The job of the Press Secretary has historically been one of the most important roles in the White House. Media management is essential to the career of any President, and this task has become increasingly more significant given the importance of the media in dictating public opinion. It would not be untoward to lay the blame for Obama’s fall from grace at the feet of the man responsible for crafting the White House media message. David Gergen, veteran communications director, explained the role of the Press Secretary effectively in this statement:
We had a rule in the Nixon operation…that before any public event was put on his [the president’s] schedule, you had to know what the headline out of that event was going to be, what the picture was going to be, and what the lead paragraph would be.”
In terms of Gergen’s analysis of the function of the Press Secretary, it is clear that Robert Gibbs has failed at his job. If Gibbs actually was aware of how his spin doctoring would be interpreted, it is likely he was being paid off by the GOP.
Obviously, the White House intends for the Press Secretary to convey the image of the President in a benevolent light. Obviously, Robert Gibbs has failed in this regard. If Obama was smart, he would fire the man who has crafted a notoriously antagonistic relationship with the White House press corps in favor of a more acquiescent media manager.
After all, Obama seems to be attempting to follow the path of Clinton in his political career. Clinton was put in a situation almost identical to Obama’s dilemma. He was faced with staggering midterm losses, and in light of his inability to connect with the American people, he attempted to alter his persona as conveyed through the media. He succeeded by first firing Dee Dee Myers, a press secretary with an adversarial media relationship comparable to Gibbs’s. Michael McCurry was appointed as Clinton’s Press Secretary for the second term. In the midst of controversy swirling about Clinton’s personal transgressions, McCurry succeeded in convincingly spinning the media portrayal of the situation. Presidential public opinion during this time remained even, and in fact, toward the end of the controversy, Clinton’s approval ratings actually increased. A Press Secretary is judged based on his ability to control the public approval of the America people by manipulating the media system. In this regard, the accomplishments of McCurry cannot be overstated. He took a seemingly impossible situation and created a positive out of it.
Robert Gibbs is far cry from the prowess of Michael McCurry. Consider the fact that Gibbs was forced to call a meeting with the press in order to ease concerns over the relationship between the press and the White House. This move was relatively unorthodox at the time, and quite frankly, it reeked of desperation. It began with this tense situation on April 19th of this year:
Tension will always run high between the White House (which wants to keep a tight lid on public information pertaining to its operations) and the Washington press corps(which always wants to pry that lid loose). But the back-and-forthing between White House reporters and President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, has been especially heated. Recently it spilled into the larger media world, and itself sparked another a testy moment in the White House brefing room.
“This is the most transparent administration in the history of our country,” Gibbs told White House reporters Monday after being questioned by reporters about the tenor of criticism within their own ranks.
The Obama team came to Washington promising transparency, but White House reporters say privately that the administration is not living up to that pledge. At times, they say, it plays favorites with writers it deems more sympathetic to the administration.
It may seem reasonable that the White House would treat sympathetic news sources with a degree of favoritism, however, it is not quite that simple. In theory, this tactic seems viable, but in practice, the action is quite damaging to an administration. The White House press corps are kept in a series of apartments directly next door to the Office of the Press Secretary and within earshot of the Oval Office. This degree of intimacy has its perks and its problems. The press corps knows if certain news sources are given favorable access, and they do not approve. So while Gibbs’s tactic may have secured favorable coverage in one or two outlets, it backfired horribly across the entire spectrum of the media.
Now, I would not care nearly as much about Gibbs’s future if not for his most recent outburst of idiocy. It is one thing to reflect the administration poorly in the eyes of the American people, but it is an entirely different story to reflect America poorly in the eyes of the world:
But during President Obama’s trip to India, Gibbs assumed the role of press advocate and threatened to pull Obama out of bilateral talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh because three U.S. reporters were blocked from covering the meeting.
“At one point, Gibbs literally had his foot lodged in the closing front door, asking if the Indian security officials pushing hard to shut it were going to break his foot,” Wilson continued. “More angry words ensued, and after Gibbs convinced them, through high volume and repetition, that he was serious” about pulling Obama, the press secretary had the security retinue’s full attention.
What kind of message does that send to the rest of the world? I can accept Gibbs botching his duties to the Administration, but when he botches his responsibilities to the people…..
I think it’s time for Gibbs to go.