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Karine Jean-Pierre and Fox News Battle It Out

What really happened in that exchange between Karine Jean-Pierre and a Fox News reporter?

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds a press briefing February 13, 2023, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

What really happened in that exchange between Karine Jean-Pierre and a Fox News reporter?: The exchange between the White House press secretary and Peter Doocy made news Monday after it was interpreted as Jean-Pierre’s answer equating anti-Israel protesters with the Charlottesville marchers from 2017. 

Karine Jean-Pierre In Trouble Again? 

Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy often gets into contentious exchanges with Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary. One, which took place on Monday, went especially viral

In the exchange, Doocy asked whether President Biden believes “the anti-Israel protesters in this country are ‘extremists.’” 

“What I can say is what we’ve been very clear about this. When it comes to anti-Semitism, there is no place,” Jean-Pierre said during the exchange, according to a transcript cited by Mediaite. 

“We have to make sure that we speak against it very loud and be uh, and be very clear about that. Remember, what the president decided– when the president decided to run for president, is what he saw in Charlottesville in 2017. He saw neo-Nazis marching down the streets of Charlottesville with vile, anti-Semitic, just hatred, and he was very clear then and he’s very clear now. He’s taken actions against this over the past two years and he’s continued to be clear, there is no place, no place for this type of vile and despite— despite— this kind of rhetoric.”

In a follow-up question, Doocy accused the White House, when talking about extremism, of only applying that label to “MAGA extremists.” “What about these protesters who are making Jewish students feel unsafe on college campuses? Are they extremists?” 

The White House press secretary answered, “[W]e are calling out any form of hate… it is not acceptable, it should not be acceptable here, and we are gonna continue to call that out.” She also pivoted to condemning Islamophobia, noting that Biden had repealed former President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban on his first day in office. 

These answers led to criticism of Jean-Pierre from multiple directions. 

Mediaite’s headline described the answer as a “word salad.” 

Fox News’ online headline called out the White House press secretary for “refusing to say” that the protesters are extremists. Several conservative social media accounts, meanwhile, criticized the press secretary for not more forcefully condemning “pro-Hamas protesters.” 

Journalist Ryan Grim criticized Jean-Pierre from the left, writing on X that “the White House just compared ‘anti-Israel protesters’ — the phrase used by the Fox News reporter in his question — to the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville.” Others accused the White House of unfairly comparing those protesting Israel to Nazis. 

While all sides seem to agree that Jean-Pierre did not deliver her message very clearly, there’s clearly some disingenuousness going on here. 

Jean-Pierre did not, at any point, defend or refuse to condemn “pro-Hamas protesters”; Doocy’s question referred to “anti-Israel protesters” and did not mention Hamas at all. 

“All of these people are reacting to a misleading framing of the actual answer from the press secretary, who never compared college protesters to anti-semites and specified Islamophobia as a form of hate that the White House condemns,” writer Will Stancil said on X. 

The “right answer,” as it were, would be to say that some of the protesters are extremists and others are not. Jean-Pierre could have drawn a line somewhere- say, that it’s not fair to accuse someone of “extremism” if they’re attending a protest, holding up a “Free Palestine” sign, or calling for a ceasefire. It is, however, extremism to defend the violence of October 7, or to call for further violence, to do things with the purpose of intimidating Jews, or to tear down signs with pictures of Jewish people held by Hamas. 

“I’m telling you, there’s no place for hate in America. And we condemn any anti-Semitic threat or incident in the strongest terms. And you heard me say at the top, I gave a message to students who are feeling — who are feeling under threat right now. We’re tracking these threats very closely. We are there for them. No student should have to be able to go to class, live on campus in fear,” the press secretary said. 

Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Stephen has authored thousands of articles over the years that focus on politics, technology, and the economy for over a decade. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @StephenSilver, and subscribe to his Substack newsletter.

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Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.