Like most who will work in a senior position for Joe Biden, his chosen White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki is a veteran of the Obama administration. Psaki claims her job will be to “rebuild trust” with “the American people” that the Trump White House allegedly broke.
Two basic fallacies provide the foundation for this narrative. One is the false notion that the Obama administration was honest with either the press or the people, underlined by looking back on the part Psaki had in the lies that assisted the Iran nuclear deal.
The other is the astonishing assertion that Biden and his team will be a breath of fresh air and restore transparency to American government after running among the least open and honest campaigns for the presidency in modern American political history. Should, as she promises, Psaki be a truly honest interlocutor between the media and the president, it would be a startling departure from the way the Biden campaign operated.
The open antagonism and partisanship much of the White House press corps have demonstrated since Trump took office is unprecedented. There was a long tradition of White House correspondents being obnoxious and insistent questioners of presidents and press secretaries. But the notion that someone whose job is to cover the administration would consider it appropriate to debate administration spokespersons rather aggressively collect information — as became routine with CNN’s Jim Acosta and PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor and others — was new.
Helping Lie to Americans about the Iran Deal
Under President Barack Obama, that partisanship took on a completely different character as many in the White House press corps blithely accepted the often duplicitous explanations his representatives dished out. The most egregious example of this was their coverage of the negotiations with Iran that led to the 2015 nuclear deal, including the effort to sell the pact to Congress and the nation.
During this period, Psaki served as deputy press secretary and deputy White House communications director, and spent the crucial years from 2013 to 2015 as State Department spokesperson. She was thus at the center of one of the most elaborate deceptions in the history of U.S. foreign policy.
During his 2012 re-election campaign, Obama took a hard line on Iran and vowed in his foreign policy debate with Republican opponent Mitt Romney that in any possible future negotiations with Iran he would not settle for anything less than “the end of their nuclear program.” Psaki held to that line in 2013 even though she knew that her boss Secretary of State John Kerry was engaging in secret negotiations with Iran in which the United States had already abandoned almost all of its demands that Tehran end its nuclear program and cease its enrichment of uranium.
On her watch, the State Department press office doctored video of press briefings to cover up evidence that she was lying in 2013 about the existence of secret talks. More importantly, during her time at the State Department, Psaki was one of the chief enablers of what Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes boasted was a media “echo chamber” in which the administration manipulated the press into spreading their false claims about the nuclear deal.
Lies such as claims that inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities would take place “anytime, anywhere” were promoted as facts, when nothing like was in the deal. Nor did Psaki give the press a heads up about the way the deal would be ultimately sealed: with the United States sending a planeload of cash to Iran as part of the shocking payoff to the ayatollahs for Obama and Kerry to get a deal at any price.
Biden Has Hid From the Public the Entire Campaign
Trump’s spokespersons were sometimes caught defending insignificant falsehoods, like Sean Spicer’s foolish defense of the president’s extravagant claims about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, or problems like the separation of illegal immigrants from children at the border. But on the substance of government policy, nothing that happened from 2017to 2020 rivaled the elaborate deceptions for Iran policy under Obama. In these, Psaki played a crucial role, and media figures who have been the fiercest critics of Trump’s press office said little or nothing at the time.
That Paski’s accession to Biden press secretary would be greeted with praise for her promise about trust and honesty rather than peals of skeptical laughter also speaks volumes about the media’s partisanship. No presidential campaign in living memory did as much to hide its candidate from the press or to conceal his intentions about governing as that of Biden in 2020.
While, even in the midst of a pandemic, Trump continued to take questions from the press and submit to interviews with often hostile as well as friendly members of the media, Biden was kept away from the press during the entire campaign. At no point did he sit down with a major correspondent for a serious interview.
Biden was allowed to skate to Election Day without ever being forced to answer whether he would try to pack the Supreme Court, as his radical supporters urged, or whether he would implement any of the “unity task force” policy recommendations agreed upon by Biden’s staff and that of Democratic rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.
He was also allowed to get away with angrily dismissing questions about his son Hunter’s profiteering in Ukraine and China from his father’s status as Obama’s point man on relations with those countries, something no one in the press would have tolerated from Trump. Indeed, even in the aftermath of the election, the Biden team’s idea of news was announcements about the president’s intention of having both a dog and a cat in the White House.
Perhaps Psaki, who spent the Trump years spinning for the left as a commentator on CNN, thinks the mainstream media will continue to be Biden’s obedient lapdogs once he’s in the White House. Given the way so many in the press have abandoned even the pretense of objectivity in their war on Trump and Republicans, she might be right about that.
If so, her tenure as press secretary may be the easiest ride of any in that job since the days when journalists happily colluded with John F. Kennedy’s courtiers to cover up his illicit White House antics. But the pretense that this will herald a new era of honesty and transparency that will put the efforts of Spicer, Sarah Sanders, and Kayleigh McEnany to shame is a sad joke.