Two Cheers for Jen Psaki
from Pressure Points

Two Cheers for Jen Psaki

As a Republican, I find myself disagreeing with very many statements made by the new White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki.  Why then two cheers? 

She speaks English properly. 

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That may not seem like much, but it is.  Consider this exchange with the White House press corps on February 10: 

Q Jen, thank you. So President Biden will be speaking at the Pentagon later today. Among the top issues he inherits, of course: Afghanistan. So will he be addressing the situation in Afghanistan? And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said over the weekend it’s his understanding that the troops will not be leaving Afghanistan in May, as was determined under the previous administration. Is that an official decision that President Biden has made?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t — I’m not aware of Senator Graham being a spokesperson for the administration. I will say that I wouldn’t expect there to be an update in his remarks today at the Department of Defense on Afghanistan. Of course, this is a topic that is of utmost importance to the President and his national security team, but I don’t have an update on force posture, and I wouldn’t expect one today.

Q So just to be clear: no official decision on the troop withdrawal that was previously determined from the previous administration.

MS. PSAKI: There’s no update on a change or an update on a status — a force — the status of the force posture. Obviously, that would be something determined in consultation with the Secretary of Defense. So I understand why you’re asking, he’s going there today, but that’s not the focus of his trip. 

The journalist, a communicator by profession, appears to believe most English sentences begin with the word “so.” Psaki, conversely, uses that term properly—in this case, to mean “for that reason” or “therefore.” 

I’ve read a good percentage of her briefings and she is obviously concerned to speak well. Or put otherwise, she seems to believe that explaining the President’s views and policies is helped by speaking English carefully. 

Bravo. On NPR, I find myself cringing at the number of times reporters begin sentences with “so,” or “I mean, like.” And again, these are communicators by profession. A couple of months ago NPR interviewed an eighth grader and her teacher about (as I recall it) life under Covid, and the student spoke far better English than did her “so, I mean, well, like” teacher. Her parents must be teaching her how to speak. Her teacher, and NPR, were not. 

It matters. If the President’s press secretary thinks it’s important to speak carefully and well, that may be a lesson for her colleagues in the administration, and even (well, just possibly) for the journalists who badger her each day.  

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Why not three cheers? As I said, it’s hard for a Republican to cheer what she is saying, for some of it is quite partisan. But that goes with the territory: any press secretary reflects the party in power she represents. What doesn’t necessarily go with the territory is an obvious decision to speak English well and even a bit formally. That’s pretty rare these days and deserves a cheer—or two.  

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