A Spokesman, on Suits and Strategy

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on the President's press strategy denies they are trying to go around "mainstream media" and refuses to divulge who is giving him sartorial advice.
By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 27, 2009

The Robert Gibbs show is Washington's hottest version of reality TV these days, with his daily briefing becoming a favorite on cable, the Web and Twitter. The White House press secretary, who worked for Barack Obama in the Senate, is one of the president's closest advisers, but in most ways he is his opposite number: hot to Obama's cool, practical to Obama cerebral. He has been in the Democratic communications game for most of his career, but often as a counterpuncher to a Republican White House. Now he is adjusting to being the ultimate insider and voice of the new Democratic administration. Below is an excerpt from the interview this week. (Read the entire interview here.)

Romano: You had a combative relationship with reporters during the campaign. Did you scale it back a little when you took to the podium?

Gibbs: I'd like to think I haven't been in attack mode maybe except one or two statements, but most of those are in response. I've always thought I had a good relationship with the press. My job is to provide information to a group of working journalists that have a job to do just like I do: To provide them information and understanding about the decisions that the president has in front of him each day and why he makes the decisions that he makes.

Romano: Should you be taking on the Rush Limbaughs of the world from the podium?

Gibbs: I'm happy to begin to ignore questions that I don't want to answer. I'm not sure the press would think that's a good idea. . . . Look, inherent in my job is that I don't get to choose what questions I'm asked.

Romano: President Obama turned the long-standing press conference tradition on its head Tuesday in bypassing the major newspapers. What do you think about the reaction to that?

Gibbs: I think calling on Stars and Stripes is a good thing. I think calling on outlets that probably have rarely raised their hand because they didn't think they'd ever get called on, and now there is a president of the United States that's calling on them.

Romano: [White House adviser] Pete Rouse has described your relationship [with Obama] as sort of locker-room camaraderie, that you tease each other and get into heated arguments. Does that still go on?

Gibbs: I pride myself on having the type of relationship with him where I can kind of sense what mood he's in. I can try to figure out if I need to make him laugh or if I need to make fun of myself in order to lighten up the mood in something.

I certainly played that role during the campaign.

Romano: You've been looking pretty natty up there in your suits and nice silk ties. Who's helping you here?

Gibbs: I can't divulge names. I have to protect certain identities. [David] Axelrod has had fun with this because I bought a few new suits. I think my ties have gotten probably more publicity than I have.

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