Jen Psaki held her 224th and final briefing as White House press secretary on Friday afternoon.
PSAKI thanked his colleagues in the press office and members of the media, telling reporters, “You challenged me, you pushed me, you debated me and sometimes we disagreed. This is democracy in action. That’s how it works.
“Thank you for what you do,” she added. “Thank you for making me better. And above all, thank you for the work you do every day to make this country stronger.”
PSAki’s successor, Karine Jean-Pierre, confirmed on Friday that she would continue to hold regular briefings.
In their remarks on Friday, there is a clear difference between presidents and parties. In roughly 16 months working on behalf of President Joe Biden, PSAKI has held more briefings than all of President Donald Trump’s press officers combined. The Trump-era total was 205, according to Martha Joynt Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project. Kumar counted 58 briefings by Sean Spicer, 107 by Sarah Sanders, zero by Stephanie Grisham and 40 by Kayleigh McEnany over a four-year period.
“Psaki restored honor, dignity and class to the White House briefing room after four years of Donald Trump’s press officers, who seemed more interested in causing fights and criticizing the media than in effectively communicate the policies and agenda of this administration,” Poynter’s Tom Jones wrote in a column about his departure.
Of course, Trump’s spokespeople did what he wanted. And PSAKI was doing what Biden wanted — restoring a sense of pre-Trump normalcy. “She came to commit to holding daily briefings – and fussing if they were on the road,” Kumar said. “When you count working days without weekends or holidays, they held briefings 91% of the days.”
Conservatives (some of whom watched Psaki’s briefings live on Fox) criticized Psaki for dodging questions. Liberals celebrated her for neutralizing loaded questions (including some posed by Fox) and championing Biden’s agenda. White House reporters appreciated his accessibility, though it didn’t make up for Biden’s relative lack of press conferences and interviews.
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple counted the number of appearances Psaki has made as a publicist on various networks and said “what stands out here is the even-handed treatment between the networks, especially Fox News”. On Fox last Sunday, Psaki said his goal was to “speak to the public and certainly to engage and value a free press.”
Kumar, a regular presence in the briefing room, told me that Psaki excelled as a briefer “because she was well prepared for the job.”
“Perhaps his most significant experiences were: 1) serving as a spokesperson for the State Department and 2) learning the beats of a White House during the Obama years,” Kumar said. “She learned over those years to listen to reporters as an early warning system for political and policy issues that the White House team may not have spotted.”
“She also learned to think like a journalist as she prepared for the briefing,” Kumar added. “At the State Department, she learned the resonance of language and the importance of every word when you speak on behalf of the president.”
Now, Psaki is heading to TV country, specifically MSNBC — however, as I reported last Sunday in ‘Reliable Sources’, she hasn’t signed any deals yet, and she won’t be starting any new roles until fall. Insider’s Claire Atkinson described the pending role as a “global position that has her appearing on NBC News’ MSNBC and the Peacock Company’s streaming service.”
Her successor Jean-Pierre is a natural candidate behind the White House podium, since she replaced Psaki on several occasions. But KJP (as she is known among White House reporters and on Twitter) takes on the role of press secretary at a very interesting time. Biden is shifting his language to the GOP and the “ultra-MAGA” movement. It becomes much more overtly political as the midterms come into focus. Jean-Pierre, who is already the subject of conservative criticism for his past tweets, will be front and center.
PSAKI said Friday that Jean-Pierre will bring “his own magic, his own genius, his style to this briefing room.”
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can register for free here.