Former Biden press secretary Jen Psaki debuted her MSNBC show on Sunday.
It was a disappointing start: She did not deviate one inch from the Biden administration and voiced everything in singsong as though she were speaking to a 5-year-old. Evidently, her reported teleprompter lessons with fellow MSNBC host Rachel Maddow are not going well.
Psaki had plentiful opportunity to use her first episode to establish her independence, making clear to all that this would not be the White House’s Sunday press briefing. She bothered with no such thing, instead carrying her Brady Room lectern over to NBC News’ Washington, D.C., bureau.
For example, Psaki interviewed Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries but failed to question him on a matter of significant consternation for Democrats as of late: tension between more left-leaning Democrats and President Joe Biden over the ideological arc of his presidency, a tension accentuated by the president’s decision last week to approve the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska.
Psaki instead decided to lob Jeffries softball questions and let him go off about how Democrats are so united and on the right side of history and fighting for the common man.
Another opportunity arose when New York City Mayor Eric Adams casually mentioned that the White House needed “a real strategy with coordination” on immigration. Psaki left it at that and pried no further.
Psaki also constantly drew attention to her insider status at the Biden administration, bragging of her knowledge of its inner workings. Her comments, however, provided nothing of substance.
For instance, when speaking of the White House’s approach to former President Donald Trump’s response to the potential indictment against him from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, she noted, “Behind the scenes, they’re paying close attention.” No duh.
One interaction with Adams, which took place in a New York subway car, encapsulated her attitude toward covering the Biden administration. Adams looked at Psaki and said, “[Biden] just keeps putting points on the board.” Psaki’s only response? “Yeah.”
The name of her show, Inside with Jen Psaki, serves as a constant reminder of that decision to maintain an insider status rather than adopt an outsider mentality.
Psaki, in media appearances outside of her show, has claimed that she will be independent from the White House. In an interview with the Associated Press this week, she said that she understands that her role at MSNBC is not to defend Biden. She also told the New York Times last month: “If [Biden] deserves applause, I will applaud him. If he deserves critique, I will critique him.” Everyone continues to hold their breath for such a critique.
Even her planned segments for the show seem to inherently involve PR work for Democrats. “Sunday Routine,” which consists of spending time with politicians — presumably mostly Democrats — when they’re off the clock, this week was spent making a smoothie with Eric Adams, which personalized him and provided him with an opportunity to connect with Americans. Another segment, “Don’t Freak Out,” aims to explain why not every media story on government is as big a deal as it seems. “There’s often a view that everything is a five-alarm fire, and it’s not,” she said. This doesn’t need to be said, but journalists typically aim to hold politicians’ feet to the fire rather than quell concern over their actions.
Psaki’s transition to cable news points toward a double standard: When former Trump press secretaries Kayleigh McEnany and Sarah Huckabee Sanders joined Fox News, there was a meltdown over what it would mean for media independence.
When Sanders joined Fox News as a contributor, for instance, the New York Times said that the move “reinforc[ed] the strong ties between the conservative cable network and the Trump administration.”
In contrast, when Psaki joined MSNBC, the Times wrote that “her move to television news was widely expected” and that MSNBC’s “viewers will receive real-time commentary from a key member of Mr. Biden’s first-term inner circle.”
Psaki’s transition to MSNBC was especially fraught with ethical concerns because she discussed potential employment with cable news outlets while she was still press secretary, potentially pressuring those outlets to cover the Biden administration positively so as to win a contract with her. Axios reported in April 2022 that White House communications staffers conventionally have waited until after leaving their jobs to begin such negotiations. Psaki then continued to work out a contract with MSNBC while maintaining her position as press secretary.
The Washington Post’s media critic, Erik Wemple, called this a “puny conflict of interest.” Yet he still questioned, “How to ensure fair treatment of media outlets when one of them is a prospective employer?”
Jen Psaki has failed to establish journalistic independence. But it’s worse than that. She has also made her show surface level and predictable, as emphasized by the baby talk she uses while slowly reading microwaved Democratic talking points.
“It seems that blaming woke politics for problems big and small has become a one-size-fits-all response for Republicans lately,” she said, gesturing with her left and right hands on the words “big” and “small.” She later repeated herself, saying, “Blaming the wokes or wokeness or wokeism has become a knee-jerk reaction for Republicans on any issue.”
Psaki settled for a tired and dull liberal line when she called on her audience to embrace wokeness. “Let your woke flag fly,” she said.
She settled as well for a generic liberal response to Trump. When speaking of Trump’s call for his supporters to protest his potential prosecution, she said, “It’s important to be extra careful about the impact his words could have” and added that “It’s also crucial not to take Trump’s bait here.”
A question remains: Why would you watch a mouthpiece of the Biden administration when you could watch an independent commentator? And, if you really want a mouthpiece, why would you watch this when you could just watch Karine Jean-Pierre? She at least actually has inside knowledge of the Biden administration.
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