Speaking Truth to Power: Magazine Reveals How Journos Are 'Rooting' for WH Press Secretary Jen Psaki

May 5, 2021

Professional journalists have, at least in theory, devoted their lives to the noble art of speaking truth to power, of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, of saving democracy from certain death in darkness. In practice, however, this devotion tends to waver depending on which political party controls the White House.

When Democrats are in charge, for example, our noble journalists can't help but be consumed by "The Awkward Feeling of Rooting for the White House Press Secretary." So reads the headline of a Jen Psaki profile published in Washingtonian magazine. Members of the White House press corps, writes Jessica M. Goldstein, are "quite taken with how polite she is," while casual viewers are "wooed by what one could describe as little more than competence porn."

Perhaps the journos themselves are equally wooed by Psaki's "competence." Erik Wemple, media critic for the Washington Post, posted a link to the profile on Twitter, the popular social networking website. "Reporters blindsided by the return of competence and civility to White House briefing room," he remarked, pithily. Donald Trump is to blame, obviously.

The profile features a number of quotes—some on-the-record, some anonymous—from White House reporters at mainstream media outlets. Jonathan Karl of ABC News described Psaki as "one of the most well-qualified press secretaries we've ever had." She is a "competent, professional, pleasant, lovely press person" who knows how to "make people feel good," said another reporter, anonymously.

Psaki is praised for her ability to "brush off questions," "deflect queries," and withhold information from journalists. "She's never going to be super-helpful, and that's frustrating, but that's kind of her job," said the anonymous reporter. The profile notes that "indignation … seems to have abated" after Psaki was called out over her homophobic tweets about Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). Imagine that! The T.J. Ducklo fiasco is briefly mentioned, but the reader is given no insight into Psaki's role in the controversy.

The piece also notes Psaki has managed to avoid being assailed as an example of "white privilege" after getting the White House press secretary gig, even though she did not work on Joe Biden's campaign. (She worked for a controversial consulting firm with ties to China instead.)  Biden chose Psaki over Symone Sanders, a qualified black woman who served as a senior adviser on his campaign and whose lifelong dream is becoming White House press secretary.

Not all of the quoted remarks from journalists were positive. Some of them were unafraid to speak truth to power (anonymously) about Democrats who no longer serve in government. The profile includes a rather biting assessment of the so-called Obama Bros—Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, and Tommy Vietor, among others—who ran communications for the 44th president.

"A lot of those people in the Obama administration were assholes," said a White House reporter. "There's a myth that the press liked the Obama administration. Those Obama guys—just listen to Pod Save America. Imagine that smugness and smirking, on steroids, with people who are empowered to manage stories and are called upon to yell at you when they don't like a story. They were f—ing awful."

Peter Baker of the New York Times concurred that there were "people in the Obama White House who were aggressive and obnoxious and thought it was okay for them to berate and bully reporters" but insisted that Psaki—a former Obama spokeswoman and the person Baker relies on to do his job—is a lovable exception.