Jen Psaki enters TV's weekend fray with show starting Sunday
NEW YORK (AP) — Seven months into her new television career, it's clear that Jen Psaki didn't sign with MSNBC to just dabble in the media.
The former White House press secretary was up early Monday to appear on the 6 a.m. Eastern hour of “Morning Joe” and spoke to Lawrence O'Donnell on “Last Word” 16 hours later. She taped an appearance on Stephen Colbert's “Late Show” on CBS in between.
She's got a new show to promote — her Sunday series “Inside with Jen Psaki” premieres this weekend — yet that doesn't fully explain the busy schedule.
“When I look at Jen and her potential, she's absolutely a big part of our future,” said MSNBC President Rashida Jones. “You've seen that already.”
The network is banking on Psaki and her popularity with MSNBC's liberal audience. She's already taken a seat at the anchor desk on big events like midterm election night and her former boss' State of the Union address, and makes frequent appearances on day-to-day shows.
She will write a regular column for the network's morning newsletter and is developing a yet-to-be-described show for the Peacock streaming service.
Given that she reached the apex of her previous profession, there seems less chance she'll turn into one of those figures that jumps back and forth between politics and the media.
Psaki, who was spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department from 2013-2015 and was Barack Obama's last White House communications director before serving President Joe Biden, said she considers herself retired from the world of political and government communications.
“I'm not looking in the rearview mirror,” she said.
She's been concentrating on learning new skills, like reading a TelePrompter. Her previous jobs showed she was comfortable talking on camera; Jones has been watching carefully to see if she can fruitfully move a conversation along as an interviewer.
Skill at filibustering is less valued in her new profession.
“I've also been learning how to keep track of time,” Psaki said, “which sounds like a funny thing, but it turns out you can't just keep talking because they'll cut you off and have to end the show.”
Her new program, which will air at noon Eastern time, puts Psaki in the company of long-running Sunday public affairs shows like “Meet the Press” or “Face the Nation.”
There's an expectation in that territory that you'll have guests that can be pushed to produce news, not just the commentary that clogs many cable news hours.
“I think it will be a place where people will want to come and make news,” Jones said. “Jen has a way about her where people want to have a conversation with her and I think it will become a destination, not only for the top guests and newsmakers, but also for our audience.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams will be the first “Inside” guest on Weekend Routine, what Psaki plans as a regular feature to get to know a newsmaker in a less formal setting. She rides the subway with him and he makes them a smoothie in Gracie Mansion, along with answering questions about politics, immigration and crime.
In a future episode, she goes hunting for vinyl records with 26-year-old U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost of Florida.
Another planned segment, Don't Freak Out, has Psaki using her policy experience to explain why some stories aren't as big as they seem. “There's often a view that everything is a five-alarm fire, and it's not,” she said.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are also guests on her first show.
To make herself a true player in Sunday morning journalism, Psaki will need more than Democrats to appear. Psaki said she hopes her background explaining national security issues will make Republicans who want to talk about those issues comfortable on her show, for example.
She won't just interview people she agrees with “because I don't think that's very interesting,” she said.
Despite standing at a White House lectern defending President Joe Biden, Psaki said she understands that's no longer her role now that she's at MSNBC.
“I have made it clear when I think some things could have been handled better,” she said. “I'm not going to shy away from that. I'm also not going to shy away from the fact that I was proud to work for President Biden, proud to work for President Obama and Secretary (John) Kerry.”
David Bauder, The Associated Press