A rather strange thing happened Tuesday when Fox News's Wendell Goler tried asking Robert Gibbs a question at the afternoon briefing: he got scolded by the White House press secretary for an interview Neil Cavuto did with former FEMA director Michael Brown the previous day.
To set this up, Brown on FNC's "Your World" said he felt the White House intentionally delayed action on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in order to advance Obama's green agenda.
"This president has never supported big oil," said Brown. "He has never supported offshore drilling. And now he has an excuse to shut it back down."
With this clearly on his mind, Gibbs was armed for bear Tuesday when Goler began his question, "As for critics who are calling this...President Obama's Katrina" (videos and partial transcripts below the fold with commentary, file photo, h/t Hot Air):
WENDELL GOLER, FOX NEWS: As for critics who are calling this your Katrina, is there -- President Obama's Katrina --
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Can I say this -- I watched FOX yesterday.
GOLER: I really didn't want you to go there. (Laughter.)
GIBBS: But you sort of -- you opened both the double doors and voila, here I am. (Laughter.)
GOLER: But it wasn't just FOX calling this your Katrina.
GIBBS: No, no, but FOX had the very special and unique interview with Michael Brown -- you opened it and I had to do it -- who for those who weren't let in on the big secret, Mr. Brown, FEMA Director Brown under Katrina, intimated on FOX, and it wasn't -- I will editorially say, didn't appear to be pushed back on real hard -- that this spill was leaked on purpose in order for us to walk back our environmental and drilling decisions, and that the leak that we did on purpose got out of control and now is too big to contain.
So suffice to say, Wendell --
GOLER: What is his attribution? What is his -- Mr. Brown's attribution?
GIBBS: I can only wish that the network that you work for had asked that prior to interviewing him yesterday.
GOLER: But reporters in here asked that.
GIBBS: Well, you should --
GOLER: So I'm asking you --
GIBBS: You should call headquarters, my friend, and --
GOLER; I'm asking you --
GIBBS: -- ask for somebody who makes the decisions to put people like that -- because I got to tell you, Wendell, I'm not entirely sure that a factual answer that I might give to any one of your questions is going to change the notion that your network put out the former FEMA director to make an accusation that the well had been purposely set off in order to change an offshore drilling decision.
Actually, that's NOT what Brown said yesterday:
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: Michael Brown took the brunt blame for Katrina -- Remember that? -- and who now says this president didn`t act fast enough and is playing politics with the spill.
Michael Brown, the former FEMA director, joining us now.
Director, always good to have you. Thanks for coming.
MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DIRECTOR: Thank you, Neil.
CAVUTO: Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, says the differences are night and day. Where do you see the similarities?
BROWN: I think here are the similarities, Neil.
First of all, you have a disaster occurs, and the Coast Guard shows up immediately. That`s their job. In Katrina, FEMA showed up immediately. The president is off in San Diego strumming the guitar. Obama is back East going to White House Correspondents Dinner. You`re now nine days into the storm -- into the disaster, and actually now, only now is the president appearing to be engaged.
And I think the delay was this. It`s pure politics. This president has never supported big oil. He has never supported offshore drilling. And now he has an excuse to shut it back down.
You`ve already heard Bill Nelson, senator Enhanced Coverage LinkingBill Nelson, senator from Florida, talking about offshore drilling is DOA. They played politics with this crisis and left the Coast Guard out there by themselves doing what they`re supposed to do.
CAVUTO: So, Michael, you don`t take him at face value when he says a temporary halt in offshore drilling is just that, a temporary halt?
BROWN: No, no. Look, Bill Nelson -- and, you know, they don`t say these things without it being coordinated. And so now you`re looking at this oil slick approaching, you know, the Louisiana shore, according to certain -- NOAA and other places, if the winds are right, it will go up the East Coast.
This is exactly what they want, because now he can pander to the environmentalists and say, "I`m going to shut it down because it`s too dangerous." While Mexico and China and everybody else drills in the Gulf. We`re going to get shut down.
CAVUTO: But leaving aside what our future exploration plans are, he said early on he relied on reports coming out of BP, remember, when all those guys were injured and 11 went missing, that BP said that it had it relatively contained, and that those were the early reports he relied on. How is that different than the argument your former boss made that local authorities on the ground felt that, ahead of the disaster, things were relatively contained?
BROWN: Here`s what is different, because we were actually on the ground also. We knew what was going on and how bad it was and kept reaching back to the White House, saying, we need these things. We need X, Y, and Z.
I`m assuming -- and I grant you, it`s an assumption -- I`m making an assumption that, even though BP may have been telling the Coast Guard and others, we`re doing everything we can, EPA should have been there themselves verifying whether that`s true or not. And I think they just dropped the ball. I don`t think they care.
Brown also wasn't kind to the media's slowness to properly report the gravity of this crisis:
CAVUTO: But now what I`m asking -- now what I`m asking is whether you think the media, then, is giving this president a pass on this handling, and, to be fair, because the media still can`t grasp the dimensions of this, so it is holding back?
BROWN: Well, Neil, with all due respect to you, come on. The media...
CAVUTO: I`m being fair and balanced, Michael. I`m being fair and balanced.
BROWN: I know. I know. But I don`t have to be.
BROWN: The media has been ignoring it for two weeks. You don`t think that there were -- look, they could have gotten on helicopters. They probably were on helicopters. We had other reconnaissance images from there. But we only started to see them when it started to approach the Louisiana coast. And, then, oh, my God, look, we got to do something. I just -- I think the media sat back. And I would not be surprised if the White House said, you know, we might be able to, guess what, do what? Use this crisis to our advantage. Let this crisis get really bad, and then we will step in. We will be able to shut down offshore drilling. We will be able to turn to all these alternate fuels.
And I think the problem they have right now is, they waited too long.
To be sure, Brown espoused a conspiracy theory Monday, but NOT the one Gibbs accused him of.
That said, why was Gibbs so defensive today? Hot Air's Allahpundit offered his own theory:
The White House is already in a "panic" over how the spill could eventually destroy the image of competence they're trying to craft for the elections ahead. I'm sure that's why Gibbs freaks out here, in fact. The thought of "Obama's Katrina" taking hold as a meme among the public is so dangerous - much more so than if they'd contained the spill and pissed off their base by pressing ahead with drilling - that he immediately reverts to Fox-bashing mode to steer the exchange towards another subject. Heckuva job. Be sure to read this AP fact-check of the White House's response to the spill, though, specifically noting how causal Gibbsy himself was at the briefing held three days after the explosion on the rig. If I didn't know better, I'd say they had their boot on his throat.
Indeed. But Gibbs and the White House now have another problem: MSNBC's Chris Matthews invited Brown on "Hardball" Tuesday to offer his conspiracy theory again.
Despite Matthews' grilling of Brown, will Gibbs play fair and balanced by going after whoever represents MSNBC at the next press briefing?