Jewish World Review August 12, 2010 2 Elul, 5770
The Press Doesn't Get Gibbs
By Roger Simon
The liberal blogosphere has been all atwitter recently because White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told Sam Youngman of The Hill that liberals who unfairly criticize President Obama may be living in a chemically altered state.
"I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said. "I mean, it's crazy."
Actually, it is crazy. On the most important issue of his presidency — the Iraq war — Bush plunged us into a hunt for imaginary weapons of mass destruction, which Obama says he never would have done.
This the left likes. But some don't like the political compromises Obama had to make to pass health care, some much preferring righteous indignation to useful legislation.
"Gibbs dismissed the 'professional left' in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right," Youngman went on, "saying, 'They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality.'"
It isn't. And I'm guessing the president agrees with Gibbs and was neither angry nor disappointed by Gibbs' statements, which came not in the heat of his daily briefing but in the cool of his West Wing office.
In other words, Gibbs knew what he was doing. And so did Obama.
Members of the left were predictably outraged by Gibbs' statements, with one Democratic lawmaker either calling or not calling for Gibbs to resign. (The matter is under dispute.)
Having started a fight, Gibbs soon called it off, issuing a statement that said in part: "So we should all, me included, stop fighting each other..."
Press secretaries sometimes do make off-the-cuff remarks that they later regret. But I don't think this incident was one of those times.
What really gets a press secretary in trouble is when his boss thinks his press secretary is not defending him and his policies vigorously enough.
Gibbs has one boss, and it isn't the press. It's the guy in the Oval Office.
The press often misunderstands the role of the press secretary. Reporters get angry when they think press secretaries are "too partisan."
But press secretaries are partisan. Mike McCurry, who I think was a particularly good press secretary, never tried to disguise what his job was when he worked for Bill Clinton. "The modern presidency is defined by the manipulation of the news flow 24 hours a day," McCurry told me.
The modern presidency doesn't always succeed in that, of course. Events — Monica, the little blue dress, impeachment — sometimes intervene (though Bill Clinton's current popularity is one of the great political resurrections of modern times).
And some politicians are simply better than others at handling the press. In 2000, John McCain was beloved by many in his press corps when he ran in the Republican primaries. But by 2008, things had soured.
And shortly after the election, the Columbia Journalism Review revealed that McCain's campaign had hired a blogger "to attack" and engage in "bullying" the press during the last six months of the 2008 presidential campaign.
Gosh, that worked out well for McCain.
I very much doubt Gibbs is in any danger of losing his job. The president is more in danger of losing a guy like Gibbs, should he get tired of getting yelled at from both below and above day after day.
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