PHILLIP OCHS / THE EAGLE
Former press secretaries Dee Dee Myers and Ari Fleischer offered their advice to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at Thursday’s Kennedy Political Union event.
|Ari FleischerHOWIE PERLMAN / THE EAGLE|
|Dee Dee MyersHOWIE PERLMAN / THE EAGLE|
Myers, who worked with President Bill Clinton as White House press secretary from 1993 to 1994, and Fleischer, who worked with President George W. Bush in that position from 2001 to 2003, reflected on the various duties that Gibbs will engage in during his tenure.
According to Fleischer, Gibbs will need to constantly keep himself up-to-date on the latest information. They also advised him to know the president’s preferences well enough to communicate the president’s messages accurately and effectively to the public and that he will have to safeguard the administration’s interests at regularly scheduled briefings with the Washington Press Corps, a group of reporters who regularly cover White House press briefings.
Myers said Gibbs can help set the tone of the Obama administration by adding a sense of transparency to his briefings that will show reporters that the administration desires to inform the American people of its activities and wishes to not withhold information whenever possible.
“The degree to which we can fill in the blanks and shape the story that explains to people why the president made this decision or why he’s pushing this initiative, I think that’s healthy, not only for your relationship with the press but it’s healthy for democracy,” she said. “That relationship [with the press] helps define very much how the country and how the world views the president, his policies and his initiatives and whether he is successful.”
Gibbs must work with Obama to learn which messages he wants to communicate with the American people, Fleischer said.
“You have to develop an innate sense very quickly what it is the president wants you to discuss and what it is the president doesn’t want you to discuss,” he said. “If it’s a decision the president hasn’t yet made, if it’s a decision that’s upcoming, he’s in the middle of deliberations, that’s what the press wants to know the most, but that’s what as secretary you can talk about the least.”
Gibbs began working for Obama in 2004 as the Democrat’s communications director during the former Illinois Senator’s run against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes. Gibbs will be able to utilize the relationship he has cultivated with Obama over the years, the familiarity with Obama that comes through working with him for that period of time and his frequent inclusion in high profile decision-making circles in the White House to enhance his ability to speak for the president, Fleischer said.
“For Robert Gibbs, his biggest challenge is going to be finding the proper balance between being an advisor and a briefer,” he said. “He does have wonderful, tremendous, insider access and a great relationship with his boss, all of which is invaluable.”
As much as Gibbs has helped shape the public image of Obama’s administration, the principle person who has been responsible for this task has been Obama himself, Myers said. Obama has attempted in his first weeks in office to make good on his campaign promise to work with Republicans to forge more bipartisan solutions to America’s challenges.
“He’s already made a trip to the Hill and invited Republican leaders to the White House, not once but twice, once for a meeting and once for a cocktail party,” she said. “Who has a cocktail party with the leaders from the other party? Well, President Obama.”