While The Washington Post article by Jason Horowitz is headlined “Obama spokesman Gibbs sounds eager for future strategist role,” there are other agendas being set here. All in all, it’s a fun read, even with—or maybe because of—its slings and arrows.
But whatever the future role of Gibbs might be, he certainly doesn’t come off the worst. That category goes to the press itself.
Listen to the press secretary talk about the media as a predictable, hyperventilating rabble obsessed with access [emphasis added] and covering "everything as make or break…."
But there are more than slings and arrows by Horowitz. It’s really a damning portrait of the media, the White House press corps in particular.
Gibbs is tethered to a lectern that matters a lot less than it used to.
…In the Gibbs era of Obama message control, reporters in the briefing theater are slowly being reduced to a chorus complaining about access, or, worse, scenery in an anachronistic play. An hour or so before a 1:30 press briefing last month, reporters started staking out spots among the blue leather seats. The foreign reporters trickled in first, then the American print reporters, then the swaggering television reporters.
“Swaggering television reporters” were targeted for special mention, perhaps, but the point here is the White House press corps simply isn’t as important as it used to be. And the Obama administration doesn’t care.
Unlike press secretaries past, who would make rounds of calls to reporters as they neared deadlines, Gibbs is notoriously tough to get on the phone…. This month, Gibbs neglected to tell reporters traveling back from Prague on Air Force One that Justice John Paul Stevens had announced his retirement and refused to talk to them when they found out. Last weekend, Obama broke longstanding tradition by giving the slip to a pool reporter. Later this month, representatives of various news organizations will meet with Gibbs to express what they feel is the administration’s contempt for the press.
The White House now turns to a suite of social-networking tools — YouTube, WhiteHouse.gov, Twitter — that mix innovation and evasion. The press office used to follow up blast announcements to Twitter followers with heads-up e-mails to reporters. No longer. On the morning of March 12, Gibbs broke major news in a Twitter message: "The President will delay leaving for Indonesia and Australia — will now leave Sunday — the First Lady and the girls will not be on the trip."
Of course, it is not the administration that will make them relevant. That would be their product. If any newsmaker knows that whatever the subject, “conflict, celebrity and currency,” the definition of news according to some, will be the angle, why not by-pass them?
Ironically, as the White House treats them as irrelevant, reporters are portrayed here as a Fourth Estate that seems ready to take anything—spin, lies, evasion—than to be left out of the equation.
There are a few things about Gibbs that irritate even the least excitable reporters in the briefing room, though none of them would speak for the record out of fear of retaliation.
If access is limited, the communications evasive and the press fears retaliation, why not simply leave the briefing room, enterprise a story, do it without White House input if it so chooses, and take your chances. Instead, the White House reporters are taking it lying down as they close the coffin on themselves.