Published December 23, 2015
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has been keeping pesky reporters at bay as the Obama administration faces mounting pressure over controversies ranging from the BP oil spill to the allegation that the White House offered a congressman a job to drop out of a race against a key ally.
As some media outlets and pundits typically allied with the Obama administration seem to take a tougher tone toward the White House, Gibbs is telegraphing the message that on certain issues, they shouldn't ask and on others, he won't tell.
The tension may be reaching new heights. CBS correspondent Chip Reid revealed on air Friday that White House officials called reporters into the West Wing on Friday to scold them for asking too many questions about the Gulf of Mexico spill. One report identified Gibbs as the one doing the scolding.
The dressing-down came after the press secretary faced a barrage of questions about why the administration wasn't doing more to ensure the leak is plugged and mitigate the environmental damage to the coastline. The White House for weeks has battled the narrative that it has not responded forcefully enough to the spill, entrusting too much to the expertise of BP, and at Friday's briefing Gibbs repeatedly swiped at reporters who pressed that button.
"This notion that the government is simply waiting and seeing, we -- again, if you've got an idea of how to plug this hole, I'm happy to put you in charge," Gibbs told one reporter who suggested the federal government was allowing BP to keep trying ineffective solutions.
When another reporter asked if the government was playing the role of "spectator" in the Gulf, Gibbs ridiculed the premise.
"There's nothing that would denote that the federal government has stood there and hoped for the best. I mean, the premise of your question doesn't match any single ..."
Somebody tried to interrupt. "Hold on," Gibbs said.
"Let me finish this. That doesn't match any single action that our government has undertaken since the call came in that this rig had exploded in the gulf. So, you know, the premise of your question doesn't fit any of the actions that are currently happening on behalf of the federal government in the Gulf of Mexico."
The press secretary also shut down questions a day earlier about Rep. Joe Sestak's claim that the Obama administration offered him a job in exchange for dropping out of the Senate Democratic primary race against Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. Sestak, who did not take the alleged offer, won that race last week but has not been willing to elaborate on his allegation in media interviews.
Gibbs and other officials haven't shed any light on the subject either.
"I don't have anything to add to what I said in March," Gibbs said Thursday when the topic was broached.
When it was pointed out that Gibbs did not provide any substantive information in March - other than to say the issue was "not problematic" - Gibbs again said he didn't "have anything to add."
The press secretary repeated that line five more times before cutting off reporters.
Journalists may get a chance to take their questions straight to the top on Thursday, when President Obama is expected to hold a press conference - though it's unclear how extensive that will be. The White House says the event will be comparable to the full-blown press conferences held last year.
But the announcement came after the White House faced criticism from the press corps about the fact that the president hadn't convened a full-scale press conference since July of last year.
Gibbs ridiculed a reporter who pointed that out at the May 3 briefing. He argued that critics were quibbling over the definition of a press conference and noted that Obama took eight questions at the Nuclear Security Summit on April 13.
"Is it a number thing ... if it wasn't eight, it maybe was like nine?" Gibbs said.
"Well, there's 47 that are here today," the reporter responded.
The back-and-forth continued until the reporter begged to move on to a different issue. Gibbs resisted.
"I suddenly have found this to be wildly amusing," he said.