There’s a job I believe I would avoid like the plague, even if it were the only one left during a pandemic: White House Press Secretary. Oh sure, you do get to work in a cool place full of history (and ghosts, if some folks are to be believed). And you have pretty good access to some pretty powerful people on a regular basis. You also have a decent shot at getting big bucks as a consultant on cable TV after your gig at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is over. But it seems to me that you have to sell a little part of your soul to the devil to answer questions from the press on a regular basis without at least sometimes succumbing to the temptation to say something such as, “Yes, you’re right. The President is definitely wrong on that issue.”
A friend of mine was once the public face for a well-known politician. There were several occasions when this elected official stuck his foot firmly in his mouth and my friend would have to try to extract it ever so gently while simultaneously telling the press that’s where his employer meant to place it. He told me there were more than a couple of times when he would sense the nervousness in the office upon arriving in the morning and would think to himself, “What fresh hell is this?”
Jan Psaki, current White House press spokesperson, is simply the latest to apparently swallow personal pride, reasoning, and common sense all to make the Boss look as good as possible. Ms. Psaki (who really should look into a guest appearance on Wheel of Fortune to buy a vowel) has spent a fair amount of time behind her podium re-writing Webster’s Dictionary. First there was the “challenge,” not the “crisis,” at the southern border with the thousands of illegal visitors and their children pouring into detention centers.
Now she has the task of trying to convince her audience that the word “infrastructure” doesn’t simply mean “the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g. buildings, roads, power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.” No, as critics point out, the White House definition of the word includes much more than the traditional items associated with infrastructure. The new meaning includes billions for things such as childcare facilities upgrades, incentives to buy electric vehicles, climate change-related R&D, home sustainability and public housing, preparing for future pandemics, buying clean energy goods, overriding right-to-work labor laws, and, as one Democrat Senator tweeted, “Paid leave is infrastructure, childcare is infrastructure, caregiving is infrastructure.”
While many of those may be worthy of discussion and perhaps even funding, I’m pretty sure Mrs. Miller, my 6th grade teacher who was a stickler for details, would not have counted my definition of infrastructure correct if I had embellished my answer with those add-ons.
Alas, Ms. Psaki joins a long line of press secretaries who have had to stretch credulity just a bit. All those who stood in the briefing room while The Donald was occupying the Oval Office had to frequently say, “Well, what the President meant to say . . . .”
Remember Jay Carney, one of President Obama’s press gurus? He had to tap dance around Benghazi emails, the many issues surrounding the rollout of Obamacare, the Justice Department conducting surveillance of reporters, and a few others.
George Stephanopolous, Dee Dee Myers, Mike McCurry (survivor of the Monica Lewinsky escapade), Ari Fleischer, Dana Perino, and many more have faced the slings and arrows of the Fourth Estate. Some dodged the weapons better than others.
Probably the most important trait a press secretary can possess is the ability to establish credibility . . . before he or she basically lies, or at least stretches the truth. There are three masters in the mix all the time. That would be the President, the press itself (which relies on a press secretary for their own credibility), and the P.S.’s own conscience. (Did I just hear you laugh at that last master?)
Unfortunately, senior staffers in Washington (of which a press secretary is usually one) don’t care to be seen as “under-informed.” The inner circle plays big at cocktail parties. So instead of saying, “Well, I don’t know,” an answer is blurted out that may bear little, if any, resemblance to fact.
Think about it. How would you like to spend your days denying what is plainly obvious, making light of anything embarrassing, and twisting negatives into positives? Or even having to frequently channel your inner Merriam Webster.
Whatever those folks get paid, it ain’t enough.