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The Biden press team honeymoon won’t last

The breathlessness surrounding President-elect Joe Biden’s communications and press offices — all women! — should be considered a honeymoon that will end at approximately 1 a.m. on Jan. 21, the day after Biden’s inauguration.

It’s all in the stars. Constellations, that is, of media superstars, many of whom have become household names and late-night TV guests, thanks in large part to outgoing President Donald Trump. The gift that kept on giving to reporters, editors, publishers and network bean-counters is leaving town and will no longer provide endless fodder for reporters, commentators and viewers who couldn’t take their eyes off the spectacle.

We knew it couldn’t last. Eventually, the producer in chief would have to leave the Oval Office and the media would have to scramble for news as in the days before a wheeler-dealer handed them diamonds before breakfast. If Trump wasn’t the media’s favorite president, he was surely their favorite fake wrestler. A pugilist with small hands and a commander in chief with fallen arches, The Don was concurrently a nightmare and a dream-come-true for pundits and headline writers.

He was simply easy pickins, by his own choosing. His verbal antics and Twitter frenzies were often served up for particular time slots and news shows, which he reportedly watched for hours throughout most days while on the taxpayers’ clock.

Celebrity, meantime, has grown exponentially for the erstwhile ink-stained press corps. Thanks to the country’s train-wreck infatuation with Trump, many mere correspondents have become major attractions themselves. They should wear black to Biden’s inauguration in recognition of their brief time in the NFL — which in Washington means Not-For-Long.

This brings us back to the Biden communications staff, which, in addition to making choreographed history, is sailing toward treacherous waters. Even before Thanksgiving, all was not peace and tranquility in Biden world. Unnamed campaign staffers complained to Politico that former Obama officials were snagging top jobs and expressed fears that they might not get spots in the new administration. “People are p—-ed,” said one Biden adviser. So it has been in administrations since the birth of the Republic.

The spokeswomen, however, mostly come from within the campaign, except for press secretary Jen Psaki, who held several communications titles, including communications director, in the Obama White House. Kate Bedingfield, named White House communications director, served as campaign communications director and will now hold the same job she held for Biden when he was vice president. Karine Jean-Pierre, a former NBC and MSNBC political analyst, was tapped from the campaign to become principal deputy White House press secretary. Ashley Etienne, also from the campaign, will be Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ communications director. And Symone Sanders, a former top 2016 presidential campaign aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who joined Biden’s campaign in 2019, will become Harris’ chief spokeswoman and senior adviser.

The women are understandably excited to step into these new, important roles, as almost all of them have testified via Twitter. But they’re also entering a lion’s den thick with oversize egos. Even though much of the media despised Trump and kept it no secret, this doesn’t mean they’ll go easy on Biden and his spokespeople. In fact, given the largeness of their own celebrity status and the need to keep their contracts in a less vital, Trump-free industry, they’re as likely to be tougher than ever.

This much should assuage Trump supporters and others who believe the media are always biased. The media are hard on those in power, full stop. And they care about one thing — the story, which these days also translates into being bookable. Trump was a loaves-and-fishes story who kept growing the media’s audience, ratings and advertising. Without him, one wonders what becomes of those big-budget payrolls. Biden will be more challenging because — let’s be honest — he’ll be boring, which is good for the country but not necessarily good for the bookers, scribes and narrators.

Thus, to the White House communications women, a word of advice: Beware. Celebrity journalists have become the news and have their own empires to protect. They won’t remember that you once rubbed shoulders in make-up. Forget that you were once “friends,” in other words, because, ultimately, the best journalists don’t have friends in high places or, often, anywhere else. They will run you over if you stand between them and the news that must break, (or, be provoked) on their watch.

It will be fun while it lasts, but the novelty of the all-women communications team was a trifle concocted for attention. Nobody sees this more clearly than a White House press corps ever alert to the slightest slip.

kathleenparker@washpost.com

©2020, The Washington Post

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