Last night Jon Stewart tweaked Robert Gibbs for his evasive answers about Obama’s various appointment difficulties. As TDS does so devastatingly, clips of the Gibbs briefing were juxtaposed with now-classic non-responsive responses from Ari Fleischer, Dana Perino and Scott McClellan. Plus: Gibbs looks like the demon-spawn of McClellan and Rove!
Is this fair? Well, yes and no. (On Twitter, Jay Rosen and Ana Marie Cox have been tweaking each other on this topic, Cox having written a piece likening the Obama press strategy – such as it is – to Bush’s, Rosen disagreeing. Today, the Daily Show video became exhibit A for Cox.) Yes, because it is a press secretary’s job to BS the press. Always has been, always will be. And the White House press briefing is almost always a deep font of BS, some of it coming from the White House, some from the media. Jon Stewart should be pointing out that these basic conditions are unchanged even in the new Golden Age of Obama.
But on another level, it’s not a fair comparison. Gibbs’s basic approach (no hypotheticals, repeat talking points to get around embarrassing questions, et al) has been the default approach of press secretaries since at least the Nixon era. But that doesn’t mean that all press secretaries are equal. Each presidency has different ambient levels of BS, influenced by events and political strategies, that shape what happens in those briefings. In the case of George W. Bush, the BS levels were stratospheric. The idea was to to deny that anything even remotely off-message, um, existed.
While Obama has no great love for the White House press corps, he seems to recognize that taking spin to such absurd lengths is counterproductive. As Stewart pointed out, he did multiple interviews with network anchors Tuesday and said he made a mistake trying to push Daschle through. Next week he’s got a prime-time press conference. That said, nobody knows how his relationship with the establishment press will play out. No doubt, at some point Gibbs will be forced to scale the heights of Fleischer-esque mendacity. But I sort of doubt he’ll be able to keep it up.