In praise of Jen Psaki
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The day after President Joe Biden's first press conference last month, Fox News reporter Peter Doocy arrived at the White House press briefing feeling unloved. Having not been called on at the formal Q&A with Biden, and dwelling on his oversized sense of importance, Doocy raised his hand and asked if there as an official White House policy of not calling on him — he wanted to know if there was a coordinated campaign to ignore the Fox staffer constantly in search of a partisan fight.
Looking slightly bemused while giving her patented third-grade-teacher head tilt that conveys a willing patience, but also an unspoken and stinging, "really?", White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki patiently addressed the grievance:
PSAKI: We’re here having a conversation, aren’t we?
DOOCY: Yes, but.
PSAKI: And do I take questions from you every time you come to the briefing room?
DOOCY: Yes, but…
She soon concluded the back-and-forth by complimenting the reporter on his “awesome socks.”
The episode confirmed that Doocy vs. Psaki remains one of the great media mismatches of our time. It also made clear that Psaki's the right woman for the right time, and she's emerged as Biden's silent slayer who carries out covert media missions with a smile. She's our real-life C.J. Cregg who has brought smarts and wit back the White House briefing room, after four years of the Trump infection, where mindless sycophants at the podium waged war on the free press.
"Press Secretary Jen Psaki is kind of badass at her job, and it's because of the extremely non-combative way she is just FINISHED WITH YOUR SHIT," Wonkette observed. "It's just like ... some kind of assassin thing where some idiot asks her an idiot question and she handles it so quickly and quietly and effectively, the poor idiot's liver is bleeding out before they even feel a thing."
In less than three months, Psaki has put her permanent stamp on the job, taking over the high-profile position at a time of national crisis. Working hard to reestablish an open, professional relationship with the Beltway press corps, Psaki has perhaps done more than anyone in the administration — including Biden himself — in terms of changing the tone in our politics, and creating a new path forward towards a transparent form of government, in the wake of the Trump's ransacking of the norms.
Psaki's task is made universally easier simply because her boss is not a pathological liar or an unstable narcissist. Biden's purposely not trying to jam himself into every news cycle, or be a part of the often dubious cultural wars cooked up by conservatives.
For generations, the White House press secretary was hired to serve as a conduit between the Oval Office and the press corps, and to provide accurate information so that the Fourth Estate could inform and educate the public. Trump instead hired a series of angry name callers and performance artists paid to act as Trump's attack surrogates, not to serve the White House's or the public's interests.
Now it’s Psaki’s turn to fix all that. Unhurried, rarely flustered, and never instigating a fight, Psaki is not only the pitch-perfect public voice of Biden, she's also what the nation needs right now —competence and confidence. She does it all with a stealth, firm hand as she makes history leading the White House's first all-female communications team.
A consummate pro, she’s completely uninterested in becoming the story. Psaki couldn't care less about going viral, and certainly doesn't plot her days trying to figure out ways to one-up assembled journalists in the briefing room.
We've seen plenty of instances where she's been asked dopey and petty questions — Why isn't Biden throwing out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ home opener? Why is the fully vaccinated president flying to Delaware to be with his family on Easter weekend? They each provided her an opening to easily mock the questioner. But she'll have none of it.
Instead, she patiently and politely walks the questioner through the answer, doing it in a way that often highlights the blatant absurdity of the premise. In the end, the question gets answered and everyone leaves the room on good terms, but Psaki has made her point.
REPORTER: Americans are saying immigrant surges are happening under President Biden's watch.
PSAKI: Who are the Americans?
REPORTER: The former president.
PSAKI: Former President Trump?
PSAKI: We don't take our advice or counsel from former President Trump.
Last week when a reporter asked if the White House would soften its "tone" about the sweeping voter suppression law recently passed in Georgia, Psaki was having none of it: "The tone for a bill that limits voting access and makes it more difficult for people to engage in voting in Georgia? … No, our tone is not changing."
Online, fans refer to those as a #PsakiBomb, the disarming way she dispenses with bad faith or plainly misleading questions. The "bomb" part of that description is slightly off, though. The good-natured Psaki remains a quintessential non-bomb thrower. She’s not trying to tear anything down. But her pointed answers can leave a nasty mark when necessary. That's her super power.
And that’s why she’s the understated rock star of the Biden era.
(Photo Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
💉 GOOD STUFF:
I’m going to keep hitting on the absurdity of the press recently trying to crown Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as some sort of Covid star. The more we learn, the worse it gets.
From 60 Minutes’ “How the Wealthy Cut the Line During Florida's Frenzied Vaccine Rollout”:
In West Palm Beach, Mayor James says he was still trying to secure vaccines for his town's firefighters when he learned that at a nursing home in town, some board members and their wealthy pals got vaccinated. Even though those doses were only supposed to be given to elderly residents and staff.
Then, the private jets started arriving.
Hollywood moguls, New York socialites and tourists from overseas were getting vaccinated in Florida, posting on social media and sparking outrage. Early on, there were no residency requirements to get vaccinated in the state.
🎙FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Minor Moon, “Under an Ocean of Holes”
Chicago’s Minor Moon, aptly described as a “cosmic Americana group,” just released its latest album. This instantly engaging, toe-tapping, mid-tempo ditty bodes well for the effort.
According to songwriter Sam Cantor, “Under an Ocean of Holes” is actually about falling into deep personal despair, following the dissolution of a long-term relationship. But the song sounds so upbeat and sunny, most listeners might just ride the wave.
🎙 Click here to listen to the music that’s been featured on PRESS RUN, via a Spotify playlist.
Click hereto listen via Apple Music.