There are few jobs in communications with as much pressure and scrutiny as the White House Press Secretary. As Jen Psaki steps into the role, she’ll do so with the country fiercely divided by politics and a media landscape that blurs facts, opinion and lies. The toughest job in the business has never been tougher. So we asked CTPers: How would you grade Psaki’s initial steps, and if in her shoes, how would you approach the job?
Psaki has been smooth and candid, and she’s set expectations on the frequency and scope of press briefings that reporters should appreciate. As with any senior PR professional, credibility depends on telling the truth and knowing when to say you don’t know and will check. She has also faced, and likely will continue to face, a much friendlier press corps than her predecessors from the last four years. It’s highly likely that most of the White House press corps voted for President Biden. This certainly suggests more benefit of the doubt and perhaps a honeymoon period, though she will be tested when the news of the day requires more challenging questions. White House press secretaries walk a fine line between explaining and arguing the President’s decisions and positions, between defending their chief executive and pumping him up. – Mark Fredrickson, Managing Director, Technology Practice
The podium at the White House briefing room allegedly had cobwebs from inactivity under the Trump administration. The collection of press secretaries had gone 300 days at one point without a press briefing. So, by any objective, non-partisan measure, Jen Psaki has a pretty low bar to surpass her most recent predecessors. The nature of journalism means there will be tension between reporters and the subjects they cover but Psaki and her team are doing some smart things off the bat. Committing to daily briefings each weekday, restoring the “Skype” seating which allows reporters to cover remotely, using an ASL interpreter and even taking questions directly from the public occasionally. The job is a tough one, especially in this splintered world in which we all live these days, but if you can be accessible, offer real information and simply tell the truth you’re doing what that job mandates. – Brian Heffron, EVP
If you believe in the notion of democracy, it’s been a good week.
Jen is off to a great start, not only for the administration, but in restoring credibility to the role. She’s come across as smart, knowledgeable, calm and most importantly, respectful and professional of her interactions with journalists. She’s taken questions and provided answers, and laid out a clear and fair philosophy: “There will be times when we see things differently in this room. That’s OK. That’s part of our democracy.”
What’s somewhat depressing, however, is that those are the basic tenets of the role. Tenets that, for four alternative-fact years, weren’t just ignored, their willful ignorance contributed significantly to our declining social and political discourse and cut to the heart of democracy. It set a bar that … well, actually, it removed any bar.
While almost anything she does would be a step in the right direction, she’s on a good path. Her long-term success, however, shouldn’t be measured against the immediate past, but how well she adheres to those principles she set forth.
And it’s in the situation with Chris Wray, on two levels, that there should be measures of optimism and confidence. In initial questions about the FBI director, she refrained from speculation – one of the first and most important lessons in dealing with the media. And then a willingness, later, to clear up any confusion without blaming the press. Clear, transparent, respectful, honest. – Todd Graff, VP Public Relations
In the first minute of Jen Psaki’s first press briefing as White House Press Secretary, she said “When the President asked me to serve in this role, we talked about the importance of bringing truth and transparency back to the briefing room.”
I think if we were to sum up what it means to be the White House Press Secretary right now, in a time where there’s a ton of political divide, a global health crisis that seems like it will never end and what feels like a new conspiracy theory every day, it’s a renewed dedication to truth and transparency. Keeping the public updated with accurate and truthful information is so important right now and I think Jen Psaki is doing a great job doing just that. – Isabella Lanata, Account Coordinator, Public Relations