Amateur lesson in the White House briefing room


Karine Jean-Pierre made her historic debut as White House press secretary this week. And after watching her first four appearances as spokeswoman for the President, just one word sums it up: amateur.

Certainly, being a White House press secretary is one of the toughest office jobs in the world, if not the toughest. As we saw with Jean-Pierre’s predecessor, Jen Psaki, the job often has to defend the untenable. And when 79 percent of voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and when public approval of the president’s handling of the economy and the border dwindles in the ’20s, that’s not a job most are signing up for would.

But Jean-Pierre isn’t just unlucky with the president she works for. This early conclusion comes after I watched this press secretary read answers to questions, often for extended periods, verbatim.

The trust is simply not there, nor is the conviction. Consider this exchange between the new press secretary and Peter Doocy on Monday after the Fox News White House correspondent read the following tweet from Biden on May 16.

“You want to lower inflation? Let’s make sure the richest companies pay their fair share,” the president tweeted.

Doocy: “How does raising corporate taxes lower the cost of gas, the cost of a used car, the cost of groceries for ordinary Americans?”

What followed was akin to a student putting together a series of sentences to reach a mandatory word count on an assignment. Here was the verbatim answer, according to the official White House transcript:

Jean-Pierre: “Well, I think we encourage those who have performed very well – right? – especially those who care about climate change to support a fairer tax – a tax law that will not change – that does not charge manufacturers’ workers, police officers and construction workers a higher percentage of their income; that the happiest people in our country are stopping – and not allowing – to cut energy bills and fight this existential problem, if you take that as an example, and also stand up for basic collective bargaining rights. Right? That’s important too. But you see, it’s — you know, not — if — without having fairer tax legislation that I’m talking about, then everybody — everybody — like production workers, policemen — you know, it’s not fair for them to have to pay higher taxes than they do People who – who – who are – who pay little or no tax at all.”

The original question of how raising corporate taxes lowers inflation has not been answered.

On another occasion Wednesday, a reporter asked if there was “a new alert in the White House about the stock market”? The question came after stocks plummeted for the sixth straight day and the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped more than 1,100 points, its biggest drop in two years.

Jean-Pierre: “We don’t do that – it’s something we don’t monitor every day. And so I won’t — I won’t comment on that from here.

So while more than 144 million Americans own stocks and many more are invested in 401Ks for their retirement, the White House isn’t keeping a close eye on it. Sleep well America.

For all of Psaki’s failings — among the most notable of which were ridiculously false narratives like blaming ex-President Trump for the current border crisis, claiming that spending extra trillions would lower inflation and the deficit, and that Republicans wanted to disappoint the police — was behind trust their answers regardless of whether they were convincing or not. Psaki left the White House for MSNBC, which led to Jean-Pierre’s promotion.

Then there is the question of Jean-Pierre’s credibility, based on her previous statements, which if uttered by a conservative or someone named Trump would be characterized as a chilling attack on democracy.

“Stolen election…welcome to the world of #unpresided Trump” she tweeted after the 2016 election.

“Trump always finds a way to take it to the rock bottom. He’s not only a stubborn idiot, he’s also a deplorable illegitimate president.” Your mood in 2017.

“Reminder: Brian Kemp stole gubernatorial election from Georgians and Stacey Abrams.” she said of Abrams’ loss of governorship to Republican Brian Kemp.

It’s good that the government’s new disinformation body has been put on hold, because these reckless claims should be at the top of the list. And of course, Twitter didn’t suspend Jean-Pierre’s account or remove those tweets, despite violating its number one rule regarding false or misleading claims.

Elon Musk is right: the platform has a “very left-leaning bias”. Jean-Pierre should apologize while removing these tweets, but that isn’t happening and probably never will because the mostly compliant media doesn’t address her or call her a conspiracy theorist. And you know that wouldn’t be the case if a Republican president’s press secretary made such chilling claims.

Media coverage of Jean-Pierre has not focused on her performance, but rather on her gender, race and sexual orientation.

Karine Jean-Pierre chairs first landmark briefing as White House press secretary” — USA Today

“New press secretary praises barrier breakers who paved her way” – NBC News

Meanwhile, it was announced on Friday that Pentagon spokesman John Kirby is traveling to the White House. Multiple reports state that Kirby will occasionally appear in place of Jean-Pierre, but will not officially share duties with her.

Kirby, who is stable, personable, and believable in this role at the Pentagon, should have been the President’s first choice to replace Psaki. He’s also relatively fearless at appearing on all cable news networks, including Fox News on a number of occasions. The decision to replace Psaki should have been one of the easier ones for the president. Unfortunately, it went to Jean-Pierre.

And if she’s wise, she’ll turn to former successful press secretaries who have served under Democratic presidents. Mike McCurry excelled under President Clinton, as did Robert Gibbs, Jay Carney, and Josh Earnest under President Obama.

It’s a good bet that all of these former press secretaries would love to help, because learning by doing during an election year just won’t do.

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.


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