JEN PSAKI LETS US ‘INSIDE’

The former White House press secretary and MSNBC host opens up about her new show

by Dara Klatt

 

Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki is sitting, cross-legged on a white replica Barcelona chair in NBC’s Capitol Hill NBC studio lounge. A hairstylist is summoned by the photographer to smooth down an unruly, fly-away strand of her signature red hair during the photo shoot. Her blue, button-down chiffon blouse and knee-length faux-leather skirt are innocuously positioned. An extra layer of gloss gets added to her lips.

Just ten months after leaving the White House podium, Psaki is ready to make a new kind of statement. Like so many presidential press secretaries before her who have nabbed TV gigs, Psaki, a current MSNBC host, launched her own weekly program “Inside with Jen Psaki” on MSNBC (12 p.m. on Sundays and streaming the next day on Peacock) to explore — as the official press release announced — “the week’s most pressing political and cultural stories.” She will also be writing a regular column for the “MSNBC Daily” newsletter.

Make no mistake, she is as hard-charging, curious, in control and ready for witty clap-backs as ever. But, she says, she is “never going back to uncomfortable fitted suits.” In anticipation of the better-remunerated development of Psaki’s cable, streaming and social media shows, we asked her a number of questions – from White House foxhole days of yesteryear, to sexism, sports, motherhood and a few of those somewhat embarrassing moments.

And oh, does she have a plenty to say …

What are you most excited about with the launch of MSNBC’s “Inside with Jen Psaki”?

JP: I am looking forward to taking what I learned from sitting in every room in Washington, from the Oval Office to the campaign plane to the Situation Room, to not just translate but hopefully make sense of what is actually happening. I am a nerd at heart and a believer that policy- making is interesting, that events happening in the world matter, that the kind of people who will run the country matter. From the first conversations I had with Rashida [Jones] and Cesar [Conde] [the president of MSNBC and Chairman of NBC Universal News Group respectively], it was also clear that there is a lot of space and interest in creativity and thinking outside of the box.

What is your plan to make the show different from current news analysis out there? 

JP: I come at this with the view that most politicians and public figures have more layers and greater depth than what the public sees. Too often they are caricatured. That’s true for both Democrats and Republicans. They are human beings. They have passions, things that drove them to public office and that they like to do in their free time. I am looking forward to pulling back the curtain of their everyday lives. We will have a regular feature called, “Weekend Routine” where I will spend time with public figures in their homes and places they spend time outside of work —politicians, athletes, activists and even people you see on MSNBC every day, with the hope of showing more about who they are, what makes them tick, what drives them, what they do in their free time and even what kind of coffee or tea they drink. Our hope is to give more time to go deeper on issues that impact people.

Is there “fun” in going deeper on issues for you?

JP: I guess I am going to run with the theme of being a not-so-secret nerd. One of my favorite parts about my job as White House Press Secretary was when there was something really complicated, confusing or weird happening and I had to go around the building asking questions of everyone from the President on down to try to better understand it. There is a magic moment— my therapist mother would call it a natural high — when you realize you get it and you want to go tell people about it. That is what I am looking forward to.

Can you talk aBout your interview style? 

JP: One of the most important things I try to do is listen — to what people are asking and want to know what information would be important to them and sometimes what they are getting wrong, intentionally or not. Otherwise, I look at every interview — whether you are being interviewed or are the interviewee — as a conversation.

Let’s back up a bit. Is there anything you miss from your White House days?

JP: I miss the people the most. Just like any great workplace, there is a bond that comes from being in the foxhole with people through hard days, long days, disappointments and setbacks.

What don’t you miss?

JP: Dressing up. I wear jeans almost every day now and I am never going back to uncomfortable fitted suits.

Was there a press briefing that was particularly difficult for you?

JP: One of the worst days in the White House was in August of 2021 when 13 members of the military died in Afghanistan. It also happened to be my daughter’s kindergarten open house. On days like that you know you are not briefing to make everyone feel ok or satisfied with the news of the day because it was horrific. You are trying to capture for the press and the public what is happening in the room, including the anguish felt by the President and his team.

Can you share a little bit of the sexism you have experienced on the job?

JP: My biggest taste of sexism was when I was the spokesperson at the State Department and the Russian propaganda machine made me one of their targets. It was during the invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and I happened to be the government spokesperson speaking about this the most. They made up things I had never said, had an entire show dedicated to smearing me on RT [a Russian state- controlled news network], made fun of my clothes and even pushed a conspiracy when I fractured bones in my foot and had a boot on. It was difficult at first, but it is also how I learned that you need to punch back at bullies.

Favorite interest area outside of politics/government?

JP: I love sports. I am a bit of an Olympics freak. I even tweeted so many times during the Olympic swimming trials in 2021 that Katie Ledecky sent me a direct message thanking me. She also went above and beyond and sent my kids some fun swimming stuff and I have an amazing picture of my daughter cheering for Team USA during the Olympics wearing a t-shirt with Ledecky on the back.

In addition to climbing the policy ladder to the top and now landing on MSNBC, you have two children. How is mom-ing on the job? 

JP: On any given day I am thinking as much about my son’s potty training journey as I am about who is going to run for President on the Republican side.

To close out, are there any myths you would like to dispel? 

JP: Anyone who watched a briefing would probably know that I love policy, love complicated issues, love politics and have a tendency to call out bs. That is all true. Some people may think I wake up wearing devil horns and that I don’t know or interact with Republicans. That is definitely not true.

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