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How Jen Psaki can cash in on her White House experience

Apr 2, 2022, 02:15 IST
Business Insider
Jen Psaki held a press briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on August 3.Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
  • Jen Psaki could leave her White House press secretary post as as soon as "this spring," per Axios.
  • Her $180,000 salary "will increase dramatically" once she leaves, a recruiter said.
  • White House press secretaries have gone in many directions, from politics to corporate America.

What can White House press secretary Jen Psaki do when she leaves the briefing-room podium for good?

Just about anything she wants.

Psaki, known for restoring daily news briefings and a sense of relative calm after the tumultuous Trump years, is reportedly in talks with MSNBC about a deal that would give her a show on NBCUniversal's Peacock streaming service and involve on-air appearances, starting as early as this spring, Axios reported. Psaki did not confirm the report.

Psaki should have no shortage of career opportunities after her time in the White House. Former press secretaries and others said she could score corporate communications roles, provide consulting services, or enter academia or the television industry. She could also give paid speeches or write a book.

Psaki's $180,000 salary "will increase dramatically" once she leaves, said Nels Olson, a Korn Ferry vice chair who leads executive searches in the areas of corporate affairs, government affairs, communications, and public relations.


"A seven-figure total compensation is certainly not out of bounds," Olson said.

Read more: These millennial and Gen Z staffers are part of Jen Psaki's 11-person army that keeps the White House on message

White House press secretaries in recent years have gone in a number of directions.

From President Donald Trump's era, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is running for governor in Arkansas, Kayleigh McEnany cohosts a show on Fox News, and Sean Spicer cohosts "Spicer & Co." on Newsmax.

Jay Carney, one of President Barack Obama's press secretaries, is now Amazon.com's senior vice president of global corporate affairs.


Ari Fleischer, a press secretary for President George W. Bush, founded a private communications firm and is a Fox News contributor.

Joe Lockhart, a press secretary for President Bill Clinton, cofounded the Glover Park Group and went to the National Football League. Along the way, he also sold his DC mansion for $8.1 million to the Obamas.

George Stephanopoulos wasn't technically Clinton's White House press secretary. But he was a decidedly public-facing communications director. After leaving politics, Stephanopoulos entered mainstream TV journalism and embarked on a long career at ABC News, where he's hosted "World News Tonight," "This Week," and most recently, "Good Morning America." He has a nine-figure, multi-year contract at the network, a report said.

One of the most recognizable faces of the Biden administration, Psaki could likewise cash in.

Psaki is "not going to have a problem making plenty of money when she walks out that door," Spicer said.


She has "helped return a level of confidence and comfort to the White House briefing room," and her prospects after leaving the administration are "boundless," said Richard Levick, a crisis communications expert whose firm represents countries and companies.

What would he do if her résumé landed on his desk? "Call her right away," Levick said.

Jen Psaki at a daily briefing on May 4.Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House press secretary job is 'demanding'

Psaki has never intended on staying for President Joe Biden's entire term, but she hasn't set a date for leaving.

In May 2021, she told "The Axe Files" podcast that it'll "be time for somebody else to have this job in a year from now or about a year from now." At a June conference hosted by the Financial Times, she said she "likely will stay longer" than a year.

While Psaki has not mentioned publicly what path she might take, she has made it clear that spending time with her two young children is a priority.


"I don't want to miss moments," she told "The Axe Files." "It's a great job. It will be hard, but I also never thought I'd be here, and I also love my kids a lot."

The tradition of a president's spokesperson regularly meeting with the press materialized during President Grover Cleveland's administration in the late 19th century. Psaki is only the 34th official press secretary in US history.

Marlin Fitzwater, who served as the White House press secretary during the end of President Ronald Reagan's administration and throughout President George H.W. Bush's administration, was the last White House press secretary to serve for a president's full term. Only two others since then have occupied the job for longer than three years — Carney and Mike McCurry from the Clinton administration.

"That's because each year seems like five," McCurry, who is now a professor emeritus of public theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, wrote in an email. McCurry said a "good day" would last from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

He would scour the news in the morning and think through the likely press briefing in the shower. Then, he would "practice answers commuting to work, and then work like hell to track down info (sometimes from people who are a little reluctant to cough it up)," McCurry wrote.


"The adrenaline keeps you going, but sooner or later, you burn out," he added.

Spicer, Trump's first press secretary, who served for 182 days, said press briefings only make up "10 to 15 percent" of the work.

"There's never a time when you're like, 'Hey, I can unplug and walk away from the job,'" he said. "It is a very time-consuming job, no matter what administration it is. And in Jen's case, similarly to mine, she has kids. And there's a lot of strain on the family because you're not there as much as you'd like to be."

