The Washington Post

Jay Carney’s charm offensive

Maybe it was a birthday resolution. Or perhaps a survival strategy.

White House press secretary Jay Carney. AP photo

Whatever the case, embattled White House press secretary Jay Carney, who turned 48 on Wednesday, struck a different tone with reporters during his daily briefing. Gone was the combative and, at times, dismissive Carney who had mockingly referred to a reporter as “petulant” a day earlier.

In his place was a more conciliatory Carney.

“You're good at your jobs and you're smart,” he said, while explaining that the press shop is not always able to predict all the questions he’ll face each day.

“There's been some legitimate criticisms about how we're handling this,” Carney said of the White House’s changing timeline on how it found out about the Internal Revenue Service scandal. “And I say legitimate, because I mean it.”

“It's part of our democracy, and it's a great part of our democracy,” he said emphasizing the media scrutiny during big news stories.

The new-found briefing room charm offensive came after Carney had taken a beating from his former colleagues in the White House press corps, who were angered that the spokesman had changed his story. After first saying the administration learned only last week that the IRS had improperly targeted conservative groups seeking tax exempt status for extra scrutiny, Carney acknowledged this week that President Obama’s senior aides had learned of the findings of an Inspector General's report on April 24.

That flip-flop set off a round of skeptical profiles of Carney and mocking Internet memes.

Despite his more even-tempered appearance Wednesday, Carney still did not always answer reporters’ questions directly, sidestepping inquiries about what Obama thought of IRS manager Lois Lerner invoking the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before Congress.

And reporters kept pounding away during the briefing, asking again and again whether the White House had mishandled the IRS response and whether the administration has acted too aggressively in trying to prevent national security leaks to reporters.

But in the spirit of the new detente, the press treated Carney with a bit more respect, too.

“I have a question,” said Nedra Pickler, an Associated Press correspondent who led off the question, “but first, Happy Birthday.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.



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