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In context: What Jen Psaki said about ‘soft-on-crime consequences’

White House press secretary Jen Psaki during a press briefing at the White House on Feb. 1, 2022. (AP) White House press secretary Jen Psaki during a press briefing at the White House on Feb. 1, 2022. (AP)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki during a press briefing at the White House on Feb. 1, 2022. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson February 1, 2022

Critics have taken issue with remarks by White House press secretary Jen Psaki that seemed to suggest flippancy about crime in the U.S.

"Jen Psaki mocks people discussing the ‘consequences’ of ‘soft-on-crime’ policies: ‘What does that even mean?’" tweeted the Republican National Committee.

The House Republican Conference tweeted, "As violent crime continues to surge across America, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mocks Americans discussing the ‘consequences’ of Democrats ‘soft-on-crime’ policies."

"Psaki shrugs off crime concerns as part of ‘alternate universe,’" said one headline in the New York Post. And in a statement, Patrick Yoes, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, said, "Pretending violent crimes are part of some other reality will not help victims. Ms. Psaki owes them an apology."

What did Psaki say? Here, we’ll take a closer look.

Psaki’s comments

The remarks in question stem from an interview Psaki did on Jan. 25 with Pod Save America, a liberal podcast. She made them, ironically enough, during a discussion of how critics, including Fox News, cherry-pick her words to paint them in the most inflammatory light.

During the podcast interview (around the 30-minute mark), Psaki was asked about the "gotcha" questions she often gets at daily press briefings from Peter Doocy, a Fox News reporter. The day before Psaki’s podcast interview, President Joe Biden was caught on a hot mic calling Doocy "a stupid son of a b----."

Jon Lovett, one of the hosts, said:

"I have to come back to this Doocy kid. So, here's my question. He always puts out a gotcha question. Like today, he basically asked two. One was, does President Biden think parents should be under the boot of nameless bureaucrats when it comes to their children's education? And the other was, does President Biden think crime is good?

"You do not fall for any of this bait, to your credit. Though I think someone much worse at your job would also not fall for these questions. Are you worried that he's not adjusting? That there's not a new strategy to try to catch you in some kind of a gotcha question?"

Psaki responded:

"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 Republicans crazy, just anecdotally, by the hate tweets I get on Twitter when I say this, that they voted against funding for the 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. You know, I think it speaks to, if you look at Fox on a daily basis, do you remember the four boxes that we had on all the TVs, which is on my TV, right now? So right now, just to give you a sense. CNN: ‘Pentagon: As many as 8,500 troops on heightened alert.’ OK, true. Same on MSNBC. CNBC is doing their own thing about the market. And then, on Fox, is (commentator) Jeanine Pirro talking about ‘soft-on-crime consequences.’ I mean, what does that even mean? 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 in other places." 

(In New York earlier last month, New York City police officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora were killed in the line of duty.)

How accurate were the portrayals of Psaki’s remarks?

Most of the criticism of Psaki’s comments focused on her befuddlement over the term "soft-on-crime consequences" and her chuckling over the concept. But people who only read the text in the RNC and House GOP Conference tweets would have missed some context. 

For starters, Psaki was attributing the term "soft-on-crime consequences" to Pirro and other figures at Fox. And she was doing so in the context of answering a question about coverage choices being made by Fox, including the nature of Doocy’s questions at the press briefings.

So it’s an exaggeration to say that Psaki was mocking Americans for worrying about crime; she was accusing Fox of out-of-step coverage.

The RNC and House GOP Conference tweets attached a video clip that offered 33 seconds of what Psaki said. The clip provided in the tweets makes clear that Psaki was questioning Fox’s coverage choices, including her assertion that Fox seems to be in "an alternate universe on some coverage." 

But it left out what she said about people’s safety being important to Biden.

A final reminder about the Psaki-vs.-Fox squabble: Complaints by White House press secretaries about reporters who cover them are hardly a stop-the-presses moment. It’s part of the constant sparring between any White House and the press corps.

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Our Sources

Jen Psaki, remarks in a podcast interview, Jan. 25, 2022

White House, press briefing, Jan. 24, 2022

Republican National Committee, tweet, Jan. 30, 2022

House Republican Conference, tweet, Jan. 31, 2022

Patrick Yoes, Fraternal Order of Police, statement, Jan. 31, 2022

Fox News, "Fraternal Order of Police accuses White House press secretary Psaki of laughing off rising crime rates," Jan. 31, 2022

New York Post, "Psaki shrugs off crime concerns as part of ‘alternate universe,'" Jan. 31, 2022

New York Times, "Caught on a Hot Mic: Biden Uses a Vulgarity to Insult a Fox News Reporter," Jan. 24, 2022

PolitiFact, "Scott falsely accuses GOP of defunding police," July 22, 2022

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In context: What Jen Psaki said about ‘soft-on-crime consequences’