Dana Milbank, one of the Washington Post’s most devastating columnists, has often attended the White House press briefings, which have been conducted for the past two years by press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Gibbs is, this month, leaving that position in which he earned the following evaluation from the Post’s Milbank:
- “an aggrieved White House press corps that has spent two poisonous years with Robert Gibbs, to Obama’s detriment”
- “Gibbs, surpassed only by Ari Fleischer as the most unpopular press secretary of recent decades” (Here, I disagree. The worst of all was Joe Lockhart, among the 14 press secretaries whom I have covered. Although I would regard Gibbs as a close second to Lockhart.)
- “On the podium, Gibbs often appeared to be revival of Mad magazine’s ‘Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.'”
- “Off the podium, Gibbs infuriated reporters with his inconsistent availability; he left the impression he’d rather be in meetings strategizing with top Obama advisers than returning reporters’ calls.”
- “Obama himself recognized that his relationship with the news media was poor, and he held a series of off-the-record lunches in an attempt to repair damage. … In choosing a successor to Gibbs, Obama made clear to subordinates that he wanted a more media-friendly replacement.”
The headline over this absolute (well-deserved) indictment of Gibbs is: “Can Jay Carney hack it as top flack?” That refers to the Obama selectee to replace Gibbs, who is the vice president’s press secretary, former Time magazine Washington bureau chief and husband of ABC News’ decidedly liberal and pro-Obama reporter Claire Shipman.
Jay Carney, 45, spent some of his time covering the White House.
He is also undoubtedly aware of the very worst of his predecessor’s unfairness.
For Gibbs repeatedly refused to allow more than one-third (or even a smaller fraction) of the reporters present to ask any questions at all. This, while allowing network correspondents in the first row of the briefing room to ask numerous questions, as many as a dozen apiece.
I can understand (but not appreciate) why these front-row denizens were not among those in the press room who applauded when, on one of the rare times I was allowed to question Gibbs, I suggested:
“Why not, in fairness to everyone in this room, allow everyone in the front row to ask only two questions, until you have allowed that for everyone in this room – and then return to the front rows, allowing them to ask more questions?”
That applauded question led Gibbs to scoff and refuse to stop his outrageous favoritism – for which he will be remembered, in infamy.