Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank tries to suggest in Wednesday's paper that the White House press corps is in some sort of Cold War with President Obama and Robert Gibbs, and that the new spokesman, former Time Washington Bureau Chief Jay Carney, may "usher in an Obama glasnost." Most Obama critics would have a hard time remembering all the negative Robert Gibbs coverage offered by the press corps, but Milbank lays it on thick:
President Obama chose Carney in part as a peace offering to an aggrieved White House press corps that has spent two poisonous years with Robert Gibbs, to Obama's detriment. But if Carney and his bosses are not careful, the appointment could have the reverse of its intended effect....
Carney has the advantage of following Gibbs, surpassed only by [George W. Bush spokesman] Ari Fleischer as the most unpopular press secretary of recent decades. On the podium, Gibbs often appeared to be attempting a revival of Mad magazine's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions."
Milbank was well-known for battling Fleischer in those years, tweaking him by calling him "Lawrence A. Fleischer" in snotty pool reports (when only a select few are allowed to report for the entire White House press corps).
Off the podium, Gibbs infuriated reporters with his inconsistent availability; he left the impression he'd rather be in meetings strategizing with top Obama advisers than returning reporters' calls.
Obama himself recognized that his relationship with the news media was poor, and he held a series of off-the-record lunches in an attempt to repair damage. Top adviser Valerie Jarrett attempted a similar rapprochement. In choosing a successor to Gibbs, Obama made clear to subordinates that he wanted a more media-friendly replacement.
On paper, the 45-year-old Carney fits the part. He doesn't come from the war rooms of political campaigns, and his long career with Time, some of it on the White House beat, means he'll know how to do the care and feeding of reporters that his predecessor neglected.
But those who think the former Moscow correspondent will usher in an Obama glasnost could be disappointed. Carney, if he feels pressure to prove his loyalty to Obama, may be even more guarded with information. In fact, the preferred candidate of many in the press corps was Bill Burton, Gibbs's deputy. Burton, because of his unquestioned loyalty to Obama, may have been looser.
Milbank began by noting that Carney sent occasional "nastygrams" to reporters in his role as Vice President Biden's spokesman, "sometimes graced with a barnyard epithet." Milbank warned "this isn't necessarily the second coming of Mike McCurry, the beloved Clinton press secretary."
Liberal reporters adored McCurry, boasting he never lied to them. But McCurry famously proclaimed when the Monica Lewinsky adultery scandal broke that he was out of the loop. He couldn't respond to questions about President Clinton and the intern, and he didnt want to know the answers. How that made him popular with supposedly fact-hungry reporters remains a mystery to this day.