May 28th, 2009
11:00 AM ET

White House to media – don’t ask, just laugh

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/20/art.gibbs.gi.jpg]

Dan Lothian
CNN White House Correspondent

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs always keeps a “foil“ in his pocket to wiggle out of tricky questions: sarcasm and comedy. There isn’t a briefing that goes by where he doesn’t use this tactic to deflect questions he really doesn’t want to answer.

When asked to give details on the Presidents upcoming visit with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Gibbs declined to offer anything up. When the reporter followed with another query, Gibbs responded, “see previous answer.” That comment got a lot of laughs. In fact if you read the transcripts of the daily briefings, they are peppered with {laughter}.

With constant questions about when the President was going to announce his Supreme Court pick, or who that person would be, Gibbs decided to strike first at last Friday’s briefing. Just after taking his place at the podium, Gibbs announced, “at 6:30 tomorrow morning, (which was Saturday) the President will announce his Supreme Court nominee. As everyone laughed, Gibbs said “Gotcha!” He couldn’t contain himself as he described how the necks of reporters snapped. He asked for someone to “text me the name of a chiropractor.” There was more laughter.

A much more contentious exchanged involved questions about a YouTube video of the nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. There’s a snippet burning up the internet where she discusses policy making from the bench and advantages as a Latina. Reporters pressed Gibbs to respond. He deflected with various talking points, but as the pressure mounted, he took a sarcastic whack at April Ryan of American Urban Radio (which by the way he loves to do) She wasn’t even part of the discussion at the time, but as Gibbs tried to explain what he considered an out of context snippet, he looked back to Ryan’s mid-room perch and said, “‘I admonished April yesterday for her YouTube clip.” As more reporters piled on, Gibbs again focused on Ryan, saying “even April will do some due diligence and come to the conclusion that the President came to…” OOOhhh.

I have also been the victim of this on several occasions. It happened again on Tuesday. Nevada’s Governor Jim Gibbons has been upset with Mr. Obama over comments he made in February about bailout executives staying away from Vegas. So, he declined to greet the President on his recent Las Vegas trip. I asked for White House reaction to that and to Gibbons’ complaint that a request for a sit down meeting on the issue was rejected. Gibbs shifted into high gear, asking “…how he believes we’re unwilling to sit down if he decided to reject an invitation to sit down?” That wasn’t my question, so I tried again, and again, to clarify. But it turned into a “who’s on first” moment. I was unhappy with the exchange, so I later I walked up to Gibbs’ West Wing office to clear things up. I told him that my question was clear and legitimate. Gibbs smiled then admitted that he was guilty of “Jujitsuing” me. Jujitsu is a Japanese martial arts method for “defeating an armed and armored opponent without weapons.”

I guess every day Robert Gibbs steps up to the hallowed James S. Brady briefing room podium, he looks out at what he considers his armed opponents – armed with information. While he’s there to make the case for the Obama administration, by his own admission he is also trying to defeat his opponents, but NOT without weapons. Jokes and sarcasm have so far been effective.

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Lisa in CA

    You mean now that there is a new administration in town, you are actually going to do your job? What, did you just return from an 8 year vacation?

    When Gibbs/Obama starts threatening to yank your White House press privileges for asking hardball questions, then I'll listen to your complaints.

    May 28, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  2. Gilby-HI

    The Koreans have nukes...hahahaha
    They are fireing missiles every day...hahahaha
    They have our guidences systems...hahaha
    Pres. Obama is durnk in Hollywood fund raising..hahaha
    Biden and Pelosi are next in line.....hahaha
    and we have to focus on GLOBAL WARMING ........No one is laughing

    May 28, 2009 at 1:22 pm |
  3. Indy Smith

    Lampe_ because...YOU CAN"T HANDLE THE TRUTH!! And wouldn't except it, if it slaped you up the side of the head. So keep preaching your "The sky is falling..the sky is falling" message as the Real People, who care about our nation, go about fixing the mess left behind by W & all his Chicken Little followers.

