Former White House communications director Jen Psaki is a Democrat who served under President Barack Obama, so when she was asked by CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday to comment on White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Adolf Hitler gaffe, some might have expected her to deliver an excoriating rebuke.
After all, Spicer — who recently found himself apologizing after saying Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” against his people as Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad presumably has — is a Republican serving under one of the most controversial presidents in U.S. history. But rather than contribute to negative commentary aimed at Spicer, Psaki showed quite a bit of grace.
“Every press secretary screws up,” she told Stelter, who asked whether the media had treated Spicer unfairly in the wake of his chemical weapons remarks. “Everybody who’s ever had Sean’s job (has messed up).”
Stelter, who seemed surprised by her answer, asked whether Josh Earnest, Obama’s press secretary, had also made errors, to which Psaki answered affirmatively. But she said that while Earnest certainly said things he had wished he hadn’t “it was never at this level.”
— Reliable Sources (@ReliableSources) April 16, 2017
Still, she said that some of the resulting coverage from Spicer’s gaffe was likely due to the fact that he and the White House haven’t “built up a lot of goodwill with the media,” leading to a scenario in which there isn’t much bandwidth for journalists to “kind of give you a break.”
Stelter, who was clearly intrigued by the uncommon level of grace that Psaki was giving someone in the opposing political party, then probed a bit further by expressing his surprise that she hadn’t simply advocated for firing Spicer.
And that’s when Psaki became even more sympathetic to Spicer’s position.
“Look, I think there’s way too much time spent in Washington demonizing the staff and I think there are things that Sean could have done better,” she said. “There are ways he hasn’t been served by his team, probably; there are ways that he hasn’t been served by the president that he is working for … but I think that it’s a really tough job. Everybody screws up, he apologized.”
Psaki did say that Spicer might need to study up on his history a bit more if he truly didn’t know the tactics, including gassing, that Hitler used, but said she suspects that the press secretary isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“This is a job that I think his success is based on what his boss thinks, what Donald Trump thinks,” Psaki said. “Donald Trump is also a little loose with the facts, a little loose with pronunciations sometimes. He wants (Spicer) to go out there clearly and be brash and be somebody who is making strong, aggressive points. To some degree, Sean is doing that.”
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