President Obama’s White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, a man not known for grace under pressure, had a bizarre confrontation with April Ryan, a reporter for the American Urban Radio Networks, over a question from Gate Crasher Gate.
The White House provides a transcript of the exchange involving the White House Social Secretary.
“APRIL RYAN: Did she invite herself to the state dinner or was she a guest of, did the president invite her, or did she put her name on, no, that’s a real question, do not fan [sic] at all.
“ROBERT GIBBS: I, I, Jonathan?
“RYAN: I’m serious. No, seriously? Did she invite herself or did the president ask her. Her name was on that list and social secretaries are the ones who put the names on the list.
“RYAN: Did she invite herself, or did the president–
“GIBBS: Right, was she at the dinner? April, April, calm down. Just take a deep breath for one second. See, this happens with my son. He does the same thing.
“[reporters in the briefing room: Oooooh!]
“RYAN: Don’t play with me!
“GIBBS: I’m not.
“RYAN: I’m being serious. Do not blow at all.
“GIBBS: And I’m giving you a serious answer. Was she at the dinner? Yes.
“RYAN: Was she an invited guest?
“GIBBS: She’s the social secretary. She had the primary responsibility–
“RYAN: No, social secretaries are not guests of the dinner.
“GIBBS: She had the primary responsibility for running the dinner. I’m going to get back to weightier topics like 98,000 men and women in Afghanistan.”
There are two things to take away from this bizarre exchange. The first is that the question asked by April Ryan was rather silly. Of course the Social Secretary is going to be at a White House State Dinner because, as Robert Gibbs pointed out at the end, because she had the primary responsibility for making sure that the dinner went smoothly.
Mind, the White House Social Secretary has some explaining to do about how the Salahis got into a White House state dinner without an invitation. The White House is currently having the usual tussle with Congress over whether or not she should testify at a hearing. The White House said not, citing separation of powers. The Congress would like to insist, citing the need to find out how a couple of social climbers got into pistol shot distance of the President of the United States.
The second thing to take away from the exchange is that Robert Gibbs has no clue about how to think on his feet. Tony Snow, of blessed memory, would have given April Ryan a wry smile and explained why a Social Secretary needs to be at a state dinner and then moved on. He would certainly not have treated April Ryan, a journalist of some twenty three years experience, like a child, even if she were acting like one.
The sad part is that Robert Gibbs is going to be the first under the bus when the Congressional Democrats get massacred next year. White Houses, when they get into trouble, usually look first at the message part of the operation before they start looking at policy. Tony Snow was brought in to help Bush the Younger, for example, when the former President’s poll numbers started tanking because of Iraq.
President Obama might do himself a favor and send Robert Gibbs back to the private sector before the bottom falls out of his administration. It won’t help much; people are getting mad at President Obama because of his inane policies and not just because Robert Gibbs behaves like a buffoon. But a good press operation can take the edge off of the thrashing the electorate is getting ready to inflict.
White House’s Gibbs Talks Down to Reporter, Dismissing Her Gate-crashers Question, Ken Shepherd, Newsbusters, December 3rd, 2009