White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, she of the “great inane raised-in-Greenwich look” on her face, has already been hailed as “refreshing,” and even “wise” in her new role. This praise arrives less than a week into her tenure as President Biden’s chief spokeswoman, and comes from the members of the press meant to serve as objective conduits between the executive branch and the American people. You can forget about that.
In a column, CNN’s Brian Stelter gushed that “Biden’s first day, and Psaki’s first day, sent a message that functional government is back” lauding the new press secretary for her assertion that “we [the administration and the press] have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.” On Stelter’s show, Reliable Sources — oh, that name! — the chyron “Psaki promises to share ‘accurate info’ (how refreshing)” aided viewers as Stelter gave a glowing review of her first day. Of course, Stelter and Psaki do have a “common goal,” but it’s not delivering unvarnished truth to the public.
Over on MSNBC, Joy Reid brought PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor on to her show to explain that “We’re [the press] going to ask tough questions, I’m going to ask tough questions. But at least we’re in a situation where they’re [the Biden administration] saying, ‘We’re going to level with you. We’re not going to lie to you upfront. We’re not going to make things up.’” Alcindor was able to deduce all that after the first day of Biden’s presidency!
At The Bulwark, Brian Karem, the senior White House correspondent for Playboy magazine, was similarly effusive. After sharing an anecdote about how Melania Trump once failed to wave back at him, Karem writes that “a wise press secretary will know how to answer those questions without giving voters the idea that the president has something to hide.” He goes on to explain how Psaki, after her very first briefing, has proved that she possesses such wisdom:
On Wednesday night, we saw something different. President Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki, in her very first press briefing, showed she may have mastered subtlety and professionalism. At a key moment that would’ve triggered an explosive outburst under Trump’s volcanic press secretaries, Psaki was asked whether or not the president favored a conviction in the Senate on Trump’s latest impeachment. The question spoke to Biden’s claims of wanting unity in the country. Psaki said it was up to the Senate to decide Trump’s fate. In effect, she and Biden sided with the rule of law—which preempts whatever the president personally thinks — making those thoughts irrelevant. What does the president think? He thinks the Senate should decide. Biden knows his limits. He isn’t a tyrant. That was telling and Psaki made the point without bombast, without a tirade, and without trying to humiliate the reporter, in this case from Fox News, because someone dared to ask the question.
Karem is comparing Psaki to the Trump administration’s four press secretaries — Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Stephanie Grisham, and Kayleigh McEnany — in this passage, and indeed, Psaki does seem to have a demeanor better suited to the job than her immediate predecessors. But if Karem takes such wonder at the simple acknowledgment of the fact that the Senate controls Trump’s fate in the upcoming impeachment trial, Playboy may wish to consider finding a new beat for him. He seems a bit starstruck, and the Trump years appear to have lowered his standards to the point where he is no longer fit to cover the most powerful and important person on Earth. To wit:
“I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real.”
But he also said he was intent on bridging that divide. His new press secretary’s first briefing helped to do that — by refusing to use the inflammatory rhetoric of her predecessor. She helped to sell the point that professionalism and the rule of law had returned to the White House.
The truth is, these media figures aren’t as much pleased by the return of decorum and truthfulness to the briefing room — the former having actually returned and the illusion of the latter having been brought by the former — as they are relieved that their Great Vacation has begun. After four years of having to, to hear them tell it, put their lives on the line for the truth, America’s journalists are ready for a break. And if they can make a convincing case that the new White House is as committed to sticking to the facts as they claim to be, they can have it.
In the meantime, Fox News’s Peter Doocy is sure to remain a thorn in Psaki’s side. Asked about why the Bidens were photographed going mask-less on federal property after Biden signed an executive order making masks mandatory on such property, Psaki fumbled over her words, twice called Doocy “Steve,” demurred that Biden was “celebrating,” and gently chided the reporter, saying, “I think we have bigger issues to worry about at this moment in time.”
Stelter then swooped in — not to hold Psaki or Biden responsible for their actions, but to note that the hosts of Fox & Friends talked about Psaki’s calling Doocy “Steve,” which he deemed “fodder for Fox.”
I’m glad that Stelter’s so committed to focusing on what really matters. I’d suggest he take a hard-earned rest, but I’m pretty sure he was already planning on it.