Jen Psaki served as a State Department spokesperson during the Obama administration.Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Psaki is a seasoned communications official

Psaki, 43, a College of William and Mary graduate, has experience with leaving a government communications job. She previously served as Obama's deputy press secretary and was promoted to deputy communications director during his first term. In 2011, she left to become a senior vice president of the public-relations firm Global Strategy Group.

Psaki returned to the Obama administration in 2013 as a spokesperson for the State Department. Two years later, she became the White House communications director.


She was "devastated" when she was passed over for her current job during the Obama years, Psaki told "The Axe Files." But having more life experiences since then prepared her for this moment, she added.

In the years between departing the Obama White House and joining the Biden administration, Psaki worked as a CNN on-air contributor and a senior advisor at two consulting firms: WestExec Advisors and Bryson Gillette. She also founded Evergreen Consulting LLC. Lyft and Demand Justice were among the clients she listed on her financial-disclosure report, which was obtained by the Revolving Door Project. She also earned money on the speaking circuit.

Spicer said Psaki's background is what sets her apart from other former press secretaries.

"I fully believe that either MSNBC or CNN will re-sign her," Spicer said. "She will have speaking opportunities. She will have corporate opportunities. Corporate America is very aligned with the left."

How Psaki's handled the job

As White House press secretary, Psaki has said her goal is to "return to accuracy and transparency from the podium" after four years of unpredictability under Trump.


She gets some flak on Twitter for her promises to "circle back" with information for reporters. But she has largely avoided making unintended news. Even better for her: She's avoided becoming a staple for "Saturday Night Live" skits — unlike Spicer, whose exchanges with reporters were parodied by actress Melissa McCarthy.

Spicer argued that White House reporters in the briefing room have not been as hostile to Psaki as they were to him and other Trump press secretaries.

"It's not about how she's doing her job. It is, frankly, an embarrassment the way that the White House press corps has conducted themselves as a whole," Spicer said. He added that Psaki walks in every day and has "a supporting group of folks that are staring at her."

Steven Groves, a deputy press secretary for the Trump administration who's now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that "generally it's tough to lay a glove" on Psaki.

Read more: Psaki says reporters should 'cover scandals in Hollywood' if they're bored with Biden


"She's doing her job. And frankly, to be honest, there's only a couple of reporters — namely one, the Fox reporter — who ever asks her anything particularly challenging," he said.

That Fox News Channel reporter would be Peter Doocy. Psaki often goes toe-to-toe with him, occasionally dropping on him what's known on Twitter as a #Psakibomb. She once described one of Doocy's questions about vaccines as "loaded and inaccurate."

Psaki has also feuded with reporters over their vague questions about chatter or perceptions of Biden. "You know how I love anonymous sources," she joked to reporters during a press briefing this week.

She told CNN in June that she doesn't want the briefing room "to become a forum for propaganda." Her suggestion for reporters who think the Biden administration is boring: "Maybe you should work for Us Magazine and cover scandals in Hollywood."

Sean Spicer, a former White House press secretary, made his debut on "Dancing With the Stars" in 2019.Screenshot/ABC

What's next for Psaki

Opportunities for press secretaries after they leave the White House — rich as they often are — also depend on how effective a given press secretary was in the job, said Martha Joynt Kumar, a White House communications scholar who wrote "Managing the President's Message: The White House Communications Operation."


"Were they able to provide accurate information on a regular basis that the White House wanted out, but also that reporters wanted answers to?" Kumar said. "Were they seen as truthful and as plugged in to the White House staff, as well as to the president? Did they know what was going on?"

In the Trump White House, press secretaries "had a quarrelsome president who was difficult to deal with, who kept information to himself," Kumar said. She added, "So it was difficult for them to really do an effective job."

But Spicer said that "it has not been a problem" to find work after his stint at the White House. The former press secretary went on to give speeches, publish a memoir, and even appear as a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars."

McCurry said the speeches he gave after leaving the White House helped pay for three college tuitions for his children. He did some consulting with a public-affairs firm and spent time with his wife and kids. He decided to not write a book — although he had some offers. He tried becoming a pundit on CNN in 2000, but he didn't like it.

Psaki, he said, will have chances to do all of that.


"I can see her teaching or at least showing up at classes taught by the several ex-journalists who are adjunct professors at various local schools," McCurry wrote. "But she'll have a good time."

He added that Psaki would also face the prospect of helping with the 2024 reelection campaign, saying, "She'd be a big help to the president or whomever ends up as the candidate."

This story was first published on Aug. 7, 2021.

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