A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
“Let’s do this again tomorrow,” President Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki said at the close of her first White House press briefing on Wednesday, and many Americans, regardless of political bent, profession, state, or identity, said: Yes please.
Others were more than happy to tune out the news about the new administration — and that was a welcome change too. During the Trump years, many people felt that his antics were impossible to ignore.
For all the talk about, and appeals to, Trump fans who wanted to watch the press corps bullied and bashed, most Americans don’t want that. They never did. Most Americans want to know what is real and true so that they can make the best decisions for their families. That’s what Psaki is promising to provide — reliable, regular info — and that’s what the press will insist on.
Biden’s first day, and Psaki’s first day, sent a message that functional government is back. Psaki confirmed that she will hold daily briefings. She told the reporters in the room that she will butt heads with them sometimes — we “will disagree,” of course — but that’s okay because “we have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”
During the press briefing, CNN’s Jim Sciutto tweeted, “Here’s the thing: this is the norm. Taking questions. Answering questions. Not attacking journalists as enemies of the people. Sometimes battling. Always challenging. A functioning relationship between our government and the media.”
“Functioning” is a good thing, despite what MAGA media talking heads may claim. “Functioning” is nonpartisan. “Functioning” means a steady stream of informative press releases from the White House. “Functioning” means actual information about the president’s calls rather than bland claims about how he’s making “many calls.” Many Republicans knew that Trump’s anti-media attacks were damaging, and they cringed when his White House was consumed by his own narcissism. They knew that the country deserved better.
“It’s just mesmerizing to watch a functional government doing functional government-type things,” Van Jones said after the briefing. “There was a press conference and there was a human, and that person said words, and the words made sense, and somebody asked a question, and that person answered.”
Competency is the new ineptitude
The Presidential Inaugural Committee pulled off a flawless series of performances on Wednesday. From Garth Brooks to Amanda Gorman… from Tom Hanks to Sarah Fuller… the day was “as exquisitely choreographed as a Balanchine ballet,” as the WaPo theater critic Peter Marks wrote. Of the inaugural ceremony, he wrote, “it all came across as tone-perfect.”
“This was not just a transfer of power, it was a profound change of attitude,” David Axelrod said on CNN after the fireworks show.
Anderson Cooper summed up the entire day this way: “They acknowledged the pain but they also embraced the promise. They acknowledged the grief but they also embraced the greatness of America. And the two can exist at the same time — the pain and the promise.”
“How do you and President Biden plan to combat disinfo?”
During his inaugural speech, Biden vowed to defend the truth and said the country must come together to “defeat the lies.” At Psaki’s briefing, Peter Alexander followed up on this, asking for specifics. “The battle for truth may be as tough a fight right now as is the battle against coronavirus,” he said. “How do you and President Biden plan to combat disinformation that in many ways led to that assault we witnessed two weeks ago today on the Capitol?’ Psaki said “there are a number of ways” to do so, adding that one method is to provide ‘accurate information’ and data to the public…
How accessible will Biden be?
It’s too early to know. Yahoo WH correspondent Hunter Walker observed: “Biden’s staff seems to be very eager to avoid the freewheeling, loud Oval Office sprays that were part of Trump’s press strategy… Before he disappeared post-election, Trump spoke directly with the press in scrums and sprays far more often than his predecessors. I suspect Biden’s team is looking to return to a more traditional engagement, but I imagine it will be hard getting that genie back in the bottle…”
Make the White House boring again?
“A rational, experienced president is going to be very, very boring,” former WH chief of staff Leon Panetta told John Dickerson. Writing for The Atlantic, Dickerson said that “a president who tries to fit this mold might not keep the country riveted, but he will be effective.” Three other key lines from his column:
— “The great battle of our time is the fight between reality and fantasy.”
— “Even the most exquisitely boring president will not be able to use facts, briefings, and patient explanations to fully overcome the incentives of politics and partisan media.” But “if a president is ever to build bridges to the other party, it will not be through insults and baseless assertions that must be taken on faith.”
— “Sometimes, by staying out of the way, a president can create space for our attention to turn elsewhere.”