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In a pair of new interviews, White House press secretary Jen Psaki is sharing a lot about her approach to the job; the frantic news cycle; media fragmentation, and the role of Twitter.
In a candid interview with her former Obama White House colleague David Axelrod on “The Axe Files” podcast, which came out Thursday morning, Psaki likens President Biden to “a storyteller.” She says “he’s always looking to tell the story, and he is always pushing and testing whether we’re speaking about things in an accessible way.”
Here are six more takeaways from the conversation:
– Psaki defends Biden’s accessibility to the press corps while saying, of the times he spontaneously fields questions, “that is not something we recommend.” She says, “In fact, a lot of times we say ‘Don’t take questions,’ you know, but he’s going to do what he wants to do because he’s the president.”
– Psaki says, bluntly, “We’re never going to satisfy the White House press corps and their desires for access. And I think there have been mistakes made in the past of trying to do that.”
– Another candid comment: “We’re often asked, ‘Why doesn’t he go to the border?’ Important issue. We’re focused on it. What percentage of the public is focused on the border? A much smaller percentage than who’s focused on the pandemic and the economy. So that may be maddening, but, you know, that’s what we try to do.”
– On the transition from the Trump White House to the Biden White House: “We’re kind of still in recovery from the ‘Game of Thrones’ period of our history here that, you know, some of some of what I think the job is in this moment – and this won’t always be and certainly hasn’t been historically – is kind of reaffirming and restating like what the role of government is, right? And what the role of agencies are and what the role of policy processes are and how a bill becomes a law.”
– On the 2021 news cycle: It’s “so fast that even what’s in the print newspaper is rarely going to be what we’re going to talk about at the briefing that day.”
– On her tenure: Psaki makes clear that she loves the challenge and the responsibility, but she says she talked with the Biden transition team about a roughly one-year term. “I think it’s going to be time for somebody else to have this job, in a year from now or about a year from now,” she says.
Here’s the full episode of “The Axe Files with David Axelrod” podcast:
A new tone from the top
Psaki was also interviewed on Wednesday during a virtual symposium held by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service and the White House Correspondents’ Association.
By the end of the Trump administration, “a lot of people’s nerve endings were pretty frayed,” Psaki said. The incoming president’s take was “we gotta be really focused on the tone,” she said. “The tone which we’re speaking from that briefing room from, right? You can have disagreements. He has moments where he disagrees with a line of questioning or frame of questioning, of course, but the tone is a part of the message we’re sending too, to the country, to the world.”
“We value the press, we value the role of the press, we value the importance of sharing information,” she continued. “Doesn’t mean every day you meet that bar, but you know the tone was a big part of what we talked about, and like, what role that could play in trying to rebuild trust.”
Here are a few of her other comments and observations:
– On the Covid-era restrictions on attendance in the briefing room: “It’s our hope to get back that up to about 50 percent or so sometime in the next few weeks, now that so many of our press corps is getting vaccinated,” she said.
– On media fragmentation: “Our job is to get information out to the public,” Psaki said. “The media is a means of doing that. It’s not the only means of doing that.”
– On this White House’s tweeting strategy: “The big audience of Twitter for us is the media… You’re actually speaking to the media through Twitter. You’re not trying to go around them. Because a lot of reporters are on Twitter.”
“The president’s view”
At Wednesday’s briefing, Psaki declined to say anything specifically about the Facebook Oversight Board’s ruling on Trump’s account, but she did come prepared with a comment about Facebook et al: “The president’s view is that the major platforms have a responsibility related to the health and safety of all Americans to stop amplifying untrustworthy content, disinformation and misinformation, especially related to Covid-19, vaccinations and elections,” she said. “His view is there’s more that needs to be done to ensure that this type of misinformation, disinformation, damaging, sometimes life threatening information is not going out to the American public.”