The White House press secretary is one of the most recognized figures in American politics—no matter who the president is. It’s also one of the most grueling jobs in the federal government. As President Obama rides a wave of early successes, his press secretary deserves credit for keeping the White House message operation on the offense.
I’ve admired press secretaries of both parties—Mike McCurry was a master in every way. Ari Fleisher wrote the book on message discipline, Tony Snow on warmth and Dana Perino on accessibility. Gibbs deserves credit for managing to import some of the Obama campaign’s best practices to the confines of the White House. Early reports of the Obama team’s frustration over the technical limitations of the West Wing made me giggle. The White House is a lot of splendid things—but “on the cutting edge” is not one of them.
Obama’s press staff seems to understand that while their primary task is to “manage” the press—and by manage, I mean actually move them from city to city and country to country to cover the president, their highest priority is to string together a credible and sustainable narrative for the president. On this front, Team Obama has kept it simple: “Change is here. We’re not the last guy.”
With the troubling developments of the swine flu, we’ve had an opportunity to observe the press office in a crisis, and they’ve performed well. Administration officials don’t magically appear on wall to wall cable television. It falls to the White House press office to "herd cats" as President Bush’s director of media affairs, Jeanie Mamo used to say, and book Cabinet officials and senior White House officials on national television, radio, cable, and local outlets.
Finally, Gibbs is an affable guy. He seems to like the press. In an interview on CNN, he offered them a grade of “A” for the job they’re doing so far. To Gibbs on this 100-day mark, I say, “right back at you.”
Nicolle Wallace served as a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign from May to November 2008. She served President George W. Bush as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the White House, as well as communications director for President Bush's 2004 campaign.