Veteran White House reporters get candid about press secretary role as Jean-Pierre takes over: ‘Delicate matters’


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In the first question that Karine Jean-Pierre asked as she began her term as White House press secretary on Monday, a journalist asked her how she considered her job.

“Do you see your primary role here as speaking on behalf of the president and promoting his interests?” The Associated Press’ Zeke Miller asked. “Or are you committed to providing the unvarnished truth to the American people so they know what their government is doing on their behalf?”

“I actually think it goes hand in hand,” she said. “I don’t think there’s–there’s a separation to that.”

The question went to the heart of what a press secretary is supposed to be and how they handle the inherent tensions of the job; on the one hand, they serve at the pleasure of the president and are supposed to make the White House look good, but they are also supposed to disseminate accurate information, work with reporters on their stories, and serve as a conduit between the press and the commander chief.

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United States White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre looks on at the White House in Washington, United States, May 12, 2022.
(REUTERS/Lea Millis)

How they handle these inevitably conflicting tasks determines their effectiveness in this role. Thirty-four others held the public position before Jean-Pierre, the first black and openly gay individual to hold the position.

“Your salary is paid for by the taxpayers,” a former White House correspondent told Fox News Digital. “You are the spokesperson for the President, but you are also the chief spokesperson for the executive branch of the United States government. This is not a job that is all propaganda and politics. You have the responsibility to provide reliable and factual information about the activities of the U.S. government.”

They pointed to what former Bill Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry noted about the metaphorical significance of his office halfway between the Oval Office and the briefing room.

“You’re not just there to shoot for the president. You’re there to represent the interests of the press,” the former correspondent said.

Fox News political analyst Brit Hume, who served as ABC News’ chief White House correspondent from 1989 to 1996, cited Dee Dee Myers under Clinton and Marlin Fitzwater under George HW Bush as two examples that did well. achieves these goals.

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“It’s a tricky business because the more partisan you are in your performance as press secretary to protect a president’s political position, the harder it can be to come across as a neutral figure,” Hume said.

Former press officers have varied backgrounds and histories of success. Some, like President Obama’s longest-serving chief spokesman, Jay Carney, came from journalism, while others, like President Trump’s first press secretary, Sean Spicer, were career flack. Jean-Pierre has a strongly liberal political background, which included a stint as an MSNBC analyst, and critics pointed to her remarks about Republicans winning ‘stolen’ elections as evidence that she would not be a fair podium broker. .

“She’s got a hill to climb to establish her credibility,” Hume said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

She got off to a rough start in the eyes of some in the briefing room on Monday, as she stumbled over a question about inflation calling on businesses to pay their fair share of taxes, and said she would not was no timeline to resolve the dying baby. shortage of formula plaguing the country.

“I think a lot of people weren’t impressed with the answer she gave, and also the answer about formula milk and not having a timeline of when that plant [would be] operational,” said a current White House reporter.

Her predecessor Jen Psaki received high marks in some corners for tapping into a variety of outlets, working well with reporters and holding briefings reliably – according to the White House Transition Project, she has some. held 224 over about 16 months, more than the 205 combined on everything. four years of Trump’s White House. But she had her share of tense moments and had to sell tricks like blaming Vladimir Putin for inflation, delivering judgment on the false narrative of ‘migrant whipping’ at the border and tearing up criticism from the Governing Council of widely criticized misinformation that the Biden administration mothballed this week.

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“She’s a fantastic conversationalist…but does that mean she spoke the unvarnished truth 100% of the time?” said the White House reporter. “No, not exactly, and no press officer did, and they wouldn’t stay in the job very long. Psaki was quick, not afraid to mix things up, and we’ll see if Jean-Pierre is ready for that.”

Psaki was popular enough with a left-leaning press corps that a war broke out for her services with major outlets like CNN and MSNBC once she left the White House; she is expected to join MSNBC in the coming months.

The likes of CNN’s Brian Stelter and MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace have gushed about her in interviews, and Stelter even wrote “How refreshing” on a “Reliable Sources” chyron when she took to the podium for the premiere. times because of its stated commitment to sharing accurate information. A writer from Poynter, the parent company of left-wing fact-checking journal PolitiFact, wrote last week that Psaki was “one of the best to ever hold the title” and restored “honor, dignity and the class” in the room.

For some critics in this room, however, that praise is misplaced.

“When you heard about Jen Psaki, you didn’t get the impression she was speaking for Biden,” another White House correspondent told Fox News Digital. “She was part of a team that did the least news and answered the fewest questions possible. Jen Psaki managed to leverage that work for a nice news gig on MSNBC, but she did more to promote herself. only to promote the president.”

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Some critics also accuse him of benefiting from a press corps less willing to fight than in the Trump era, when dramatic briefing exchanges between left-leaning reporters like Jim Acosta and April Ryan and door-to-door reporters Trump’s word as Spicer, Sarah Sanders and Kayleigh McEnany made for good TV. An anonymous reporter even conceded to Politico last month that they were afraid to have a verbal spat with Psaki for fear of looking like a “hole”.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, April 3, 2017.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, April 3, 2017.
(The Associated Press)

“That’s nonsense,” the other White House correspondent told Fox News Digital. “You can be tough on an administration without being an asshole. But as a journalist, aren’t you already supposed to be treated like an asshole by those in power? We all have to be tougher to hold on. L “Team Biden is responsible, especially cable and network television reporters who receive the majority of questions during the briefing.”

Still, a flack can’t do much. PSAKI may have been liked in the press, but Jean-Pierre is taking over as boss and his party is floundering in the polls and facing a potentially difficult midterm election cycle.

The press secretary role took on greater importance under Biden than Trump, as the latter was far more likely to do his own news and speak candidly to reporters than his more scripted successor. Briefings are useful for reporters to get official White House commentary in front of the cameras, but much of the reporting they do takes place behind the scenes and might not even be discussed publicly for fear of losing a scoop.

“Biden is much more secretive, so the spokeswoman becomes more important, and she was very important in a way that his immediate predecessor was not,” Hume said.

“We were spoiled with the last guy [Trump] because you love it or hate it, it’s quotable and made the news,” the first White House correspondent said. “That’s why the briefing is valuable, because you can clear the undergrowth of news and understand more about what they’re thinking, what they’re actually doing.”

The press officers also reflect the sensitivity of their presidents; Spicer, for example, was deployed to trumpet his first-day tale that Trump’s inauguration was the most-watched in history, “period.” It set the tone for what would be four remarkable years of contention between Trump spokespeople and a combative media. Spicer only lasted six months.

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“Frankly, the worst that ever existed was Sean Spicer who just considered it his job to fight,” the former White House correspondent said.


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