Appointment of Karine Jean-Pierre: how to speak for President Biden

7:59 p.m., May 7, 2022, amended to 8:00 p.m., May 7, 2022

With the function of secretary general of the White House – a mix of boss of the presidential machine, prime minister and right-hand man more influential than the vice-president – the job of spokesperson for the president of the United States is a of the most grueling jobs in American governance. Unlike France, where there is still no spokesperson for the Elysée but where the government spokesperson is a member of the government, the White House Press Secretary is the voice of the entire American executive, of the president and his aides as well as of the Cabinet and it is he who controls the communication in the broad sense of the ministers and the major federal agencies. This management of public speech and the major battles to control the message vis-à-vis the press, much more critical of the executive than in France, partly explains the inevitable rotation of incumbents.

Jen Psaki, who has just given way to Karine Jean-Pierre, after only a year and a half in office, has not been unworthy. But it happens that with the approach of the mid-term elections, the president endows himself with new blood for this so crucial post of spokesperson, in daily contact with the press correspondents accredited to the White House. Donald Trump had used four spokespersons during his tenure. The first, Sean Spicer, only stayed in place for six months.

Read also – Abolition of the right to abortion in the United States: “A significant probability that this will go to the end”

The second, Sarah Sanders, daughter of the former evangelical governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, had accompanied the president until the day after his midterm defeat. The third, Stephanie Grisham, close to Melania Trump, was the first in this role to interrupt the ritual of the daily press briefing for almost a year. The fourth, Kayleigh McEnany, a former CNN commentator hostile to Trump’s candidacy initially, will defend him to the bitter end, including during his supporters’ assault on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021.

Three spokespersons in eight years for Barack Obama

Barack Obama had obtained more longevity from his spokespersons. Three in eight years. Better than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton who had 4 spokespersons throughout their dual terms. The names of the first to take possession of the White House press room are more often remembered because they, with rare exceptions, were the spokespersons of the candidates during their presidential campaign.

This was the case for Dee Dee Myers (model of the character of CJ Cregg in the cult American series Westwing), the first woman ever appointed to this post, and George Stephanopoulos under Bill Clinton. But also of Ari Fleisher, who embodied the response of the White House after the attacks of September 11 and at the beginning of the war in Iraq launched by George W. Bush. Or Robert Gibbs, loyal lieutenant of Barack Obama and David Axelrod, the architect of his victories in the Senate in 2004 and the presidency of the country in 2008.

Most of the spokespersons are also former journalists

Carrying the president’s word requires a form of intellectual intimacy with the head of state, but also an acute knowledge of the media. Most of the spokespersons are also former journalists, often from the major national media. The first “real” spokesman for an American president, that is to say with a budget, staff and a daily briefing with correspondents, was Stephen Early, a journalist for the United Press International (UPI ) who met the future President Roosevelt during the First World War.

Charlie Ross, under the Truman presidency, had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. The Franco-American Pierre Salinger had worked for the San Francisco Chronicle before joining John Kennedy’s team. Marlin Fitzwater, whom I met while covering the Bush-Gorbachev summit in Malta in 1989, was a journalism school graduate and local Kansas press reporter. Like the “feathers” of presidents, they must enter the brain of their champion and adopt/adapt their language to better understand what they want to say to public opinion through the press accredited to the White House. .

Barack Obama has been widely criticized by the press for his ability to “mastering your message”

We fantasize a lot about this famous press room of the West Wing. Built in 1969 on the foundations of Roosevelt’s indoor swimming pool on the decision of Richard Nixon, it remained tiny for a very long time, as did the adjoining offices of the correspondents. Renovated in 2007 by order of George W. Bush, it has become more functional but not necessarily more spacious. At the desk of this room stamped with the seal of the White House, the spokesperson must announce the President’s schedule and work themes there every day.

But the time for questions and answers exposes the holder of the office to offensive interrogations which can be brutal or humiliating. To prevent controversies from breaking out and tarnishing the reputation of the presidency, the spokesperson very regularly organizes briefings “off the record” (which do not allow the White House to be quoted directly) or in “background” (to words that cannot be quoted or attributed).

Barack Obama has been widely criticized by the press for his ability to “mastering your message” without necessarily passing through the filter of the traditional media. First president to use social networks massively, to methodically choose his interlocutors according to his priority interests, to get angry with the ultra-conservative TV channel Fox News, Barack Obama has somehow invented a new way of communicating with public opinion, which considerably upset the general information press, accustomed to the privilege of being able to address the president at any time and on any subject. Donald Trump, following him, took on the responsibility of defining which media were worthy of asking him questions and which were not, those he deemed to be in the service of a systematic opposition against him, later. qualified as “fake news”.

Karine Jean-Pierre, a signal sent to the left wing of the Democratic Party

It is therefore in this context that we must weigh what Joe Biden has just decided. With Jen Psaki, a former member of the Obama team, he had reinstalled a form of normality in the White House. Joe Biden is known for his natural outspokenness, which often leads him to blunder. At 79, he no longer necessarily has the patience and mastery required for sometimes pithy question-and-answer sessions with journalists. Jen Psaki, calm, balanced, with a coolness that can often be ironic without ever being cruel, has been able to reconcile the media in part with the presidency. But by choosing to replace Karine Jean-Pierre, another woman, black of Haitian origin and lesbian, Biden has taken the risk of offering Americans a mirror that can shock the least indulgent minds.

Undeniably progressive, married to my colleague Suzanne Malveaux of CNN, with whom she adopted a little girl, Karine Jean-Pierre is one of the signals sent to the left wing of the Democratic Party and to the voters of the party. In addition to the professionalism of this 43-year-old woman, as observed in the service of the MoveOn movement then of the Democratic candidate Kamala Harris before assisting Jen Psaki, this new face of the Biden administration on American television screens could make it possible to renew with the fight of the months to come against the conservatives.

In September 2021, she was already commenting with method and virulence on the decision of the Supreme Court not to annul the law that Texas had just adopted to prohibit abortion beyond six weeks of pregnancy. The prospect of now seeing the Supreme Court overturn the Roe vs. Wade judgment which institutionalized the right to abortion in 1973 will have to require on the part of this Democratic president a major fight to defend this acquired right of American women. They voted overwhelmingly for him in November 2020, and with just a few points compared to men, two-thirds are convinced that the right to abortion must be maintained in the United States.

After USA 2008, Oval Office seasons 1 and 2 during the Obama presidency, then Trump Power from 2016 to 2020, this new blog by François Clemenceau aims to analyze all aspects of the Biden presidency: political, economic, diplomatic , which naturally implies the debate and the actions of the Republican opposition.

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Appointment of Karine Jean-Pierre: how to speak for President Biden