    May 28, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  4. Lori

    Gibbs is a breath of fresh air. I enjoy listening to someone with obvious intelligence. When you can conduct a bit of very serious business in a relaxed atmosphere it makes it more productive. I wouldn't change a thing. Some questions are better left unanswered for timely reasons. You don't want to tip your hand too early in the game. I think he is doing a great job. I wouldn't change a thing.

    May 28, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  5. Steve Sears*

    Marriage is defined in the Webster's dictionary as "the mutual relation of Husband & Wife; Wedlock. Please don't distroy the true meaning of that presious thing by making it something that it's not. Give the Gay & Lesbian communities their rights but call it something else.

    May 28, 2009 at 11:41 am |
  6. Tracy

    I enjoy watch Gibbs. He is entertaining, but lacks much info. It seems his real job is to be a media distraction. Given your article it;s working so far...but for how much longer? He gets away with it because many of the media's questions are silly. Get off the YouTube snippits and ask meaningful questions that demonstrate that you know what you're asking about. Back him into a corner. He'll either answer or get a new job.

    May 28, 2009 at 11:27 am |
  7. J.V.Hodgson

    Hey, sounds like these briefings are getting interesting, and more to the point the press secretary giving out what he should tell journalists, and not information that should come out later.
    Problem is eventually the media will stop laughing and demand to be in the know about what , when they ask the question they need not know in America's best interests!!

    May 28, 2009 at 11:08 am |
  8. Mari

    The conservatives give their typical put-downs. Gibbs is brilliant, he is honest and Obama's administration does not 'hide' from the media the way Bush Regime did!

    @ WAYNE......... Well said!

    May 28, 2009 at 11:07 am |
  9. SLM

    Gibbs is just another example of the fine choices Obama has made in choosing his cabinet. I am sure Obama could have picked someone who could actually answer a question with finesse, instead of someone who is constantly stumbling on their words and doesn't have any answers. The only thing he's got going for him, apparently he is one of the few picks of Obamas that pays his taxes..................pretty rare.

    May 28, 2009 at 10:33 am |
  10. Lampe

    Wayne: GWB, did not run on the promise, that his administration would be forthcoming and honest. Obama did. Now, the people are not getting the whole truth from Obama, and we should be asking WHY?

    May 28, 2009 at 10:18 am |
  11. Wayne Schwertley

    Cindy – Compare this admin & its answers to the "W" days. Some people are never happy. No matter how good things are, they complain. Your comment makes me think you are one of those people. Try seeing the glass as half full, or run for office yourself.

    May 28, 2009 at 10:08 am |
  12. Wayne Schwertley

    Don't forget that Gibbs is there to explain "the company line", and sometimes isn't at liberty to say more. That is left to Obama's press conferences. This administration has been more forthcoming than the last administration. Would you like to go back to the "W" days? I doubt it.

    May 28, 2009 at 10:02 am |
  13. Ibrahim Aljahim

    He's not honest. Why not answer the Q? I miss tony snow god bless him!

    May 28, 2009 at 9:57 am |
  14. Linda Strasberg

    Here's some artillery if you need it...

    Susie's husband had been slipping in and out of a coma for several months. Things looked grim, but she was by his bedside every single day. One day as he slipped back into consciousness, he motioned for her to come close to him. She pulled the chair close to the bed and leaned her ear close to be able to hear him.

    "You know" he whispered, his eyes filling with tears, "you have been with me through all the bad times. When I got fired, you stuck right beside me. When my business went under, there you were. When we lost the house, you were there. When I got shot, you stuck with me. When my health started failing, you were still by my side. "And you know what?"

    "What, dear?" she asked gently, smiling to herself.

    "I think you're bad luck."

    May 28, 2009 at 9:51 am |
  15. Cindy

    Well look who Gibbs works for...he does the exact same thing! You can't expect much from Gibbs when Obama dodges answers by throwing out a joke or cutting to a different subject entirely.


    May 28, 2009 at 9:49 am |
  16. Terry, TX

    As Bugs Bunny would say.....Gibbs is "such a maroooon". The White Press needs to take the gloves off. They are to blame for not staying on message with the White House...do your job ....ask the hard questions and don't let up.

    May 28, 2009 at 9:26 am |