Karine Jean-Pierre, the new White House press secretary, knows the difference between herself and every single one of her predecessors.
“I am obviously acutely aware that my presence at this podium represents a few firsts. I am a Black, gay, immigrant woman — the first of all three of those to hold this position,” she told reporters at the start of her first official briefing earlier this month. “If it were not for generations of barrier-breaking people before me, I would not be here.”
Jean-Pierre went on to say that “representation matters” and celebrated President Joe Biden for having “the most diverse administration in history.”
Indeed, he does, but visibility only goes so far.
While it is true that Biden can tout a number of historic shifts in terms of personnel, his administration has also worked feverishly to restore a number of political norms — including engaging with those openly hostile to many of the communities Jean-Pierre belongs to.
I won’t. I recognize that many people enjoyed Psaki’s exchanges with Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy, but I always found them irritating. Doocy often poses leading and asinine questions when presented with the opportunity to speak, and for the life of me, I have never understood why this administration bothered to reward his idiocy with airtime — especially when you consider his place of employment.
Sure, some people loved their lil’ tit-for-tat outbursts across social media and select cable news channels because of Psaki’s snarky retorts — which fans called “Psaki bombs” — but they just gave further legitimacy to the racist propaganda vehicle poorly masquerading as a news outlet.
Even more grating is that, for all the coverage of their “tense exchanges,” Psaki and Doccy seemed to think quite well of each other in the end, as evidenced by them playing nice at the end of Psaki’s tenure.
It’s not as if I am advocating for Pskai to have stood at the podium and cursed Doocy out every single day, but he works for a place that vilifies Black people, the LGBTQ community and immigrants. Considering that Jean-Pierre was Psaki’s No. 2 and that Black people collectively had a lot to do with Biden’s election victory in 2020, how could anyone justify the spectacle that ultimately gave cover to a network that has helped ruin the country?
Psaki and the whitewashed mainstream media outlets championing this schtick could treat it like a game — because what Fox News does one way or another doesn’t impact them the way it can impact folks like me and Jean-Pierre.
“While it is true that Biden can tout a number of historic shifts in terms of personnel, his administration has also worked feverishly to restore a number of political norms — including engaging with those openly hostile to many of the communities Jean-Pierre belongs to.”
As for those “Psaki bombs,” for whatever grief people thought Psaki gave Doocy — when I think of times she actually tried to bring reporters to heel, I recall the condescending way she fielded questions from PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor about the White House’s views on Haitian immigrants and the resignation of U.S. diplomat to Haiti Daniel Foote during a press briefing last September.
A more recent example is when a reporter asked about Israeli police beating mourners with batons at the funeral procession for Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American journalist and veteran correspondent at Al Jazeera shot dead by Israeli forces while she was reporting on a military raid in the West Bank. Psaki said it’s not the role of the U.S. to “assess or analyze the politics on the ground in Israel.”
I can guess at least one reason Psaki answered the last question the way she did, but generally, the frustrations many marginalized communities have about the Biden administration paying lip service to their concerns were exemplified by the tone of the White House spokeswoman.
Psaki is an effective communicator, but what she often communicated may not have necessarily aided the Biden administration, according to its poll numbers and its loss of support from its most vital constituencies. Jean-Pierre has an opportunity to help provide the shift the administration needs as we move toward the midterm elections and Biden’s looming reelection bid.
Jean-Pierre should start by ignoring Fox employees altogether. She did not do that on her first day — opting to engage with Doocy, as Psaki did.
It went about as well as expected. Doocy asked the disingenuous question, “How does raising taxes on corporations lower the cost of gas, the cost of a used car, the cost of food, for everyday Americans?”
Some pundits have already criticized Jean-Pierre’s response for inefficiency, but no answer would have been sufficient for Doocy or the network he works for. By engaging him, Jean-Pierre fell into the trap of taking an unserious network seriously and garnering negative headlines for herself and the administration. That is and always will be a lose-lose situation for Jean-Pierre, but it’s not too late to change course.
Fox’s biggest star, Tucker Carlson, has already given her plenty of reasons to go to her bosses with such a request.
Upon the announcement of Jean-Pierre’s new role, Carlson declared that the administration had found someone as “shallow, nasty and partisan” as Psaki.
Unsurprisingly, he then questioned Jean-Pierre’s job qualifications.
“Karine Jean-Pierre is our first out LGBTQ+ White House press secretary and that’s all you need to know,” Carlson said. “It’s a good thing, shut up and celebrate. That’s why she got the job. She’s in the right group, and to the Biden administration, which thinks exclusively in terms of groups and never in terms of individuals, because individuals are messy and inconvenient, the group is all that matters.”
“Show us your picture and we’ll tell you if you’re qualified for the job,” Carlson added.
That’s rich, coming from someone born into wealth and privilege who failed on multiple cable news networks until he tapped more deeply into his racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia — but it is a perfect example of why Jean-Pierre should ignore all requests from Fox for airtime. Carlson will only get worse. So will Laura Ingraham. So will the sycophants that host ”Fox & Friends.” As will all of the other goofy, nonsensical, batshit-crazy people hired over there.
They’re going to call her racist and brand her unqualified no matter how she responds to them, so why even bother? That time can be spent on a Spanish-language network, a Black media outlet or an LGBTQ outlet.
It should not be lost on anyone that after Jean-Pierre talked about her historic appointment and its significance, she proceeded to field questions from reporters about the teenage white supremacist who staged a mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store that left 10 people dead and three others wounded.
In the days after, many of those reporters and the media outlets they work for have already moved on from the story — a testament to how much attention a predominately white political press cares about Black people being hunted in America.
It is a climate that Fox helped create and further perpetuates. So, as much as a barrier-breaking choice for White House press secretary matters, what she does with her platform matters as much, if not more. There is no need to continue to help those who stoke animus for profit and sport, in tandem with a bigoted political party, gain further legitimacy. They want to live in their world devoid of facts. Karine Jean-Pierre and the administration she now speaks for ought to let them.