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Psaki Tries to Strike a New Tone in the White House Briefing Room

When Ms. Psaki took the podium on Wednesday night in a highly unusual Inauguration Day appearance for an incoming press secretary, she was praised by Mr. Biden’s allies and some reporters for bringing a “normal” presence back to the role. Aware that a large percentage of Americans had just watched their version of “normal” leave the building, Ms. Psaki stayed away from that word and emphasized another: truth.

“If the president were standing here with me today, he would say he works for the American people,” Ms. Psaki said. “I work for him, so I also work for the American people, but his objective and his commitment is to bring transparency and truth back to government, to share the truth, even when it’s hard to hear.”

It was a striking departure from the message that had emanated from the Trump White House.

For a time, there was no message because one Trump press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, refused to hold any briefings. Another, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, would not answer when asked in the briefing room if she, like Mr. Trump, considered the news media enemies of the American people.

The principal spokesperson that a president installs is the face of the administration and tends to reflect who the president is as a leader. On the second day of the Trump administration, in 2017, Mr. Trump’s first press secretary, Sean Spicer, channeled the anger of his boss on an elemental issue for the new president: crowd size.

It was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe,” Mr. Spicer lectured to a stunned press corps. It was a performance Mr. Spicer later conceded was a personal embarrassment, one he said he regretted.

“What Trump wanted was an extension of himself, which was somebody that would say what he hoped was true, not what was true,” said Robert Gibbs, Mr. Obama’s first press secretary. “Once the press secretary assumed that role, it closed off the briefing room as an effective vehicle to explain anything.”

It took only one briefing for Trump administration officials to start giving Ms. Psaki the kind of treatment they felt they had endured. One line of criticism on Thursday — an ironic one given that administration’s record — was that she had delivered the briefing without wearing a mask, and that Mr. Biden had appeared at the Lincoln Memorial without one on Wednesday night, even though the president was asking government employees to wear masks on federal land.

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