The Washington Post, Jen Psaki and the real missing context

Last Sunday, the RNC circulated a clip of Jen Psaki pulled from an interview she did with Pod Save America. In the clip, she appears to mock Fox News‘ fixation on crime and her statements then kicked off a whole round of criticism including here at Hot Air. Here’s the clip in question:

After the backlash to the clip started, Psaki was quick to point out that it was taken from a longer answer in which she insisted the White House and President Biden are not soft on crime or in favor of defunding the police.

That was on Monday. Today, the Washington Post published a fact-checker analysis piece which used this as an example of “how a narrative takes hold.” Basically, they just show the full statement that Psaki put out on Monday and suggest that proves the reaction to Psaki’s comments were off base and lacking context:

In other words, Psaki wasn’t randomly striking out against Fox News, she was actually responding to a direct question about an exchange between her and Fox News reporter Peter Doocy during the Jan. 24 White House briefing. She was arguing that Republicans paint a distorted portrait of the Biden administration’s efforts to support police, but that point got left on the cutting room floor. The clip even snipped Psaki in mid-sentence to remove her observation that the claim that President Biden was not addressing public safety “couldn’t be further from the truth.”…

As illustrated in the video above, the outrage machine at Fox was more than happy to seize on the comments, which supplied days of coverage. Among the shows that featured discussion of her statement: “Fox & Friends,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” “Gutfeld!,” “Outnumbered,” “America’s Newsroom,” and of course “The Five.”

The use of this clip is an example of manipulated video — what we label “isolation” under our guide to manipulated video — because it’s intended to create a false narrative that doesn’t reflect the event as it occurred.

The Post‘s Adriana Usero is making a very specific claim here. She’s saying the video is manipulated through “isolation.” You can follow that link above which lists several examples of isolation as the Post defines it. For instance, one example that will be familiar to most readers is Rep. Ilhan Omar’s statement in a speech to CAIR, “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” The Post‘s write up of that comment points out that Omar herself was wrong about when CAIR was founded (it was 1994, not post 9/11). As for “some people did something” the Post concluded: “We will leave it to readers to determine whether Omar should have referred to ‘terrorists’ or if the context for ‘some people’ is clear from the speech.” In other words, it’s not clear enough for them to issue a ruling.

Getting back to today’s fact check, I don’t think Psaki’s comments actually gain any clarity when you add in the full answer. The Post says she was “actually responding to a direct question” about an exchange with Peter Doocy. That’s true but her answer goes on for a while and could be broken into at least a couple of paragraphs, i.e. distinct ideas. If you were to break it down, the very first part is a direct response to the question about Doocy and Fox News.

You know, I am not here to work for Peter Doocy or Fox, but I will say that, you know, if you look at how it’s portrayed and how my answers are portrayed, even when I say no, we don’t think crime is good, and here’s all the things we’ve done, including the thing that makes, I think, makes Republicans crazy.

The very next part is a supporting point about the response she gets on Twitter.

Just anecdotally by the hate tweets I get on Twitter when I say this is that they’ve voted against funding for local cops programs because the American Rescue Plan, also that Biden has supported $300 billion more in funding. And at the same time, he also thinks we need police reform. It’s like they don’t know what to do with that. But every time we say that, it makes them crazy.

But then Psaki makes an impromptu third argument, which occurs to her in the moment because there’s a TV in the room monitoring four different networks at once. Note that contrary to what the Post claims (“Psaki wasn’t randomly striking out against Fox News”), Psaki is literally lashing out randomly at Fox News based on a chyron that happened to appear on the TV at that moment:

You know, I think it speaks to if you look at Fox on a daily basis. I mean, do you remember the four boxes that you had that we had on all the TVs, right, which is on my TV right now? So right now, just to give you a sense of CNN, Pentagon, as many as eighty-five hundred U.S. troops on heightened alert. Okay, true. Same on MSNBC. CNBC is doing their own thing about the market. And then on Fox, is Jeanine Pirro talking about soft on crime consequences? I mean, what? What does that even mean? Right? So there’s an alternate universe on some coverage. What’s scary about it is a lot of people watch that and they think that the president isn’t doing anything to address people’s safety in New York, and that couldn’t be further from the truth or other places.

That’s the clip that made the rounds with the exception of that last bit in bold which was cut out. Psaki is arguing that Fox News‘ focus on crime is illogical. “Jeanine Pirro talking about soft on crime consequences? I mean, what? What does that even mean? Right?” she said with a laugh. She calls it part of an “alternate universe” of coverage. In short, Fox News shouldn’t be so focused on crime. And that’s exactly why this clip got the backlash it did.

The Missing Context

The real missing context here, which the Post completely ignores, is what Fox News and Jeannine Pirro were saying when Psaki pointed to “Jeanine Pirro talking about soft on crime consequences.”

It turns out Psaki was reading a chyron (see above) from The Five which aired on January 24. (The interview with Psaki was posted by Pod Save America on January 25 but it must have been recorded on January 24th.) The Five did an 11-minute segment which included that chyron seen above superimposed over Jeanine Pirro. Why was The Five covering that topic that Monday? Because two NYPD officers had been shot the previous Friday night. One of them died immediately and the other was in the hospital. Sadly, he would die the next day. The Five set up the segment with video of Jen Psaki responding forcefully to Peter Doocy’s questions about crime.

Doocy: As the murder rate nears a 25-year high, would [the president] consider maybe trying something different.

Psaki: Trying something other than supporting a massive plus-up in funding from his predecessor, cracking down on gun trafficking and gun violence which is a major driver of the violence we’ve seen across the country…I think most people who want to fight crime would agree that’s the right approach.”

Nothing Pirro said after this introductory clip was directed at the White House. She mostly directed her comments at state and local leaders who weren’t doing enough to take criminals off the streets. Also on the panel that night was Harold Ford Jr. who also defended Democrats from the idea that the surge in violent crime is a Democratic problem. “This is not a democratic issue. There are republican governors who are overseeing this. There are republican mayors in Florida and Oklahoma and Texas that are overseeing this.”

So the real missing context here is that Fox News did a segment on crime and Jen Psaki pointed to it as 1) unfair to Biden (which it wasn’t) and 2) an alternate universe of coverage on crime (which it wasn’t given how widely the NYPD shooting was covered).

It’s actually Fox News which was taken badly out of context here.  To use the Post’s own language, Jen Psaki “isolated” a single chyron with zero additional context and highlighted it on a partisan podcast. Shouldn’t the White House spokesperson do better than that? Shouldn’t the Washington Post‘s fact checkers notice that’s what happened here? Talk about an alternate universe of coverage.

Here’s the full clip which caused Psaki to lash out at Fox News.

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