspondent for White House News or White House Schedule, neither of which exists.
On 8 April,Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson asked Ms Psaki two questions on Ms Montagu’s behalf.
“How involved is (sic) former President Obama and First Lady Obama in the Biden-Harris administration?” Mr Johnson asked for a “colleague” before posing her second question, “Is President Biden seeking to bring back the often bipartisan portrait unveiling events at the White House?”
Ms Psaki gave two thoughtful responses.
“I’m certain we will have bipartisan portrait unveiling events at the appropriate time when Covid allows,” Ms Psaki replied.
“In terms of his engagement with President Obama,” she continued, answering the second question, “they are not just former colleagues … but they also remain close friends and they talk regularly about a range of issues.”
Then CBS reporter Ed O’Keefe followed up on the Obama question, pressing Ms Psaki repeatedly about how often Mr Biden and the former president converse.
The dogged line of questioning got the attention of Mediaite, which started looking into who had asked the original question. They quickly found that Kacey Montagu was, as they put it, “a gag persona for a former Secretary of State made of Legos”.
The jig was up. Soon the Twitter, LinkedIn and Google pages for Ms Montagu disappeared, replaced by 404 error messages. The @WHschedule account was suspended by Twitter, which told Politico it had violated its impersonation policy.
And like a precarious stack of Legos, Kacey Montagu fell apart.