The role of the White House press secretary is to disseminate information to the media, and that should be an especially important function when the president and his administration are plagued by several scandals.
However, Jay Carney has only held six press conferences in the past three weeks, far fewer than usual. In addition, the press secretary only held two brief “gaggles” during presidential trips to New Jersey and New York. Could this be happening because the people in the usually compliant media are actually asking tough questions and demanding clear answers?
Back in the last 20 days of February, Carney held eight press conferences -- including four in one week -- as well as two gaggles.
His retreat from the microphone began on Friday, May 10, when he used a press conference to try and dismiss formerly secret emails detailing the White House’s effort to downplay the political damage of the Nov. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Also that day, the Internal Revenue Service was publicly accused of targeting conservative organizations that apply for tax-exempt status.
Carney's inability to keep the media informed about the breaking news led conservative commentator George Will to declare on Sunday:
A week ago, Mr. Carney -- whose usefulness to this administration is diminishing rapidly -- a week ago, he said Benghazi was a long time ago as if it was the Punic Wars. This is a very live issue.
Things only got worse for the Obama administration on Monday, May 13, when the Justice Department's secret surveillance of the Associated Press was revealed by the media, as was the government's monitoring of Fox News chief White House correspondent James Rosen on direct orders from Attorney General Eric Holder.
During the following day, David Nakamura -- in his Washington Post column “Jay Carney's Tough Day” – tried to show sympathy for the embattled press secretary.
On the trail of a pair of juicy stories of government overreach, the press corps let Carney have it during his daily briefing, pounding him with a barrage of more than 60 questions each on a variety of issues.
“Over and over, reporters pressed the spokesman to explain what the administration knew about the two unfolding scandals,” Nakamura stated, “and time and again, Carney found himself on the defensive against a wounded pack of reporters eager to look out for their own.
It was that kind of afternoon for the former Time magazine White House correspondent, who, in the face of deep skepticism, continued to assert that Obama is committed to robust investigative journalism that is unobstructed by the government.
After being hammered then and in another press conference on Wednesday, it's not surprising that Carney chose to take his message to a safer and more agreeable audience: the Thursday night edition of CNN's “Piers Morgan Tonight.”
“This administration has a record on transparency that outdoes any previous administration's,” the press secretary claimed without the slightest pushback from the liberal host, who instead called Carney “probably the busiest man in Washington this week.”
And on Friday, May 17, the Democratic official sought out another sympathetic outlet -- the New York Times -- to state that despite the strenuous week, he'd “had fun” during the previous several days.
But Carney only met the press three times during the next two weeks, while his deputy, Josh Earnest, was the person who told reporters during a gaggle on the way home from a fund-raising trip to Chicago that the president is not considering whether to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS’ targeting of citizens’ groups.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media has very little patience for scandals that affect a Democratic occupant of the White House. Before long, many reporters will go back to lobbing softball questions, and Carney can go back to his usual role of providing dull, uninteresting answers.