One of Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd’s favorite lines is, though paraphrased here, that a scandal or event which has the most potential to seriously damage a political figure is one which plays into an already preconceived type.
Chris Christie’s “bridgegate” scandal, in which he was accused of punishing the constituents of a political adversary over a trivial matter, played into the type of him as a bully. The Clintons were wounded when the press was barred from conducting unapproved interviews at a recent Clinton Global Initiative gathering, and were even escorted in and out of bathroom stalls in order to maintain the event’s choreographed outward appearance, because the former first family is considered controlling and even paranoid. Et cetera, et cetera.
Well, like it or not, communications staffers and spokespeople are political actors, too. And they also can be susceptible to being labeled, at times unfairly, by the political press. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki has most certainly been typecast as a result of the performance of her role, and her type is none too flattering. Her latest fumble, one which would be harmless and forgettable if it occurred in a vacuum, will not help her rebrand herself as a competent manager.
Via the Washington Free Beacon, Psaki was asked on Tuesday whether the administration was concerned by the myriad signs that the coalition air war against ISIS is yielding diminishing returns. “Is it not at all distressing to the administration that this ‘clear and comprehensive strategy’ thus far has seen ISIL make gains rather than retreat?” Lee asked the face of the U.S. State Department.
Of course, Psaki disagreed. “There have been, certainly, gains made by the Iraqi Security Forces in Iraq. I can go through some of those for you if that would be useful,” she said.
Psaki then dug into her notebook for specific examples to cite in order to counter Lee’s evident impression that the coalition campaign against ISIS has been unsuccessful. She never found them.
This is certainly worthy of a gentle ribbing even if Psaki was perceived to be a serious and sober representative of her agency. But the State Department spokeswoman suffers from another perception entirely. Whether her supporters will admit it or not, Jen “promise of hashtag” Psaki will not receive the benefit of the doubt.
The truth is that America and its coalition allies are losing the air wars over Iraq and Syria, and allied tactics are rapidly evolving to facilitate closer combat. Psaki can point to all the modest and qualified successes enjoyed by the Iraqi Security Forces she wants but, given her reputation, the public and the reporters present at Tuesday’s State Department briefing would probably take them all with a grain of salt. It may end up being for the best that she just couldn’t find any.
This post has been updated since its original publication.