Think about the White House press secretaries since the start of the Trump administration.
There was Sean Spicer, who got off to a mess of a start on Day One, lying about the attendance at the inauguration. (Kellyanne Conway said he was using “alternative facts.”) Spicer came out of the gate so angry that he was turned into a “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring Melissa McCarthy on a podium that ran into people.
Then there was Sarah Sanders, another confrontational press secretary who started having fewer and fewer press briefings. Then came Stephanie Grisham, who didn’t even bother to have one official White House briefing in her eight months on the job.
Then came Kayleigh McEnany, perhaps the most incompetent White House press secretary ever. She spent more time wagging a finger at the media than doing her job, which was to answer questions about the president’s work, policies and decisions.
So when Jen Psaki held her first press conference as Joe Biden’s White House press secretary on Wednesday, it felt like, as CNN’s Brian Stelter perfectly put it, a “return to normalcy.”
Trump’s White House claimed he was making “many calls” and having “many meetings.” The Biden team is actually revealing who Biden’s calls and meetings are with. A return to normalcy… pic.twitter.com/Uqkb2x53XU
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 21, 2021
But let’s all be careful, writes Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan.
Sullivan wrote, “The national press — battered by four years of abuse by the president, and by the incompetence and falsehoods of his spokespeople — is in a precarious position. We run the risk of being seduced by an administration that, in many cases, closely reflects our values: multiculturalism, a belief in the principles of liberal democracy, and a kind of wonky idealism. (Cue the ‘West Wing’ theme.)”
But, Sullivan writes, there could be a return to another kind of normal: that journalists, in an effort to show toughness and objectivity, will become more confrontational. The job of the media, of course, is to hold the powerful accountable — especially the highest office in the land.
“But,” Sullivan writes, “there’s a difference between truly holding power to account and grandstanding.”
The press, according to Sullivan, needs to resist false equivalency. They need to call out lies. They need to use plain language, such as racism and white supremacy, instead of euphemisms.
And they need to resist returning to the old journalistic norms.
This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.