During Monday’s relatively short White House press briefing, New York Magazine correspondent Olivia Nuzzi put Press Secretary Jen Psaki on the defensive as she asked about whether the Biden administration’s continued mask usage despite having been vaccinated and discouragement of social interaction has contributed to vaccine hesitancy.
Nuzzi was following up on questions from Yahoo! News’s Brittany Shepherd about vaccine hesitancy when she wondered whether the White House has contributed to it with “maybe [a] pessimistic message towards some Americans” who “see vaccinated people in the cabinet or the President continuing to wear masks around each other or hearing that things won’t be back to normal as the vaccine continues to be distributed.”
Nuzzi also asked whether those behaviors have led to “a negative effect,” but instead of ducking it, Psaki went to her bag of tricks by acting as though she didn’t understand the question.
Eventually, Psaki first doubled down on her answer to Shepherd that “we recognize we are not always the best messengers” and thus they’ll rely on “local organizations and groups.” But that aside, Psaki insisted the administration would continue with “model[ing] public health guidelines,” which boiled down to acting as though no one in the administration has received a vaccine.
After Psaki cited “ongoing research on what is most effective and how to prevent” the spread of the virus, Nuzzi tried a second time and acknowledged “the sense of hopelessness” some Americans are feeling that we’ll never return to a semblance of normalcy if they come to believe “getting it would not make a difference in their lives.”
Though it was a complete fair question given the mental health toll that the pandemic has taken, one would have thought Psaki would provide an substantive answer. But as we’ve come to expect, she rarely does that (click “expand”):
I think a big part of what we are trying to do is provide accurate information about what getting a vaccination will enable the American people to do, hence the President gave a prime time address when he said if — when you get the vaccine — if you — when the vaccine is accessible to you and you get it and we can work on having backyard barbecues.
He — we’ve also had a number of officials out there to convey and we’ve had, obviously, the CDC has put out guidance that says if you are vaccinated, if your neighbors are vaccinated, you can have dinner inside together. It's a pandemic, we don't think it's easy, we know it’s difficult, it’s required a lot of sacrifice, but at the same time, we’re trying to provide accurate public health-based guidance on what people can do once they have taken the vaccine.
In the hours since then, social media wasn’t pleased with Nuzzi, but it’s doubtful the Resistance types upset with her thought she was out of line when she asked President Trump on April 27 whether he deserved to be reelected despite more Americans having died from the coronavirus than in the Vietnam War.
Better yet, Nuzzi all but predicted this in December when she told The Atlantic that, when it comes to reporters being tough on the Biden administration after four years of hammering Team Trump, it’s doubtful “that reporting critically on Joe Biden will feel as safe for reporters.”
To see the relevant transcript from April 12's briefing, click “expand.”
White House Press Briefing
April 12, 2021
12:46 p.m. Eastern
BRITTANY SHEPHERD: The New York Times last week came out with a story that Mississippi was having a hard time getting folks vaccinated, but it's not just Mississippi. It’s a bunch of other rural states. Ohio, Oklahoma, they are at 34 percent vaccination rate, even so opening up vaccines to out of staters. I know we talked a little bit about it before — the preliminary steps, but has the White House been in touch of these governors to see what they can do now? Cause, of course, this impacts herd immunity and the goal of the White House just to get these shots in arms.
JEN PSAKI: Well, there are a number of steps we have taken in recent weeks, including launching the community corps, which is our program to provide fact-based messages into the hands of local messengers. So, we’ve now — we’re working with more than 4,000 organizations that have signed up so far across the country, including in a number of the states you mention. We’re also investing $3 billion to states and community-based organizations to strengthen vaccine confidence in the highest risk and hardest hit communities. And often, people think of that as just black and brown communities and that is not. As you’ve noted, that is also conservative communities, white evangelicals, it’s a range of communities across the country. What we’ve been found to be most effective is to work with these local organizations, so faith-based organizations, community health organizations, civic leaders and others who can really get this message deeply in communities. We’ve also had a number of members of our COVID team from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins participate, as an example — participate in a range of media interviews. You know, an example is Dr. Collins participated in the 700 club. Dr. Nunez-Smith hosted a faith leaders roundtable. We’re also looking for — we’ve run PSA’s on The Deadliest Catch, we’re engaged with NASCAR and Country Music TV. We’re looking for a range of creative ways to get directly connected to white conservative communities. We won’t always be the best messengers, but we’re still trying to meet people where we are, but also empower local organizations.
SHEPHERD: And just quick follow-up. Do you — does the White House endorse these states opening up their vaccines to folks from out of state? You know, these — these do expire, so rather them sitting on the shelf there, you have to go to somebody else.
PSAKI: Well, these states are all going to have their own implementation plans and we certainly work with them to advise how to distribute the vaccines most — as equitably as possible and as effectively and efficiently around states. No state is 100 percent vaccinated, as we know. So, our focus has been working on getting them to the communities that are the hardest hit.
12:51 p.m. Eastern
OLIVIA NUZZI: A follow-up on Brittany’s question about vaccines. Do you think that the White House has had any part of this in sort of having maybe pessimistic message towards some Americans who are skeptical about this administration who, for partisan reasons or otherwise, to see vaccinated people in the cabinet or the President continuing to wear masks around each other or hearing that things won’t be back to normal as the vaccine continues to be distributed. Do you think that that is having a negative effect at all?
PSAKI: On people — make sure I understand your question. On people not —
NUZZI: People who are skeptical —
PSAKI: — taking the vaccine?
NUZZI: — yeah. Of People who are skeptical of the vaccine and who don't trust the Biden administration.
PSAKI: Well, look, I think, one, we recognize we are not always the best messengers. That’s why we’re working with these local organizations and groups because we certainly know President Biden and Vice President Harris may not be the right voices in a range of communities across the country. Two, we believe that part of our objective is to model public health guidelines and that means continuing to wear masks, continuing to hand wash, social distance, because there is still ongoing research on what is most effective and how to prevent distribution and it — the vaccine — I’m sorry, the pandemic traveling further. So, I'm not sure I'm understanding your question, maybe?
NUZZI: My question is how do you — how do you strike the balance which can being a model of the public health guidelines and also not contributing to the sense of hopelessness, perhaps, among people who are skeptical of the vaccine and feeling like getting it would not make a difference in their lives anyway?
PSAKI: Sure. Yeah, I think a big part of what we are trying to do is provide accurate information about what getting a vaccination will enable the American people to do, hence the President gave a prime time address when he said if — when you get the vaccine — if you — when the vaccine is accessible to you and you get it and we can work on having backyard barbecues. He — we’ve also had a number of officials out there to convey and we’ve had, obviously, the CDC has put out guidance that says if you are vaccinated, if your neighbors are vaccinated, you can have dinner inside together. It's a pandemic, we don't think it's easy, we know it’s difficult, it’s required a lot of sacrifice, but at the same time, we’re trying to provide accurate public health-based guidance on what people can do once they have taken the vaccine.