‘Nails on chalkboard’: In Vogue interview, Jen Psaki rails at being called ‘nice’

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki opened up about sexism on the job and other topics in a new Vogue magazine profile. (EPA)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki opened up about sexism on the job and other topics in a new Vogue magazine profile. (EPA)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently opened up about some of the sexism she has faced since taking one of the most visible jobs in the Biden administration, describing in a recent profile in Vogue how she bristles at being called, “nice.”

“It is like nails on a chalkboard,” she told the magazine. “And it still happens. I was introduced to a foreign delegation in the hallway the other day as ‘This is Jen. You may have seen her do the briefings. She’s a really nice person.’ I’m like, Really? You can’t think of a better description?”

To Ms Psaki, who began working with the Obama campaign in 2008 then rose to be a top communications official at the State Department and White House before her current post, “it’s also this desire to put people in a box. Yes, sometimes I’m friendly and joyful, and sometimes I’m tough, and sometimes I’m straightforward.”

The profile touches on familiar details about the press secretary, including the #PsakiBomb hashtag her fans use on social media when she delivers a particularly pointed answer from the podium, and mentions lesser-known details about the Trump administration. In the famously TV-conscious Trump White House, the press secretary had a paid hair and makeup assistant; Ms Psaki does her own.

Upon taking the job, Ms Psaki relates in the profile, the president said her mission was to help in “healing a country whose nerves have been frayed.”

In one particularly viral moment, Fox News reporter Peter Doocy, one of her regular antagonists, asked Ms Psaki whether the president would ever fire Dr Anthony Fauci, to which she firmly and instantly said, “No,” delighting public health-watchers after the top doctor had been regularly villainised by the previous administration.

And in general, at least as it applies to the press, it seems like the secretary’s objective of calm, collected information has been a successful one.

Journalists and political observers have been generally pleased with the new press secretary’s relationship with the press, compared with the Trump administration’s briefing room antics, from bald lies about crowd size and “alternative facts,” to the president declaring the press “fake news” and “the enemy of the people”.

“I really should not be impressed with a calm, professional, and factual press briefing, but I am where I am,” The New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb tweeted early in the administration.

Though how long Ms Psaki will stay at her post is an open question.

In the Vogue article, she reiterated her previously announced intention to stay on as secretary for about a year. That said, she cautioned, “I’m not walking out the door on day 365,” but hopes to spend more time with her family.

“And also I love my husband, and he’s amazing, and I still want him to be married to me when I leave this place,” she said, adding that she regularly has pizza nights with her family to stay grounded in the fast-paced world of Washington.

In the profile, she reflected on some of the tougher moments in recent years, showing a photograph of her standing with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton the night before the 2016 election, when they all thought Ms Clinton was about to win.

“All of us were so happy,” she said. “We’re like, ‘It’s going to be amazing.’” Instead, she added, it’s now a tragic image, “Because it’s a reminder of how things can change.”

Still, despite praise for Ms Psaki’s work so far, the Biden administration has had its own issues with the press. Mr Biden was roundly criticised for not hosting a full press conference until the end of March, the longest such period in modern presidential history.

It has also continued prosecuting leakers who disclose details about military civil rights violations, including Daniel Hale, a former Air Force analyst who revealed new details about the US drone warfare programme and its devastating impact on civilians. He was recently sentenced to 45 months in prison.

The Obama administration, where Mr Biden served as vice-president, also prosecuted more people for leaking under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined.

Still, Mr Biden has won plaudits from press advocates for sharply limiting when the Justice Department can seize journalists’ confidential communications during sensitive investigations, after it was revealed that the Trump DOJ seized the communications from at least eight reporters at major outlets like CNN and The New York Times as part of a leak probe.

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