Waving the Flag (the Yellow One)

Robert Gibbs wasn't taking many chances during his first press briefing.
Robert Gibbs wasn't taking many chances during his first press briefing. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
By Dana Milbank
Friday, January 23, 2009

There hadn't been so much excitement over a Gibbs since the Bee Gees were at the top of the charts.

All 49 seats in the White House briefing room were full for the maiden news briefing by President Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, and 100 more reporters crammed three-deep into the aisles. Dozens of others pointed cameras at the uncharacteristically well-dressed Obama aide.

"We should sell tickets and have the money go to the deficit or something," Gibbs joked.

But first, he'll have to spice up his act a bit. For the voice of an administration that came to office promising openness and transparency, he instead sounded, well, abundantly cautious.

"Out of an abundance of caution, Chief Justice Roberts came last night to readminister the oath," after he flubbed the swearing-in on Tuesday, Gibbs reported. "There are at least two examples in history where words have been misplaced in the oath and, again, out of an abundance of caution, a similar abundance of caution, the oath was readministered."

NBC's Chuck Todd asked whether Obama would re-sign the executive orders he issued "out of that same abundance of caution."

Gibbs repeated his view that the oath was redone only "out of an abundance of caution" and that no such caution is required for executive orders. "Out of an abundance of caution," he said once more, "the oath was readministered."

Why was the oath redone without being filmed? Gibbs said this "demonstrated again that this was done out of an abundance of caution and only that."

Did Obama have to be persuaded to retake the oath? "No, because it was done, again, out of an abundance of caution."

The repetition caused an abundance of laughter in the briefing room. "People usually don't laugh when I don't say something that's not altogether generally funny," the puzzled press secretary observed.

Gibbs should perhaps be cut some slack; he has been on the job just three days, so short a time that the television in the press office is still tuned to Fox News. But he has surprised reporters with two of his first decisions: Wednesday night's swearing-in was done in front of only four reporters and without prior notice. Then yesterday, the Obama team's first White House briefing was held off-camera by officials who were identified only as "senior administration officials."

"In order to allow them to speak freely," spokesman Josh Earnest replied when reporters protested.

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