Patrick Gavin at the Politico – the same reporter that discovered how reporters reverently stood for President Obama in White House briefing room, when they didn’t do the same for Bush – has found another measure of media comfort and joy over Team Obama. Call it the Gibbs Giggle Index:
Whenever there’s laughter in the James S. Brady Briefing Room — by either the briefer or the briefed — the official White House stenographer indicates as much by inserting "(Laughter.)" into the transcript.
And in Robert Gibbs’ first four months as President Barack Obama’s press secretary, there have been more than 600 instances of "(Laughter.)" during his regular press briefings — an average of more than 10 laughs per day.
It’s a gaudy statistic — and one that puts his predecessors to shame.
Dana Perino, George W. Bush’s last press secretary, got all of 57 laughs in her first four months. Scott McClellan, another Bush press secretary, got just 66 laughs in his first four months.
Gibbs even bests the late Tony Snow, whose jocular performances — dubbed "The Tony Snow Show" by some — drew a relatively paltry 217 laughs during his first four months on the job.
Gavin asked me for a quote:
"It's possible that reporters just think Gibbs is much funnier than the Bush people," Graham said. "But I think this is another subliminal sign that reporters are much more comfortable with a spokesman that represents the hope and change they voted for."
White House reporters tried to suggest this was due to the talent of Gibbs:
CBS News’ Mark Knoller, who has covered the White House since Gerald Ford was president, said Gibbs is "more inclined to make a wisecrack than any press secretary" he’s covered. "He's at ease at the lectern, understands the press and is willing to offer a quip at our expense or his own," Knoller said.
So is the Obama press briefing room light-hearted where the Bush room was contentious?
"Not really," Knoller says. "But there are members of the news media, myself among them, even more willing to offer an occasional wisecrack when the occasion is right, and sometimes when it isn't. And Gibbs is OK with that. Jokes aside, we get business done."
It's surely true that Ari Fleischer (stereotypically sober and serious) and Scott McClellan (always looking like he was on the bad end of a 60 Minutes expose) were not trying to be comedians.
But being "at ease" and "understanding the press" are easier qualities to demonstrate when the media are delighted to have their own party in charge of the proceedings. Gavin puts up a sample of Gibbs' "comedy" and it's not really funny. It's just people joking about how they aren't as exciting as the Almighty Barack.
John Gizzi of the conservative paper Human Events came to the defense of the Gibbs giggles:
"There’s always fascination with a new president. That said, there is a lot of laughter out there, and a part of it is because of Gibbs — he has a great sense of humor. In addition, he has a bigger audience to play to than did Snow or Perino, thanks to the new administration. This press room is always crowded and, this time, the entertainer plays to a bigger audience."
I'm not sure John is right on the bigger audience. I was in the room in the early days of George W. Bush and it was jam-packed as well. But the room was also full of people who boasted about the treat of sharing dinner with Bush-hating leftist pundits like the late Molly Ivins. It was not a friendly room for Republican spin -- or jokes.