Psaki Grilled About Ethics of Negotiating TV Deal While Still at White House


Was it an ethical breach for White House press secretary Jen Psaki to negotiate a television deal while she was still in government service?

She’ll likely be circling back to that one — but probably long after she’s departed 1600 Pennsylvania.

On Friday afternoon, Joe Biden’s first presidential mouthpiece fielded pointed questions about a scoop from Axios that she’d be leaving the White House and moving on to MSNBC, which had won a bidding war for her services.

While it was known Psaki was going to be departing and the assumption was that her landing pad for her next gig would be in media, it was only reported last month that she was already negotiating with networks — while she was behind the microphone taking questions from journalists from said networks, it’s worth noting.

According to Axios’ report, the contract hasn’t been signed yet, and that’s for a reason: “Government ethics rules have stipulations about how public employees can pursue private sector job opportunities while in office,” they noted.

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While it’s unlikely Psaki violated the letter of the law, however, it’s clear this wasn’t how it was intended in spirit — and the media let her have it.

(It’s worth noting that this is one of the few times the mainstream media pointedly turned on Biden’s White House, which they refuse to hold accountable for its failures. Here at The Western Journal, we keep readers equipped with the truth about this failed administration. If you support our mission to deliver news and analysis you won’t get from the establishment, consider helping us by subscribing.)

While departing White House members often sign TV contracts, too, Psaki’s seems somewhat unseemly, particularly given why the ethical boundaries are in place.

Consider that Fox News reported there was a bidding war between MSNBC and CNN, Psaki’s former employer. Psaki will be joining MSNBC as a contributor and have her own show on NBC streaming service Peacock, where there’s, oh, roughly zero people watching anything but reruns of “Psych” and “Monk.”

Should Jen Psaki have been negotiating with networks while still the press secretary?

(There was speculation she’d be replacing Rachel Maddow at the 9 p.m. hour, but she’s not quite febrile enough for Maddow’s yarn-and-note-card crowd — and if she can put reporters to bed at two in the afternoon, what did they think would happen to the aging hippies watching at nine at night over a cup of CBD tea?)

When CBS’ Ed O’Keefe asked Psaki about it at Friday’s media briefing, Psaki gave it all the circle-back circumspection one has come to expect from the press secretary.

“Well, you can’t get rid of me yet, Ed.  I have nothing to confirm about my length of public service or planned service, or anything about consideration about next plans,” she said.

She added that “my focus every day continues to be speaking on behalf of the president; answering your questions, as tough as they may be at many times, as difficult as they may be to answer at many times. And I hope that I meet my own bar of treating everybody with fairness and being equitable.”


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Next question from O’Keefe: “And just because this has been raised by our colleagues, by people who are observing this process: Is it ethical for you to continue conducting this job while negotiating with a media outlet?”

Gotta love that “just because this has been raised by our colleagues.” Let’s not take responsibility for the grilling or anything, Ed. Or make uncomfortable eye contact while asking your heretofore ally this question.

Anyhow, this is the answer his colleagues got from Psaki:

“Well, I have always gone over and above the stringent ethical and legal requirements of the Biden administration, and I take that very seriously,” Psaki said.

“And as is standard for every employee of the White House, I have received rigorous ethics counseling, including as it relates to any future employment. I’ve complied with all ethics requirements and gone beyond, and taken steps to recuse myself from decisions as appropriate.

Psaki also said she hoped reporters “would judge me for my record and how I treat all of you, both in the briefing room and otherwise.”

Again, this isn’t about the codified ethical and legal requirements of the federal government; I doubt anyone who works in the White House, much less as press secretary, is so cud-chewingly stupid as to run afoul of those. (And even if Psaki was, a source told Axios that “MSNBC has been working with its compliance lawyers to make sure their conversations didn’t violate any government regulations,” so there’s that.)

Ethical behavior, however, isn’t defined solely on the basis of whether something is in the Code of Federal Regulations. If we’re to understand reports correctly, Psaki is now landing a gig — assumedly well-remunerated — at MSNBC, part of the vast constellation of NBC properties. They were apparently bidding against CNN, again part of a wide constellation of media properties. Even those two taken alone constitute the vast majority of liberal reportage on cable news.

Given the optics here, didn’t this deserve an explanation a bit more thorough than “hey, just following the rules?”

Social media users actually came up with a good reason why it didn’t, however:

There you have it. MSNBC will now go from broadcasting the news from Jen Psaki’s mouth, virtually unchallenged to … Jen Psaki broadcasting the news, virtually unchallenged.

It’s status quo ante, really.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture