White House reporter Zeke Miller set the tone during Jen Psaki’s first briefing as White House press secretary. The veteran journalist asked Psaki, the chief spokesperson for the Biden Administration, whether she’s committed to promoting the president’s interests or providing the “unvarnished truth” to the American people.
It was a nauseatingly lame question with no objective other than to create a viral Twitter moment. Unsurprisingly, Psaki touted her “deep respect for the role of a free and independent press” and goal to share “accurate information to the American people.”
Then every person with a blue checkmark patted themselves on the back. They managed to save democracy, one meme at a time.
Psaki is one of the early rock stars of the Biden Administration, with her daily press briefings receiving rave reviews from, well, the press. The New York Times lauded Psaki’s “new tone”; The Washington Post lionized her as “reality-grounded”; NPR asked her tough questions about swimming pools. On Twitter, the terrible “#PsakiBomb” hashtag trends during every briefing, usually when Psaki refuses to answer an inquiry.
This honeymoon period is understandable, given the loathsome string of hucksters who worked as press secretaries in the Trump administration. They spewed garbage from the White House podium–during the rare occasions in which they showed up–and were insultingly inconsequential figures, often several steps behind Trump’s next Twitter missive.
Psaki is much better than that. But being an improvement over the detestable Kayleigh McEnany should not be grounds for hero worship. We can’t champion our commitment to the truth, while celebrating deflection.
But that’s what’s happening, at least in the most obnoxiously online circles. Last week, the progressive politics site Meidas Touch declared “anytime Jen Psaki dunks on a reporter will henceforth be known as a Psaki Bomb.” Embarrassingly, users responded with celebratory emojis, and recipes for “Psaki Bomb” cocktails.
It is not out of line to ask Psaki about the Administration’s viewpoint on the GameStop fiasco or Marjorie Taylor Greene’s insane conspiracy theories about Jewish laser beams. But yet, reporters who surfaced the two biggest stories of the week were derided as cheap sensationalists. How dare they try to move a spokesperson off her pre-written talking points?
The “#PsakiBomb” movement reached shameful new heights Monday, when big Twitter liberals applauded Psaki for calling out a reporter who asked why Biden held his first congressional meeting with Republicans, rather than Democrats. Instead of answering, Psaki picked apart the reporter’s use of anonymous sources, asking where specifically he’s heard these criticisms.
It was textbook obfuscation. So much for supplying the “unvarnished truth.”
The overnight glorification of Psaki is indicative of the new, and terrible, intersection between politics and celebrity. Political figures, even glorified PR flacks, are now cultural icons. Psaki isn’t just a press secretary selling the president’s agenda. She’s a Badass Girlboss YAASSS Queen, fighting the patriarchy of the White House press corps with dry non-sequiturs.
With Donald Trump mercifully exiled to Mar-A-Lago, we have an opportunity to reclaim our culture. But it’s not going to happen if we venerate our team’s press secretary for stonewalling reporters. There’s little discernible difference between “NowThis” clipping Psaki’s snippy exchanges with journalists, and MAGA dorks chortling over McEnany calling CNN “fake news.” It’s all sycophantic behavior.
But that’s what happens when our politics are seeped into our identities. We’re incapable of nuance, and always must rally around the home team. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re bereft of art and new entertainment. Cable news and the daily press briefings are all we have.
As we get deeper into the Biden presidency, hopefully the novelty of competency wears off. Or else, we will further descent into our cultural abyss, left with nothing but inside jokes about press secretaries pledging to “circle back.”
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