This afternoon, Robert Gibbs held his first press conference as Obama's White House press secretary. We asked Dee Dee Myers, who held the same position at the beginning of Bill Clinton's term, what she thought.
On his performance:
He didn’t make any mistakes. He seemed a tiny bit nervous, which I thought was appropriate, since it’s his first briefing and there’s an incredible amount of interest. He’d be crazy not to be a little bit nervous, I suppose. And at the end of the day, the headline tomorrow is still going to be Obama’s executive order closing Gitmo.
On the difficulties of the job in the early days of an administration:
There’s no other organization in the world as high profile as the White House where everybody starts their job together on the same day. Normally you go to a new job, and if you don’t know how to do something, you go to your boss or one of your colleagues, and you say, “How does this work?” In this instance, everybody’s on their first day, and nobody knows anything. Given that that’s a complete recipe for chaos, I think they’ve done a good job of managing their responsibilities. Compare it to 1993, when we closed the press’s access; from the briefing room up to the press secretary’s suite. That was--you wanna talk about a disaster? You wanna talk about a prescription for bad relationships? That was it. So there’s nothing on that scale.
On the importance of a good deputy press secretary:
In order to prevent the kinds of mistakes that are easily preventable and that cause friction and ill-will with the press, you've got to be up on the logistical, on the day-to-day. You put somebody really, really strong in charge of making sure the trains are on time in the press room operation--you've got to ensure that the press knows they'll get press releases, photo opportunities, travel schedules, hotel rooms when they arrive. That will save Gibbs endless headaches so he can focus on, you know, "What are we saying about Gitmo today." I don’t think most new press secretaries realize how much administrative stuff goes with the job. At the end of the day, the first two letters in media are me. M. E. If people are not able to do their jobs, they’re not happy, and nothing else will matter.
On Gibbs's dual, perhaps conflicting responsibilities to the press and to the president:
There’s built-in tension, because you serve two masters. Your first obligation is to the president, obviously, but you are not only an advocate of the president to the press, you are an advocate for the press inside the White House. And that means sometimes making an argument, for example, that it's not enough to provide a still pool for the photo of the president and the Chief Justice redoing the oath, but that you need to put video cameras in there as well. I think that was a mistake of so much going on. But regardless of whether it was caused by expediency, or just trying to get through the day, or if it was a deliberate, it’s the kind of thing I think they’ll learn from quickly. It's just not worth it. It’s not a hill you want to die on. Let ‘em have the picture. That’s the kind of example where Obama might say “No, can’t we keep it simple?” and Gibbs might want to say, “You know what, Mr. President, it’s not in your interest.” And there’s other times when you have to go out to the press and say “You know what, guys? No.” You always have to be pretty good at saying “no.” It’s like being a substitute teacher: You have to say “no” a lot.