President Biden’s Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, was interviewed Sunday on CNN’s Reliable Sources by Brian Stelter. It proved to be another opportunity for her to demonstrate her intelligence, grace, and commitment to candidly informing the American people about the President’s thinking and his agenda for the country.
Not surprisingly, the right-wing mediasphere launched into their knee-jerk condemnation of both Psaki and Stelter. They either didn’t understand what they were talking about or deliberately distorted it to create a false and negative impression. Probably the latter if their past behavior is any guide.
Much of the wingnuttery was obsessed with Stelter’s first question wherein he asked “What does the press get wrong when covering Biden’s agenda?” That was construed as a “softball” question, despite the fact that a media reporter asking a subject to critique the media is hardly playing softball. Stelter also grilled Psaki on why Biden doesn’t do more press conferences. But the rightist whiners must have tuned that out.
The conservative chorus of critics was fixated exclusively on finding fault with the interview. Fox News published an analysis on their website that featured only hard-core rightist reactions to the segment. They complained that Stelter didn’t ask Psaki about manufactured, right-wing “controversies” about Dr. Fauci or the alleged border crisis. That’s because this wasn’t a newsmaking interview. It was a discussion on a media-focused program about how the White House press team interacts with the media.
Aside from being too complicated an interview for conservative flacks to handle, it went pretty well. One of the most instructive moments was when Psaki addressed how she was portrayed in the media, and what she regards as her role.
Stelter: There’s a version on the liberal blogs, something that goes like this: Psaki smacks down, Psaki shuts down a questioner. It’s this narrative we’re seeing people celebrating for doing it. And yet that kind of reminds me of cable news and the way that cable news engages. I’m not sure it’s actually good for the country, even though it might be entertaining.
Psaki: Well look Brian, I think one, I’m not putting out those assessments. What I will tell you though is that I also have a responsibility not to allow the briefing room to become a forum for propaganda or a forum for pushing forward falsehoods or inaccurate information. […] I have a responsibility to the public to make sure they’re getting accurate information. and the premise of the questions that are propaganda pushing are not giving them inaccurate information.
I asked @PressSec about the trend of "Psaki shuts down" headlines. She pointed out that she didn't write 'em – but said she has a "responsibility not to allow the briefing room to become a forum for propaganda, or a forum for pushing forward falsehoods or inaccurate information." pic.twitter.com/yXYte3Wm35
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) June 6, 2021
Psaki clearly takes the job more seriously than Trump’s former press secretary (and current Fox News host), Kayleigh McEnany, who seemed to be more interested in scoring fashion shoots. And Psaki’s remarks on Sunday were consistent with those expressed by the White House shortly after Biden’s inauguration
“White House officials promise a sea change from how the Trump White House interacted with the press. Biden’s team plans to lay out clear criteria for qualifying for a so-called ‘hard pass’ to access the grounds in consultation with the WHCA, officials told POLITICO. If current passholders in the media continue to meet the criteria determined together with the correspondents’ association, they will continue to have hard passes. […] But Biden’s aides also promised not to allow outlets to use the briefings to spread baseless conspiracies. […]
“Organizations or individuals who traffic in conspiracy theories, propaganda and lies to spread disinformation will not be tolerated, and we’ll work with the WHCA to decide how to handle those instances moving forward.”
If the White House were to strictly impose those standards, Fox News wouldn’t be granted a press pass at all. Of Course, that’s not likely to happen. But at least they recognize the importance of downplaying propaganda and focusing on the informational needs of the American public. And they aren’t maligning the press in Stalinist terms as “the enemy of the people.” That’s a profound improvement over the hostility and childishness of the Trump years.
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