WASHINGTON, DC – On December 6, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, stood on the podium in front of the press corps and scoffed at the idea of sending Covid tests directly to the people’s homes.
NPR’s Mara Liasson asked why rapid tests were so much harder to find in the US than in the UK. “Why not just make them free and distribute them, make them available everywhere?” Liasson asked.
“Should we just send one to every American? PSAKI answered, sarcastically. When Liasson replied, “Maybe”, PSAki retorted, “So every American would have a test.”
Although she entered office promising transparency and truth, Psaki may have become best known for her “clapbacks” – caustic responses to reporters’ questions – in the briefing room. His supporters use the hashtag “#PsakiBomb”. Yet for many observers of the Dec. 6 exchange, this was an unnecessarily sharp and ultimately evasive answer to a reasonable question.
I won’t blame people who find joy in supporting the White House press secretary, hashtag them like they would live-tweet a favorite TV show. But White House press briefings aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be, primarily for entertainment. This is the time for the press to hold the most powerful people in the country to account and for those people to try to clear the country. And Psaki is not a character from a TV show: she is tasked with explaining on behalf of the White House what is happening during what is, in many ways, a confusing time.
It should be emphasized that Psaki was not the pioneer of combative dynamics. White House press briefings became, for some, fixtures in the Trump era: They were even parodied on a late-night comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live, and Trump’s press secretaries routinely sparred with reporters. But there is a chasm between the ideal of truth and transparency and a press officer scoffing at the idea of free testing.
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It’s a sinkhole the Biden White House should want to close. The fault is not only with the publicist, of course. The Biden administration does a poll in the 1930s that suggests it has a general communication problem. To know that the American public is not aware of Biden’s successes at had. For example: Biden has the best economic indicators of any president since Jimmy Carter, and yet, at the same time, he suffers from the worst freshman economic polls of any president since – that’s right – Jimmy Carter.
Still, with Biden falling in the polls, anyone who can help lead the administration out of crisis should. The nation is still in the grip of the pandemic. The more information that can be communicated clearly, directly and respectfully to the public – without sarcasm or sarcasm – the better. (The administration would be wise to also stop telling people who want information about the country’s Covid testing resources to “search it on googleas Vice President Kamala Harris did in a TV interview).
And, ultimately, PSAki’s fateful comment on December 6 was not for nothing. After widespread outcry over his response, the White House announced that rapid tests would indeed be sent to all Americans. Starting this week, each household can request a set of four.