Press secretary Robert Gibbs announced yesterday that he would be stepping down from his position in February. The timing of the announcement was a bit of a last-gasp masterstroke from a man not often noted for brilliance in his post—what should have been newly installed speaker of “the people’s House” John Boehner’s day was split between the speaker and the spokesman by the time the primetime pundits hit the airwaves. For a bonus, Nancy “19 missing votes” Pelosi drew much less attention that she may have otherwise done. Mission: Accomplished.
There’s some good stuff floating around on Gibbs’s departure today and some of the usual smart speculation on just who will step up to replace him. A front page Times piece on the White House shakeup—can we retire that one from the chyrons, please?—says likely chief of staff William M. Daley would favor an outsider for the position. Glenn Thrush at Politico is reporting that the hunt for a replacement has slowed down to allow for the input of incoming adviser David Plouffe, though DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney is on a “growing list.” If you can get past some of the mid-paragraph thematic hairpin turns, and the Pollock-esque splattering of comments—from usual suspects like Anita Dunn and Ari Fleischer—Howard Kurtz’s piece is a diverting trip down memory lane. (Though you could probably skip it and go straight to the Daily Beast’s video.) John Dickerson at Slate muses particularly interestingly on Gibbs’s post W.H. challenges.
We thought we’d join the pack and take our own little trip down memory lane, spotlighting some of CJR’s past writings on press secretary Gibbs. He never really got a lot of love from us—who does, really, aside from the odd Monkeycager—but he provided for some interesting moments, and some interesting posts.
Shades of Richard Nixon Our resident health care watcher Trudy Lieberman saw shades of Dick in the White House’s evasiveness on the president’s health care positions back in July 2009—and Gibbs was the shadowed face of the cloaked administration. Gibbs chided the press for not acknowledging the administration’s strides in getting endorsements from doctors, drug manufacturers, hospitals, the AARP Lieberman, of course, was having none of it.
Peer Presser Back in March of 2009 we began to wonder, as we still do, whether there was a point to the presidential presser. In our regular News Meeting feature, we asked readers what the value was of President Obama’s primetime pressers, and indeed, of Gibbs’s afternoon jousts with the press. (And let’s face it, joust is being generous—these things are about as unscripted and eventful as a Saturday Hills marathon.) Reader David Blythe wrote of two limitations diminishing the value of the presser: “The first is the administration’s ability to structure the proceeding to accommodate the message. The second is journalistic compliance and timidity.” Our own Megan Garber disagreed: “Pageantry and performance aren’t always a bad thing (cf Campaign 2008, Campaign 1960, Campaign 1789, etc.); and press conferences—political theater in the guise of, you know, A Face-off between the President and Intrepid Denizens of the Fourth Estate—are, to my mind, valuable. Not just because of the (limited) intellectual exchange they involve—even when no news is broken, the way the White House chooses to frame its answers alone is telling and, occasionally, news in its own right—but also because of their entertainment value itself.”
Who gets (and controls) the “First Crack”? Remember back in October of this year when @PressSec Gibbs tweeted about his “first crack” initiative? (What happened to that?) It gave the public the opportunity to ask Gibbs the first question at a press briefing by tweeting a question at Gibbs with the hashtag #1; he would then answer it on video before the briefing. Nice open government initiative, right? Clint Hendler had his own first, second, and third questions for Gibbs. And then a word or two of his own.
Gibbs and his staff will choose the question they are answering from a buffet of those offered up by hashtag, and can pick to match their preferred message of the day. They will have time to script their response. And the questioner will have no opportunity for follow-up.
And while there is of course a difference between a question before a briefing and the first question at a briefing, the Gibbs tweet seems to set up this P.R. exercise as part of the briefing process.
It’s not a bad thing. But it’s definitely not the same thing.