CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter has come under fire from both the left and right for directing a series of softball questions at White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, prompting conservative journalist Glenn Greenwald to slam the on-air exchange as ‘one of the most sycophantic interviews of a state official you’ll ever see.’
Stelter opened the interview by asking Psaki: ‘what does the press get wrong when covering Biden’s agenda?’
Psaki replied: ‘some of our muscles have atrophied a little bit over the last few years, and there isn’t a lot of memory — recent memory or longer memory — on how long it takes to get legislation forward or how messy the process of negotiating and the process of getting legislation across the finish line can be.
‘So we know, we understand everybody is always looking for a deadline, a timeline, things like that,’ she continued. ‘I don’t know if that’s the press getting it wrong. I’ll leave you to the critique of that, Brian.’
Greenwald, the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who famously helped break the story of the Edward Snowden leaks, took aim at Stelter’s line of questioning, tweeting mockingly: ‘Have I been a bad boy, Jen? I want to be a good boy.’
He followed up with another sarcastic barb: ‘Beat me, Jen! Tell me how to be better.’
Stelter again raised the subject of press coverage later in the interview, asking Psaki: ‘for journalists who watch what you do, what’s your advice for them about trying to stay close to the truth in this world of lies?’
The Biden administration spokesperson replied that she tries to ‘stay grounded to the facts’ by focusing on details and communicating them to regular people in a clear way.
In the course of the 12-minute interview, Stelter asked Psaki, who previously worked as a CNN commentator, if she fears for the future of their respective young children ‘given the craziness we’re seeing from the GOP.’
Psaki sidestepped the political aspect of the question, instead saying she is concerned about addressing the climate crisis and broadening LGBTQ rights so that children could grow up to be what they want to be.
‘Somehow Brian Stelter managed to take his humiliatingly “tell-me-why-I’m-bad-Jen” start to his interview and get even more sycophantic from there,’ Greenwald quipped. ‘Even Psaki had to be thinking: “oh my god, the intensity of his adoration is…. uncomfortable.’
Other questions addressed Psaki’s previous comments about her intention to stay in the press secretary job for a year, her willingness to call on reporters from right-wing news outlets like Fox News and Newsmax, which she indirectly likened to representatives of Russian and Chinese state media pushing ‘propaganda’ in the briefing room, and her overall relationship with the press.
Stelter’s perhaps most hard-hitting question had to do with President Joe Biden’s purported reluctance to hold more formal press conferences, or sit down for interviews.
Psaki noted that in the first 100 days of his presidency, Biden took questions from the press on 77 days.
Stelter pressed Psaki to explain why the White House opted to not host a press conference that would ‘demand the nation’s attention,’ speculating whether it was ‘part of an attempt to lower the temperature, be less visible, be boring?’
The spokesperson shot back: ‘certainly not. I don’t think anything we’re doing around here is boring. Getting the pandemic under control, going on our first foreign trip, putting millions of Americans back to work…I don’t know what version of that is boring.’
Psaki went on to say that reporters have an opportunity several times a week to direct questions at the president, and suggested that demands for a formal solo press conference are driven more by the media than the public.
‘I’d figured you’d say that,’ Stelter said with a grin.
On Twitter, Greenwald was deeply unimpressed with the CNN host’s interviewing skills.
‘I’m not using hyperbole when I say the “interview” that @brianstelter did with Jen Psaki yesterday should be studied in journalism school,’ he wrote. ‘It’s one of the most sycophantic interviews of a state official you’ll ever see. This is how state TV functions…’
Former Trump White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also took aim at Stelter, tweeting sarcastically: ‘are we doing a good enough job of pushing the White House’s talking points…can we do better at it?’
Stelter, who joined CNN in 2013 after covering TV and digital media for the New York Times for six years, complained about the criticism directed at him, writing: ‘My Twitter mentions right now: liberals mad because I asked @PressSec about why Biden won’t hold more press conferences. Conservatives enraged because I asked her “what do you think we get wrong?” And I feel so old fashioned thinking to myself, “judge the interview in context…’
Oliver Willis, senior writer for the progressive news site The American Independent, mocked Stelter’s lament in a tweet: ‘Both sides are mad at me so I must be doing something right is a classic dodge.’