Not too long ago, Jen Psaki spent her days trying to explain the inner machinations of Washington to a crowd of skeptical journalists. On Sunday, she will become part of that horde.
But if the former White House press secretary has her way, her new MSNBC program, “Inside With Jen Psaki,” won’t be as grizzled or as cynical as the reporters with whom she often parried. Instead, she says in an interview, “the hope is that when people watch the show, they come away and they learn something they didn’t know before, whether it’s about a person or an issue.”
In doing so, Psaki may have to answer a question as complex as anything she had to respond to at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Is there really room for nuance on one of the nation’s cable-news outlets?
On “Inside,” which launches Sunday at noon, Psaki hopes to give viewers at least a little. She proposes offering a deeper look at issues and newsmakers, rather than seeking soundbites or short takes on issues worthy of longer discussion. One segment, “Don’t Freak Out,” aims to “lower the temperature” around certain topics that may have viewers wringing their hands. “I have found there are certain five-alarm fires, especially in the world we are living in today, and we will talk about them,” says Psaki.. “I will tell you, everything is not a five-alarm fire. Sometimes, you get focused on one aspect of something when, really, the bigger story about it is largely different.”
Another feature, “Weekend Routine,” takes viewers to visit a newsmaker or someone influential, but seeks to provide deeper understanding of the person. The first subject is New York Mayor Eric Adams, while 25-year-old Maxwell Frost, the Florida congressman, is expected to take part in a future segment. Most guests are only seen for moments on TV, says Psaki, but have more to share than just a few words in a charged video excerpt..
MSNBC and NBC News have been very judicious about pouring Psaki out for public view. She wasn’t able to fully engage with the opportunity to be a host and analyst until she had cut ties with the White House, where she served as President Biden’s first chief spokesperson. And while she has appeared on “Morning Joe” and other programs, the company has not overpromoted her presence since she arrived last year. There is hope within the halls of NBCUniversal’s news division, says one person familiar with the matter, that Psaki can develop a strong relationship with viewers over time, and perhaps take on even greater duties.
The bet is that Psaki’s store of knowledge is worth mining. “What you can’t teach is 20 years of expereince on campaigns and in government,” says Alex Lupica, the executive producer of hew new show. “She has a deep curiosity about issues and the news, and an incredible work ethic. All the others stuff you can practice and learn.”
There has been an active pipeline between the White House and TV-news organizations, and NBC has benefitted from it over the years. Nicolle Wallace, the former White House Communications Director for President George W. Bush, started as an analyst with NBC News and now leads two hours a day on MSNBC. Symone Sanders, a recent Democratic campaign adviser and an aide for Vice President Kamala Harris, is anchoring a show that plays across MSNBC and Peacock.
Psaki has a lot of work ahead of her. She will launch entirely different programs for Peacock and social media, concepts she says remain in development. She will also write for MSNBC’s daily newsletter and appear on various other programs as an analyst. Executives are “very aware of the fact that we need to meet viewers where they are. If people don’t see the show on Sunday, they are going to be able to find her on streaming platforms,” says Lupica ”There are all these pieces of the puzzle we will be able to use to get in front of as many people as we can.”
One of Psaki’s greatest challenges — aside from mastering the art of reading a teleprompter and gaining the innate sense of how long she has to go before a commercial break that many TV journalists have developed — will be to convince the audience that she’s not a partisan, despite her many years of working for Democratic officials and candidates. She has worked for John Kerry and Barack Obama, as well as Biden. It’s that experience that makes her valuable to any news organization, but also what she must be able to separate herself from as she goes about her new duties.
“I will always be transparent when I believe in something,” she says. “I have done work before for Planned Parenthood. I’m not going to pretend I see both sides of that issue. I believe that people should be able to marry anyone that they want. I’m not going to both-sides that issue,” she says, adding: “But I also hope that I can have people from different political viewpoints on the show. I do think there is a space and a place for engaged poricidal discussion and debate. That’s something during the Trump era that we lost a bit and I think it’s important to try to bring some of it back.”