The White House will aim to repair a fractured relationship with the press following the animus of the previous administration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at an event.
The event, titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” was hosted by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service and the White House Correspondents’ Association on May 5. Current secretary Psaki and Zeke Miller, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, discussed the current political media landscape in a conversation moderated by Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), director of GU Politics.
President Biden and his administration have focused on maintaining a diplomatic tone when holding press conferences in order to rebuild the trust between the White House and the press, according to Psaki.
“We value the press, we value the role of the press and we value the importance of sharing information,” Psaki said at the event. “You can have disagreements. He has moments where he disagrees with the line of questioning, of course, but the tone is a part of the message we are sending to the country and the world.”
The Biden administration has attempted to rebuild the relationship between the White House and the press, after former President Trump had a characteristically tense relationship with the media, often spreading misinformation during news conferences or labeling certain publications as “fake news.”
The panel was featured as part of the multievent “A Symposium on The Press, The Presidency & Trust” and sought to bring members of the White House Correspondents’ Association in conversation with press representatives from the Biden administration.
The event was held virtually in place of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an annual fundraiser event by the White House Correspondents’ Association that seeks to help finance news coverage of the White House, which was canceled because of concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to her current role in the Biden administration, Psaki served as the spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State from 2013 to 2015 and the White House communications director from 2015 to 2017. Psaki also served as a GU Politics Fellow in the spring 2017 cohort.
According to Psaki, the role of the White House communications team has changed in the past several years, with social media becoming a much more important way to reach the American public with information on policy decisions.
“I am a believer that television is still a huge driver of information, but when we’re looking at COVID and how we’re trying to get out to communities and reach people who are more hesitant but also just need information or do not know how to get access, we can’t do everything through daily newspapers,” Psaki said. “Our role as the government is to make sure we’re disseminating information out to a broad swathe of the public.”
Indeed, the challenges that COVID-19 presents have been directly observed by the American public. Roughly 71% of Americans believe that COVID-19 has changed the way news publications have reported on stories and disseminated information to the public, according to survey data from the Pew Research Center.
At the same time, many Americans increasingly turn to social media to stay up to date with the news. Even with the rise of social media, conventional news outlets are still likely to play a strong role in shaping people’s political opinions, according to Miller.
“Social media has given any administration more tools to communicate, but most people have an informed opinion about whether they dislike Joe Biden or like Joe Biden,” Miller said at the event. “They probably got those set of facts from a media filter. They probably got it from the news coverage of that social media message.”
In response to the new challenges stemming from COVID-19 and social media, the White House will continue to treat the press with professionalism and hopes to reestablish trust between the two groups, according to Psaki.
“We are going to take their questions. We are going to provide information. We are going to have a back and forth as warranted,” Psaki said. “Having a war or battle with the media organizations is not in our interests, is not in the interests of the American public, and frankly, it distracts from what we’re trying to communicate about.”