White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made the rounds on the network morning shows on Tuesday, ahead of President Obama's prime time Oval Office address on the Gulf oil spill. While he had confrontational interviews on CBS's Early Show and NBC's Today, on ABC's Good Morning America, co-host George Stephanopoulos made sure Gibbs's appearance was low-stress.
Stephanopoulos kept the questions bland, giving Gibbs plenty of room to maneuver, and made little effort to press the White House spokesman on the administration's response: "...the President struck a pretty hopeful note yesterday, but experts say this spill will change the ecosystem for a generation....Are they right?...So does the President believe that basically all the oil will stop spilling into the Gulf by the end of June?...Is it fair to conclude from that, that this is the most significant crisis the President has faced?"
By contrast, on CBS's Early Show, co-host Harry Smith began by quoting Florida Senator Bill Nelson saying there was "no command and control" during the crisis and asking Gibbs: "How has this President's most recent trip to the Gulf, how is that going to change any of this?" Smith later wondered why local authorities weren't being allowed to take charge of cleanup efforts, to which Gibbs replied: "I think that's what's happening in almost every instance." Smith quickly interrupted: "...it may sound like it from where you are, but from where we have heard on the other end, it sure doesn't feel like it."
On NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer also pressed Gibbs, asking if the President's prime time address was simply "a little bit of theater" and questioning Obama's refusal to meet with BP's CEO for several weeks: "...why wait 57 days to meet with the executives of this company after this disaster started?"
Perhaps the reason for Stephanopoulos's soft approach was due to his hope that the President had "contained the political damage" of the spill, as he expressed to Democratic strategist James Carville on Monday.
Here are some of Stephanopoulos's June 15 questions to Gibbs on Good Morning America:
-You know, the President struck a pretty hopeful note yesterday, but experts say this spill will change the ecosystem for a generation. And a lot of the public seems to agree. Half in a USA Today poll say that some beaches will never recover. And more say some species of fish and birds will never return to normal levels. Are they right?
-You know, the–BP wrote yesterday that it hopes to be able to capture 50,000 barrels of oil by the end of June. So does the President believe that basically all the oil will stop spilling into the Gulf by the end of June?
-The President also wants BP to set up an escrow fund. And Congress is calling for a $20 billion escrow fund. What if BP doesn't do it?
-We also saw yesterday the House Energy and Commerce Committee release a series of e-mails which paint a pretty damning portrait of BP....Previous investigations have shown the company was responsible for more than 90 percent of the safety violations on rigs. Given these concerns, why should BP be allowed to keep on drilling in the Gulf?
-Final question. The address tonight is the President's first Oval Office address. Is it fair to conclude from that, that this is the most significant crisis the President has faced?
Here are some of Smith's questions on the Early Show:
-Senator Bill Nelson from Florida sums up the situation down there with this quote, and it reflects the sentiments of a lot of folks there. He says 'the decisions are not timely, the resources are not produced, and as a result, you have a big mess with no command and control.' How has this President's most recent trip to the Gulf, how is that going to change any of this?
-I want to go back to the claims thing a second because we have talked to so many people down there who have been impacted. They try to make claims. They call BP. They get busy signal after busy signal. Sometimes they finally talk to somebody. That person never calls them back. It's not until, usually, the news media intervenes that somehow we can help push that person through the system. How can the President prevail upon BP to streamline the system and cut some of the red tape and well, you know, bologna?
-Along those lines, the locals down there say, you know, we know how to clean up our beaches. We've got better ideas about how to place booms and everything else. They've got to come up with ideas, they bring them to BP, they either get back to them or not get back to them. Why not cede control of these beaches and wetlands to the locals and just say, 'you know what, do whatever you need to do, keep that place clean, we'll deal with the mess in the ocean and we promise you that BP will pay for it in the end'?
-From my experience down there....it may sound like it from where you are, but from where we have heard on the other end, it sure doesn't feel like it.
Here are some of Lauer's questions on Today:
-When I sat down with the President last week and talked to him about some of the criticism being leveled at his administration for a cool, aloof, even slow response to this crisis, he said, "This is not theater." And he went on to say, "I don't always have time to perform for the benefit of the cable shows. What I do have is dedication and commitment to make sure the people who are actually being affected by this are going to get the best possible service from me." Yet Robert, in the days following that interview he's made not one but two trips to the Gulf. This last one a two-day visit, and tonight he's addressing the nation from the Oval Office. So is this now a little bit of theater, or is he admitting that perhaps it's important to have a little aspect of theater in this response?
-In, in the last few days, though, there's no denying that at least his public posture on this has changed. Would you agree to that?
-Let me ask you to comment on something else that I spoke to the President about last week. I asked him if he had spoken directly to Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP and, and let me play you what he said to me....Tomorrow he'll meet with Tony Hayward. What changed?...why wait 57 days to meet with the executives of this company after this disaster started?
-You keep saying he's gonna meet with the chairman of the board of BP. Will Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, be at that meeting tomorrow?