Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Maybe the Worst Ever

This exchange from earlier in the week reminds us once again what a perfectly awful press secretary Robert Gibbs is:

TAPPER: First of all, just for the record, I’d like to voice my objection to this being off camera, on behalf of the TV people.  President Obama has said that it’s —
GIBBS: To be on camera, Jake, you’d have to comb your hair. (Laughter.)
TAPPER: No, I wouldn’t —
GIBBS: — for the record.
TAPPER: — the camera would be on you. The camera would be on you.

Not exactly the model of decorum and charm one would hope for as the voice of the White House.

Now, presumably the president wants a press secretary who belittles reporters (on everything from inquiries about the “bow” to questions about the sequence of events on the AIG bonus debacle). And one supposes that he likes a press secretary who denigrates individual media figures. Otherwise he would put someone else in there, right? But it is harder to figure out what benefit the White House derives from the constant flow of non-answers and incomprehensible explanations on reasonable topics, like why unemployment is going up after we were told the stimulus plan would keep unemployment to 8%.

One school of thought is that no one really pays attention to Gibbs’s briefings since the president himself is constantly on TV. So what difference does it make if Gibbs is hyper-partisan, rude and inept? Another is that the media is so overly-sympathetic to Obama that Gibbs is unlikely to be held up as an example of secrecy and media hostility as Scott McClellan was. And then it might just be that the Obama administration is not really interested in communicating but in deflecting. Gibbs certainly has the part about “don’t give out too much information” down.

But the test comes for press secretaries as scandals, bad news, and the passage of time erode their president’s popularity and the media’s patience with non-stop spin wears thin. The best press secretaries — Mike McCurry and Tony Snow, to name two — help presidents weather bad times. It is hard to imagine when the going gets tough that Gibbs will be the one to effectively defuse a crisis or lay out a convincing case for the administration. But for now he’s doing his level best not to let anything slip out.



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