The Campaign Spot

Gibbs Departing? Then Who Will Fail to Answer Our Questions?

Could White House press secretary Robert Gibbs leave the White House soon?

The Washington Post reports:

As President Obama returns from Hawaii, he is weighing a major reshuffling of his staff that could see as many as eight people playing new key roles in the weeks ahead, Democrats familiar with the process said . . . Among the biggest changes could be the departure of press secretary Robert Gibbs, who is said to be exploring the possibility of leaving the White House altogether, perhaps to set up his own consulting shop and play a leading role in the 2012 campaign, two Democrats said. That move could happen in the coming weeks.

Upon hearing this news, my mind races to this reaction: “Um . . . uh . . . um . . . uh . . . I have no information on that.”

UPDATE: If this pans out, it will be a good move on Obama’s part.

In Democratic administrations, we’ve seen widely respected White House press secretaries (Mike McCurry) and bad ones (Joe Lockhart). From where I sit, Gibbs seems terrible, and yet held in strangely high esteem by Obama. He seems perpetually smirking, dismissive, needlessly contentious, and unable or unwilling to answer questions that are pretty basic and not hostile. Watching the briefings is often painful. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank diagnosed:

Gibbs acts as though he’s playing himself in the movie version of his job. In this imaginary film, he is the smart-alecky press secretary, offering zippy comebacks and cracking jokes to make his questioners look ridiculous. It’s no great feat to make reporters look bad, but this act also sends a televised image of a cocksure White House to ordinary Americans watching at home.

Gibbs is probably credited with the good press Obama received in the 2008 campaign; getting favorable coverage from a liberal-leaning media for the first serious African-American contender for the presidency is a bit like taking credit for the sun rising in the east. Gibbs doesn’t seem to get that the jobs of a campaign spokesman and a White House press secretary are different. In the campaign, he works for the candidate, full stop. In the White House, he’s a public servant and owes at least some accountability and loyalty to the American public.

If Gibbs departs, perhaps his successor will realize the job is about answers, not evasions.

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