Hack Files: The Truth Is Out There (Just Not in Jen Psaki's Book)

REVIEW: 'Say More: Lessons from Work, the White House, and the World' by Jen Psaki

(edited from Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
May 26, 2024

It has been great to see elite universities, at least some of them, finally stand up to obnoxious radicals on campus and hold student activists accountable for their stupid actions. Nevertheless, leaders at George Washington University crossed the line into excessive cruelty last week by making graduates and their families sit through a commencement address by Jen Psaki, the former White House press secretary turned MSNBC host who is plugging a book so boring it made your humble reviewer pine for the resplendent prose stylings of Hillary Clinton. (Annual tuition is $65,000, for crying out loud. Have mercy!)

Say More: Lessons from Work, the White House, and the World came out earlier this month. The publicity tour has been a disaster, especially for an author touting her communications skills. Psaki has already retracted a false claim in the book about President Joe Biden checking his watch during a memorial service for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee threatened to subpoena Psaki's testimony about the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, and a friendly liberal audience in Washington, D.C., burst out laughing when she claimed to be a "journalist."

The lie about Biden's watch isn't the only verifiably false claim in the book. Psaki quotes a line from her first press briefing as White House press secretary in 2021, when she told a group of fellow nerds pretending to be journalists, "We have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people." That's obviously not true, which is why no serious person would believe it. Mainstream journalists and Democratic flacks do share common goals; the jobs are basically identical. But telling the truth isn't one of those goals.

Being an effective White House press secretary involves more than just lying to protect your boss. It also requires a knack for killing time with tedious exposition that conveys as little useful information as possible. Psaki's talents are on full display in Say More. For instance, there's an extended section about the importance of keeping one's audience engaged that is so unengaging—your humble reader tapped out during the part about traditional cuisine in Kyrgyzstan—it's as if the author intended it as a meta example of what not to do.

It's a shame because one presumes Psaki has at least a few interesting stories from her time in the Obama and Biden administrations. There was the time, for example, she went on vacation in August 2021 just as Taliban forces were storming into Kabul. No mention of that. Instead, the author provides a handful of twee anecdotes about the time she didn't recognize Chance the Rapper at a White House state dinner, or the time she accidentally "denied John Kerry was on his yacht during a military coup" when he totally was. (Who among us?)

Psaki hints ever so slightly at her frustration with the obnoxious bro culture that pervaded the Obama administration, specifically regarding the promotion (at her expense) of Josh Earnest to White House press secretary in 2014. Ironically, it was Ben Rhodes, the consummate Obama bro, who consoled her. Rhodes, whom Psaki describes as her "work husband," is best known for bragging about manipulating journalists who "literally know nothing" into supporting the Iran nuclear deal. It would have been interesting to read about how Psaki helped him do this. If only she weren't professionally obligated to only say nice things about Democrats. (Barack Obama, of course, is "legitimately brilliant and uniquely thoughtful.")

We weren't kidding about Hillary Clinton earlier. Maybe it's because Psaki is also a ruthlessly ambitious, charisma-challenged nerd from the Midwest. Their rhetoric is strikingly similar. We couldn't help but imagine Hillary's voice reading Psaki's words on the campaign trail in between cackles. For example: "I've had to communicate to the American public when there were huge, global stakes, and I've had to try to explain to a toddler why he should give up his pacifier when he really doesn't want to." It's a line that could have been lifted directly from one of Hillary's stump speeches about how being a grandmother is almost as hard as standing up to Vladimir Pu—Zzzzz.

Then there's the Hillary-esque lack of self-awareness. For instance, Psaki describes the challenge of getting through to an audience that "doesn't have any interest in learning something they didn't know, or even having their views challenged." Of course, this is not a problem that applies to her, a host on MSNBC, a place where liberal anxiety junkies go to get their fill of hot takes about how Donald Trump is "paving the way … to become an Adolf Hitler." She's a real journalist. (LOL.)

Say More debuted at number two on the New York Times bestseller list in the "advice, how-to, and miscellaneous" category. Alas, it has since been overtaken by a competing title aimed at MSNBC's core demographic: The New Menopause: Navigating Your Path Through Hormonal Change with Purpose, Power, and Facts.

Say More: Lessons from Work, the White House, and the World
by Jen Psaki
Scribner, 240 pp., $28.99