The Dirty Little Secret Behind Jen Psaki's Memoir (and Most Every Other D.C. Book)

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Former White House Press Secretary and current MSNBC contributor — but I repeat myself — Jen Psaki got caught repeating an oft-debunked Big Lie in her new book, "Say More: Lessons from Work, the White House, and the World."


Psaki, according to an Axios report on Monday, "claims in her new book that President Biden never looked at his watch during the ceremony for soldiers killed during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021." 

"The president looked at his watch only after the ceremony had ended, Psaki wrote. "Moments later, he and the First Lady headed toward their car." Except that it did happen, multiple times, according to eyewitnesses and photographs taken at the event.

Axios called it "the latest instance of current and former Biden administration officials downplaying or misrepresenting controversial episodes from the Afghanistan withdrawal ahead of the 2024 election."

Psaki says she'll remove the claim in future print editions and from the ebook.

Jordan Schachtel wrote last week that Gov. Kristi Noem's (R-S.D.) embarrassing flubs (and now Psaki's, too) "exposed an open secret about the political publishing industry: a tiny percentage of 'authors' in the space write their own books."

"For politicians," he continued, "I would estimate that maybe 1 percent write their own books. Some spend occasional time with their ghostwriter in order to best express their personality and ideas." 

"Others, like Noem, just mail it in entirely, and have the ghostwriter rely upon public material from speeches and appearances," so when Noem appeared dumbfounded by what was in the book she "wrote," it's because she had never even read it, much less written it.


Schachtel estimates that big-name journalists — people who write for a living! — and other media types aren't much better. "It would be generous to say that 5 percent write their own books."

By and large, the political publishing industry is a grift and a con. 

"Authors" who didn't write their books get paid handsome advances for books that largely go unread. It's a bipartisan scam, too. Politicians from both parties have been caught using donor money to buy copies of their books in bulk — although the press seems a bit more eager to report when Republicans like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson do it than when Democrats do. But one of the biggest buyers of Barack Obama's "Dreams From My Father," was, of course, Barack Obama.

Other times, various interest groups and unions do the buying. "The transactions all seem to be legal," Forbes reported in 2021. "The FEC has issued a long series of advisory opinions allowing members to use campaign funds to buy copies of their own books at a discount from the publisher, provided that the royalties they would normally receive on those sales are given to charity."

The book tours, however, allow politicians to virtually campaign without having to spend donor dollars. The artificially engineered sales boost gets them on the New York Times bestseller list, justifying their handsome advances. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) was paid $382,000 from Hachette Book Group in 2020 for a book that likely went almost unread.


Books their authors didn't write bought in bulk with other people's money to end up in landfills is maybe the most Washington thing ever.

This is where I endorse George Will's comment (lightly paraphrased) about a political memoir from many years ago that he critiqued without having read: "It is not my habit to read books their putative authors haven't read."

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