Jen Psaki must resign — immediately
White House press secretary Jen Psaki is headed to MSNBC, according to multiple reports. No surprise there: Her agent reportedly has been in talks with the network for months, and Psaki went to the White House after working for CNN from 2017 to 2020.
No one is saying that Psaki going back into cable news is wrong. It’s hard to find those who served as White House press secretaries, a key role with high exposure, who haven’t made the natural jump to broadcast news and opinion in the cable news era.
But Psaki should not stay on as White House press secretary one moment longer if she’s planning to go to a news organization that covers the administration. And several members of the White House press corps, to their credit, held Psaki’s feet to the fire on Friday when news broke of her plan to join the liberal network in May.
When asked about the Axios exclusive regarding her going back into cable news, Psaki provided a non-answer — a recurring theme of her tenure as press secretary.
“I have nothing to confirm about my length of public service or planned service or anything about consideration about next plans,” she said in response to a question by CBS’s Ed O’Keefe. “I’m very happy to be standing with you here today after it felt like a never-ending, endless time in my basement quarantining away from my family.”
“Believe it or not I missed you all a lot. My focus every day continues to be speaking on behalf of the president, answering your questions as tough as they may be at many times, as difficult as they may be to answer at many times. I hope that I meet my own bar of treating everybody with fairness and being equitable,” she added.
Takeaway: She didn’t deny the report that she will leave the White House for MSNBC.
O’Keefe correctly followed: “Just because this has been raised by our colleagues, by people who are observing this process, is it ethical for you to continue to be conducting this job while negotiating with a media outlet?”
Psaki assured that she is undergoing “rigorous ethics training” as it relates “to future employment” before talking about what she hopes will be her legacy in her current role. “I hope that all of you, I have been working with all of you for some time, would judge me for my record and how I treat you and I try to answer questions from everybody across the board,” she said.
Several reporters revolted against Psaki last month for what they said was her practice of calling only on reporters in the first two rows near the podium.
Regardless of what Psaki’s legacy will be, she should announce her resignation. Immediately.
“Jen, given the reports that have been confirmed by multiple media outlets, how can you continue to be an effective briefer if you do in fact have plans to join a media outlet?” NBC News’s Kristen Welker also asked of Psaki.
That “media outlet” is MSNBC — and the mothership of that cable news network is Welker’s NBC.
On MSNBC, Psaki reportedly will host a show (not in Rachel Maddow’s coveted 9 p.m. time slot, as rumored). The NBC aspect of Psaki’s new home will be on its streaming service, Peacock. And Welker, Psaki’s future colleague, was right to point out the conflict of interest.
The press secretary again answered by not answering. “I have taken the ethics legal requirements to the highest very seriously. Any discussions and any considerations about any future employment, just as any White House official would. I have taken steps beyond that to ensure there’s no conflicts,” she responded.
“And, I understand what you’re saying,” Welker noted. “The question is, how is it ethical to have these conversations with media outlets while you continue to have a job standing behind that podium?”
“There are a range of stringent ethical and legal requirements that are imposed on everybody in this administration and many administrations past about any conversations you are having with future employers,” Psaki responded, ducking again.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is currently fundraising off of the Psaki-to-MSNBC news, adding more fuel to the conflict of interest aspect.
“She’s fought to restore trust in the free press after the Trump Administration’s horrific attacks on the media,” DCCC said in a statement. “And now, she’s planning to join MSNBC’s intrepid team of journalists to hold dangerous, far-right Republicans accountable.”
Yup. Nothing screams free press quite like holding the extreme elements of only one party accountable.
Psaki apparently has one foot out the door. The guess here is that she didn’t expect the MSNBC news to be leaked, and the White House communications team isn’t ready for her to leave while a successor is being groomed.
Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich also reported recently that MSNBC and CNN have been engaged in a bidding war for Psaki. Is that still happening? And is Psaki making decisions around access while in negotiations?
Psaki’s last on-camera interview with MSNBC was in March, while her last interview with CNN was in January. She’ll reportedly follow Kamala Harris’s former press secretary, Symone Sanders, over to MSNBC; Sanders left the vice president’s office after less than one year.
In a sea of administration incompetence, Psaki easily stands out as the most competent Biden official in doing her thankless job of spinning a losing narrative on a daily basis. Effusive praise from the press poured in early and often, such as this from Vogue magazine: “Press Secretary Jen Psaki is Good At Mending Fences. Just Don’t Call Her Nice.”
“When Psaki first appeared in the press briefing room, in January 2021, there was a collective swoon from roughly half the country,” the Vogue piece read.
And here’s a New York Times headline: “Bully Pulpit No More: Jen Psaki’s Turn at the Lectern.” The article went on to say that “in interviews, Washington correspondents often used the word ‘professional’ — high praise in D.C. — to describe interactions with her, deeming her straightforward, detail-dense briefings a relief after an era when Mr. Trump’s press secretaries repeatedly insulted, denigrated and frequently ignored journalists.”
But Psaki often has gone well beyond spin, sometimes taking it to comical levels. She once claimed Republicans supported defunding the police (they didn’t) and that the U.S. southern border was closed (it wasn’t). She claimed that President Biden takes press questions “all the time” (not even close), that no Americans were stranded in Afghanistan (they were), and that “no economist out there is projecting that [the Build Back Better bill] will have a negative impact on inflation” (it does, per the Congressional Budget Office).
The list goes on, but we only have so much space here.
In her next role, Psaki reportedly won’t act as a news anchor but as an opinion host. In such a role, she would need to provide one hour of compelling content five nights a week and on streaming, and she’ll need to carry that hour. Many have tried to do that, and many have failed.
Regardless, Psaki remains the face of the Biden administration; we’ve seen and heard more from her over the past 14 months than any other administration figure, including the president and vice president.
Given the lack of quality choices out there on the left, the decision by NBC and MSNBC to bring on Psaki makes sense. The question is, will she relieve herself of White House press duties now, to keep intact the credibility the network thinks it is getting?
The answer: Likely not. But she should.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.