The regular interactions between White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Fox News White House Correspondent Peter Doocy might be best compared to the heavyweight championship battles between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, except that, unlike Ali, Psaki has never lost a bout with her right-wing interrogator.
Doocy returned to the White House press briefing room again today for the latest round in his ongoing — if lopsided — match of wits with Psaki where he quickly launched into an accusation of what he saw as the hypocrisy of President Biden’s travel restrictions on a host of countries in southern Africa in the wake of the sudden appearance of the new Omicron COVID variant, given Biden’s past criticism of his predecessor, Donald Trump, for a similar move in 2020.
“Before Joe Biden was president, he said that COVID travel restrictions on foreign countries were ‘hysterical xenophobia and fear-mongering,'” Doocy began his latest attempt at a a “gotcha” question.
“What changed?” he archly queried.
It was a question that Psaki was obviously prepared to answer as she patiently explained to the Fox News correspondent — as a teacher would to an under-performing student — that his framing of the question was missing some vital context and misconstrued the target of Biden’s previous accusations.
“Well, I would say first, to put it in full context, Peter, what the president was critical of was the way that the former president put out, I believe, a xenophobic tweet and what he called the coronavirus, and who he directed it at,” the press secretary responded.
“The president’s not been critical of travel restrictions,” she explained. “We have put those in place ourselves. We put those in place ourselves in the spring, but, no, he does not believe…he believes we should follow the advice of health and medical experts. That’s exactly what he did in putting these restrictions in place over the weekend,” Psaki concluded, having pointed out the difference between decribing a xenophobic former president and characterising a public health measure.
In fact, Politifact noted earlier this year that Biden did not actually call Trump’s travel restrictions themselves xenophobic, but only Trump’s record of bigotry, particularly his reference to COVID-19 as “the China virus.”
“Around the time the Trump administration announced the travel restriction, Biden said that Trump had a ‘record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering,’” Politifact confirmed. “Biden used the phrase ‘xenophobic’ in reply to a Trump tweet about limiting entry to travelers from China and in which Trump described the coronavirus as the ‘Chinese virus,’” the fact-checkers asserted.
WH Press Sec. Psaki responds to Fox News’ Peter Doocy’s bad-faith question about travel restrictions:
“What the president was critical of was the way that the former president put out, I believe, a xenophobic tweet, and what he called the coronavirus and who he directed it at.” pic.twitter.com/O86c8GuaEg
— The Recount (@therecount) November 29, 2021
While Fox News seemed to have no problems with the refusal of Donald Trump to set an example for American citizens by wearing a face mask at his public appearances during his tenure under COVID, Doocy quickly moved on to to another gotcha question, this one about reports that President Biden was seen shopping in a store without the required facial covering.
“Is there a concern that when the president says today ‘please wear your masks indoors in public settings around other people,’ and he doesn’t do that, that it’s gonna make it harder to get people to follow him?” Doocy asked, expressing a sudden preoccupation with hypocrisy that seemed completely absent from the right-wing news outlet’s airwaves during the previous administration.
“I think you see the American people, and all of you see the president wearing a mask evertime he comes out to an event, when he’s sitting in meetings, and, certainly, he will continue to model behavior he knows the American people will follow, not for his benefit, but to save their own lives and the lives of their friends and neighbors,” Psaki defended the president while reminding Doocy exactly whom pandemic precautions are meant to protect.
Fox News' Peter Doocy gotchas WH Press Sec. Jen Psaki about the time President Biden was seen unmasked indoors at a grocery story. pic.twitter.com/DAxBnxnrzH
— The Recount (@therecount) November 29, 2021
As amusing as these near-daily encounters between Doocy and Psaki may be, one has to wonder why the press secretary continues to take questions from the Fox News correspondent rather than some of the many other dedicated journalists who rarely get the opportunity to speak up at these press briefings.
It’s not like Doocy ever has questions that aren’t part of a general campaign to undermine the Biden presidency being undertaken by both the Republican party and his yellow journalism employer.
Perhaps Jen Psaki simply enjoys the sparring and the attention it has brought to her troll-busting skills.
Original reporting by David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.