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Jen Psaki: I can't let the briefing room become 'a forum for propaganda'

CNN logo CNN 6/6/2021 By Brian Stelter, CNN Business
Jen Psaki in a blue shirt: jen psaki white house press briefings no propaganda rs sot vpx_00000000.png © Provided by CNN jen psaki white house press briefings no propaganda rs sot vpx_00000000.png

The White House press briefing room will return to 100% capacity on Monday after 15 months of social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It will be another step toward normality for President Joe Biden's press secretary Jen Psaki and the press corps — and a reminder of the renewed centrality of the daily briefing. Under President Trump, there were long stretches when the press operation didn't schedule any briefings at all.

"Frankly, returning the briefing is something that sends a message to the world that we're not afraid to engage," Psaki said in an interview with CNN Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter Sunday. "We're not afraid. We believe in the free press."

Psaki spoke on CNN's "Reliable Sources" about what she called the "healthy push and pull" between the White House and members of the media, including right-wing outlets that oppose Biden's agenda and often demonize him personally.

"My point of view, and more importantly, the president's point of view, is that the story is not about me or a debate with news outlets," she said. "The story is about the plans of the administration and what we're trying to project to the American people. And when he pledged to govern for all Americans, that means talking to a range of outlets — liberal, conservative, people who have different areas of interest. So that's exactly what I try to do every day in the briefing room."

Psaki fans have coined a term, "Psaki bomb," for her handling of right-wing outfits like Newsmax. On multiple occasions Psaki has gone viral for disputing the premise of questions with a conspiratorial tone or a vague accusation. In an early May exchange, Newsmax's Emerald Robinson claimed "there's a growing perception that this is really just the third term of President Obama" and asked "What do you say to people who say that?"

Psaki responded: "Who's saying that?" Robinson said "you've heard that a lot in the media," and Psaki pressed on: "Who in the media?"


Video: Psaki: I can't let briefings become a forum for propaganda (CNN)

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Psaki pointed out that she is not responsible for web headlines that claim she "shut down" a questioner.

But she said she has "a responsibility not to allow the briefing room to become a forum for propaganda or for pushing forward falsehoods or inaccurate information."

Psaki cited her experience serving as State Department spokesperson during the Obama administration, when representatives of the Russian and the Chinese media were "in the briefing room asking me questions that were directed by their government."

She said "we see that from time to time in the briefing room, not every single day at all, but I have a responsibility to the public to make sure they're getting accurate information and the premises of questions that are propaganda pushing are not giving them inaccurate information."

On "Reliable Sources," Psaki repeatedly brought up her problem with questions that are based on faulty premises.

"When people ask a question that is based on a false premise or a question that skips over some details ... what we try to do, on our best days, is be informative, explain how a process works," Psaki said. "How does a bill become a law? What's the importance of communicating or going to the G7 or NATO? We don't need to completely dumb things down. We need to speak about things in an accessible way. But we have a responsibility to peel the curtains back in governing and government and how things work. And we think the American people will hopefully respond to that."

The press secretary's comments repeatedly alluded to the obvious contrast between the Biden and Trump years.

"I think sometimes we forget how strange the last four years were," Psaki said in response to a question about what she thinks the media gets wrong in political coverage. "When we return to a place where democracy is working, where we're talking with Democrats and Republicans, where we're trying to get bills and legislation passed, it feels foreign — but this is actually how it's supposed to work."

She seemed to be counseling patience in a news environment that rewards immediacy.

Psaki would not commit to stepping up the frequency of Biden's formal news conferences. (Biden has only held one of those since taking office.) She said he is regularly available to the media in less formal settings.

"He takes questions several times a week" and "is always, almost always, open to have that engagement with reporters. And I expect that will continue to be the case," she said.

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