Maybe it was a birthday resolution. Or perhaps a survival strategy.
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 spokesman 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 White House media operation 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 of how it found out about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups. “And I say legitimate, because I mean it.”
“It’s part of our democracy, and it’s a great part of our democracy,” he added, referring to media scrutiny of big news stories.
The newfound 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 press secretary had changed his story. After first saying that the administration found out about the IRS targeting on May 10, Carney acknowledged this week that President Obama’s senior aides had learned of the basic findings of an inspector general’s report on April 24.
Despite his more even-tempered appearance Wednesday, Carney still did not always answer reporters’ questions directly. He sidestepped inquiries, for example, about what Obama thought of IRS manager Lois Lerner invoking the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before Congress.
Reporters kept pounding away during the briefing, asking again and again whether the White House had mishandled its response to the IRS scandal and whether the administration has acted too aggressively in trying to prevent national security leaks to reporters.
But in the spirit of the new détente, the media seemed to treat Carney with a bit more respect, too.
“I have a question,” said Nedra Pickler, an Associated Press correspondent who began the session, “but first, happy birthday.”
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