When Joe Biden appointed former CNN analyst and Obama communications director Jen Psaki as his Press Secretary, you could almost hear a verbal sigh of relief from the White House press corps. Most of them had complained bitterly about Donald Trump’s various choices for the position and they were looking forward to a more relaxed, cozy relationship with the incoming administration. I saw multiple journalists on social media publishing similar, glowing reviews of Psaki’s pressers, noting how nice it was to not have someone on the podium that was “constantly lying.”
With few exceptions, the reporters in the briefing room have been treating Psaki with the expected kid gloves, mostly tossing softball questions and laughing along with her. But in recent days, some tense moments have been noted, suggesting that the relationship she’s been enjoying with the journalists might be hitting some rocky patches. The Washington Examiner points out a few of these today, as well as highlighting some interviews that Psaki has given where she was less than charitable when talking about the WH press corps.
There were times during this week’s first three daily briefings when Psaki verbally jousted with reporters from several major national media outlets — even telling one to avoid putting words in her mouth.
One of the first cracks to emerge in Psaki’s professional veneer came last weekend when she described her approach to managing an unruly press room in colorful terms.
“When reporters are getting really loud, or they’re starting to ask crazy questions, I just slow down my pace, and I talk very quietly, and I treat them like I’m an orderly sometimes in an insane asylum,” she told NPR.
It was not the first time in the past two weeks she risked repeating a mistake made by many of her predecessors: referring to the White House press corps in a condescending tone. The result typically is a combative briefing room, which hinders a spokesperson’s ability to push a president’s message.
In addition to referring to the reporters in the briefing room as residents in an insane asylum, Psaki has taken some other jabs at them. She appeared to mock one reporter who asked if Biden planned to have Airforce One repainted and openly laughed at a question about the future of the Space Force. And she certainly didn’t win anyone over when it was revealed that she would like reporters to submit their questions in advance.
Psaki has also bristled when people on social media point out her regular, lengthy periods of silence at the lectern while she flips through piles of notes. Also, her tendency to say that she will “circle back” when she’s hit with a question she clearly wasn’t prepared for has raised some eyebrows. Doesn’t the President fill her in so she knows how to respond?
What’s more amazing to me when it comes to this subject is that anyone would find this situation to be disappointing or somehow “wrong.” The White House is supposed to have an adversarial relationship with the media. The job of the reporters isn’t supposed be acting as a de facto cheerleading squad or public relations team for Joe Biden. They’re supposed to be digging out answers for the public, particularly when it comes to matters that the White House might prefer not to discuss because it makes the President look bad or could cause political fallout.
Of course, expecting that sort of professional performance from the current press corps when there’s a Democrat in the Oval Office was a pipe dream from the beginning. We have seen Joe Biden rack up a couple of Pinochios from the fact-checkers so far, but only on relatively minor matters. You’re not going to see CNN running a weekly counter of “All of Joe Biden’s Lies” while in office. We saw the amount of cover most of these reporters provided for Biden on the campaign trail. When Biden directly stated during a debate that he planned to end drilling for fossil fuels, most of the media rushed to claim that he had “corrected his statement” by hurriedly sending out a spokesperson to say that he meant the exact opposite after they realized was a political disaster he’d just created.
In summary, I would assume that the “honeymoon” period for Jen Psaki may be ending, but it’s still going to be mostly warm and fuzzy trust falls in the breifing room for the next four years. The vast majority of those journalists have a narrative to continue pushing and making the Democrats look good and painting Republicans as the villains fits in perfectly with that agenda. Psaki has little or nothing to worry about and I doubt there will be a character based on her showing up on Saturday Night Live any time soon.