On NPR, N.Y. Times Reporter Leibovich Touts Obama Achievements as They Assess Robert Gibbs

On NPR's On The Media on January 8, NPR's Bob Garfield assessed the tenure of White House spokesman Robert Gibbs with New York Times political reporter Mark Leibovich. Garfield's primary concern was Gibbs attacking the "professional left" for being unsatisfied. Garfield thought that was unnecessary, prodding Leibovich to tout Team Obama's achievements:

BOB GARFIELD: It seems to me that Gibbs may have observed that, but maybe deserves some of the blame? Was the dissatisfaction among that constituency partly the fault of Gibbs and the administration for not doing a better selling job?

MARK LEIBOVICH: Look, there has been a widespread criticism of this White House, which is that it has a, quote, “communications problem,” that this is an administration that has legitimately accomplished a great deal, they've passed some historic legislation, and yet, has not, for whatever reason, been successful in promoting the good points of these accomplishments in a way that would make the American people truly understand what’s gone on.

BOB GARFIELD: In fact, they've been on the defensive from the get-go, no?

MARK LEIBOVICH: They have absolutely been on the defensive from the get-go. I think, to some degree, it’s unfair because, again, I don't think anyone has mastered the art of how to communicate in the environment that is today’s media. I think it’s telling that in the Press Secretary’s Office, in the closet, there is a flak jacket that has been passed down from every White House press secretary since Ron Nessen.

BOB GARFIELD: Nessen, that’s Gerald Ford’s press secretary.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Right, and only the acting press secretaries get to open the closet and see the flak jacket. And I think to some degree, you know, Robert Gibbs, in a very real sense, is on the front lines of the day-to-day battle of this media environment, in which there’s a lot of triviality and very, very short attention spans. And survival is probably the first job, and lack of embarrassment is probably the second job.

And I think to some degree Robert Gibbs comes out of this with a career and future, and that’s probably, you know, at minimum, what you can hope for in a job that’s so fraught with peril.

The odd concept in this discussion is that Team Obama was somehow embattled in the briefing room, as if they weren't surrounded by people that voted for them. The need for "flak jackets" differs widely depending on which party is holding the White House, and especially in the Era of Hope and Change.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis