Even though it’s only been seven days since Joe Biden became the US President, everything about his new administration feels a million miles away from the carnage of his predecessor. Things feel steadier, more in control and nowhere is that more apparent than the White House press briefings led by Biden’s new press secretary Jen Psaki. A political friend summed it up. “I put on CNN by mistake and find Jen Psaki answering questions calmly and fluently. She listens, she refers to notes. She states facts. She talks with authority and without hyperbole. She’s a class act. Well, she’s what the act should be, but it feels exceptional after the last few years.”
It’s like night and day compared to the turbulence of the Trump years where press briefings descended into a freak show of aggression, obfuscation and lies. At first it was funny. Sean Spicer lying about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd and turning on the press pack. He ended up being satirised brilliantly and brutally on Saturday Night Live. We laughed less when Trump’s press team declared a war on truth by boldly offering up “alternative facts.”
Watch: Who is Jen Psaki? What to know about President Biden's White House press secretary
The once prestigious role of White House press secretary was reduced to a series of embarrassing, vacuous individuals who took fibbing to Olympic levels. Biden’s press team is much more West Wing. Psaki is an experienced, well respected Democrat spokeswoman with stature, integrity and is whip smart. She’s basically CJ Cregg from the West Wing. She’s off to flying start because she’s a grown-up but she has the advantage of being her master’s voice. Biden has made it clear that a priority for him and his team is to communicate directly and truthfully with the American people. Let’s see what happens, but it’s a good start. They want to make their briefings more inclusive and accessible so have introduced a sign language interpreter.
How are the press team in No10 watching this? Do they think this is all too woke or will they be taking notes? I hope it’s the latter. Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s press secretary, was meant to start delivering televised press briefings, but they were delayed due to the pandemic and you can see why. How could she repeat with a straight face the claim made by her boss last night that the Government did “everything they could” as we hit the tragic 100,000 death milestone and our borders are still open? These televised briefings are high risk — they expose the sturdiness or flimsiness of a government. As David Cameron correctly said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Because if you lie or truth twist here, it’s not in a clandestine lobby briefing — it’s all on camera and will go viral. Bring it on, I say, but heed the words of Psaki who said, “We’re data-first, fact-first here.” Is that something this Government can commit to? The proof will be in the press briefing. If they ever happen.
At the start of this pandemic, the mantra was “we’re all in this together”. It has become clear that socio-economic inequalities plus government failure have had a devastating impact. Today the Standard reports that the capital’s poorer boroughs such as Newham, Barking and Dagenham and Tower Hamlets have had a higher death rate than richer ones like Camden. Overcrowded housing and poverty are big factors. These areas also have high black and Asian populations plus those whose jobs expose them to the virus, but they can’t work from home or afford to self-isolate. We must learn from this dark moment and create a fairer city and society.
Watch: What does a Joe Biden presidency in the US mean for the global economy?