In the three short months that she’s been America’s Press Secretary, Jen Psaki has transformed the role from contentious to sublime. Hostile questioners may not know precisely what hit them, but the smart ones die with a smile on their faces. She isn’t just brilliant, she’s also charming, the way John F. Kennedy was charming (or the fictional C.J. Cregg from “The West Wing” was charming), and she does it without even seeming to try.
It’s what you might call the Psaki Method, and it’s not entirely unlike the Socratic Method. A stupid, hostile, intentionally loaded question is asked. Instead of escalating with equivalent confrontational belligerence, Psaki disarms the questioner by taking them on a guided tour of their own foolishness.
A case in point, when a briefing room reporter said, “Americans are saying immigrant surges are happening under President Biden’s watch,” Psaki asked, “Who are the Americans?” The reporter replied, “The former president.” Psaki clarified, “Former President Trump?” “Yes.” “We don’t take our advice or counsel from former President Trump.” It was over before the reporter even knew it.
After the President’s first press conference, Fox News reporter Peter Doocy, overestimating his own importance and smarting over the fact that he (along with several others) didn’t get called on during the President’s Q&A, demanded to know if it was now White House policy to leave Fox off the “call-on” list. Psaki replied with easy urbanity, “We’re here having a conversation, aren’t we?” “Yes, but …” “Has the President taken questions from you? Yes or no?” “Yes but …” “And do I take questions from you every time you come to the briefing room?” “Yes but …” She concluded by complimenting him on his “awesome socks.”
She is so good at it she makes it look easy. Jen Psaki is like a great athlete, whose economy of motion is so fluid and perfect that the casual observer might be seduced into thinking that what she’s doing is effortless, that anyone can do it.
Contrast Psaki’s cooler-than-the-room poise with Sean Spicer’s fresh-from-his-mother’s-basement clumsy lies and cringeworthy, incel geekiness, or Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ hamfisted belligerence, or Stephanie Grisham’s invisibility, or Kayleigh McEnany’s cross-wearing hypocrisies. Psaki seems to say without needing to say it, “Step aside and let me show you how it’s really done.” And she does it with a quiet professionalism that is wonderful to behold.
When Former Guy was still in his ascendancy, my wife and I tried re-watching “The West Wing.” Far from being reassuring it was depressing. It was like watching vistas of a glorious freedom through prison bars. We couldn’t continue watching it. But we might give it another go soon. These days it’s possible to believe again that there really is someone like Jed Bartlet in the Oval Office, and there really is someone like C. J. Cregg at the podium. It’s a comforting thought to know that it just might be true. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.