When White House reporters have recently convened in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, it’s been likely that press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has had a second person fielding questions.
Jean-Pierre has been criticized for a variety of things during her first few months at the podium, as her “unforced stumbles” and tendency to stick to the binder have been put under a microscope – but one thing she can’t be panned over is her unbridled willingness to share the spotlight.
Since the start of her tenure May 16 through the end of last week, Jean-Pierre has conducted 38 total press briefings and gaggles with reporters. Of those times she’s fielded questions, 25 of them, or about 66 percent, came with at least a second person joining her at the microphone.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has appeared alongside Jean-Pierre eight times, while COVID-19 Adviser Dr. Ashish Jha has joined on four occasions, three of them during President Biden’s recent coronavirus diagnosis. White House economic adviser Brian Deese has shared the podium with the press secretary twice, National Security Council official John Kirby has done so five times and executive director of the Gender Policy Council Jennifer Klein, economic adviser Jared Bernstein, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and actor Matthew McConaughey have each appeared alongside Jean-Pierre at least once.
“Karine believes in providing the White House press corps with access to experts and senior staff who can transparently share the administration’s perspective, as well as outside guests who have specific credibility about issues that are a leading priority for the American people,” deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told Fox News Digital. “We’re proud of that.”
Jean-Pierre’s tenure thus far has differed in that regard from Jen Psaki, who left the White House in May and received generally positive coverage and feedback from the press corps.
A Fox News Digital analysis found out of Psaki’s 240 listed briefings and gaggles at Whitehouse.gov from January 2021 to May 2022, she had at least one listed co-briefer 63 times, or about 26 percent of the time. Many of those were in the early days of the administration, with 30 of her co-briefings occurring in the first three months of her tenure alongside such figures as Deese, Granholm, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall believes “it’s clear Jean-Pierre has struggled in her role as press secretary” and having a partner on stage could be a sign the administration isn’t confident in her.
“It is not so bad to have binders of notes available, but reading directly from the binders, as she often does, creates weak impressions for a person who is supposed to be speaking on behalf of the administration. Having the administration repeatedly send other spokesmen to the podium would rhetorically signal a lack of confidence in Jean-Pierre’s performance,” McCall told Fox News Digital.
“The White House might be better off to just limit the number of Jean-Pierre’s briefings so as to minimize her exposure. At this point, she is just not boosting the administration’s message or clarifying its policies,” McCall added, noting that it’s important to remember she has a “really tough job these days trying to put a happy spin on so many White House problems” occurring during the Biden administration.
“But the problems still need clear and sensible explanations, which are not regularly happening,” he said.
Jean-Pierre has been the subject of negative attention from both onlookers and reporters she works with.
In June, Politico’s West Wing Playbook declared she’d suffered “unforced stumbles” and private “grumbles” from reporters, owing to her tendency to stick to the binder and deliver talking points rather than impromptu exchanges with the press.
Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson believes Jean-Pierre has large shoes to fill and hasn’t proven she’s able to do so.
“A White House Press Secretary needs to be able to convey the information the administration wants in an efficient manner, and to anticipate and redirect hostile questions in a way that helps the White House message,” Jacobson told Fox News Digital.
“Jen Psaki, as frustrating as she was to many people, did that job expertly,” Jacobson continued. “Karine Jean-Pierre, by contrast, appears unprepared, inept, and in need of support on stage from others. That’s not a good look for an administration already struggling in the polls.”
Fox News Digital recently spoke to some White House reporters who echoed those sentiments.
“If your M.O. is going to be reading prepared answers, you should have a lot of prepared answers so that you’re not just deferring to reporters constantly,” a current White House reporter told Fox News Digital this month.
“She is poorly received as she isn’t taking time to answer questions or banter with reporters on the issues of the day,” another White House reporter said.