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We Read Mark Leibovich’s 5,000+ Word NYT Piece On Robert Gibbs So You Don’t Have To

Interesting tidbits from the piece after the jump.


    Obama campaign’s communications strategy was predicated in part on an aggressive indifference to this insider set. Staff members were encouraged to ignore new Web sites like The Page, written by Time’s Mark Halperin, and Politico, both of which had gained instant cachet among the Washington smarty-pants set. “If Politico and Halperin say we’re winning, we’re losing,” Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, would repeat mantralike around headquarters. He said his least favorite words in the English language were, “I saw someone on cable say this. . . .”

    The campaign bragged that Obama never even visited with the editorial board of The Washington Post — a decision that would have been unheard of for any serious candidate in a previous presidential cycle. “You could go to Cedar Rapids and Waterloo and understand that people aren’t reading The Washington Post,” Gibbs told me last month in Chicago.

    They prided themselves on never leaking. If there was any turf-wrestling, power-grabbing or tantrum-throwing in the Obama campaign, it was never for press consumption — in contrast to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton or John McCain, both of which (God love ‘em) dished out all-you-can-eat buffets.

    Obama was said to be furious over the serial public airings about Hillary Clinton’s eventual nomination to be Secretary of State. He sent an explicit message that anyone caught leaking would be fired — and he sent it through his newly named chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who a couple of weeks earlier conducted a very public hand-wringing about whether he would take that job.

    White House press secretaries get a daily blistering from the press, nightly ridicule from comedians and are subjected to the widespread belief that they are unhelpful, obfuscating puppets — which, of course, they sometimes are.

    Podium alums share a bipartisan kinship, signified by the ceremonial flak jacket that hangs in the closet of the press secretary’s West Wing office. It was placed there originally by Gerald Ford’s podium man, Ron Nessen. Outgoing press secretaries write notes of advice for their successors and leave them in one pocket. Every previous note remains there, neatly arranged and tied together in a ribbon.

    Perino gave Gibbs a tour of her office shortly after Election Day. “Robert strikes me as a very calm person,” she said. “I try to be calm. People say I am calm. But I’m like a duck. Underneath, I’m paddling, paddling, paddling.”

    OBAMA INSIDERS TEND TO SHUDDER at any parallels to George W. Bush, but many reporters and rivals have noted the “Bush-like” tendencies the Obama campaign demonstrated in its ability to control information. … Like the Bush model, the Obama model also clearly allowed for combat with the press, sometimes extending to punishment, which was usually doled out by Gibbs. In the course of the campaign, especially at the end, a smattering of reporters claimed that they were left off the Obama plane in retribution for negative reports they had filed or for the perceived sins of their news outlets (i.e. endorsing John McCain).

    In one semifamous vignette, Bush’s communications team was holding a quiet celebration in the Roosevelt Room a few days after his re-election in 2004. The president stopped by to thank everyone for their efforts and then singled out McClellan, his robotically on-message front man. “I want to especially thank Scotty,” the president said. “I want to thank Scotty for saying” — and he paused — “nothing.”

    “Challenged,” is how Gibbs describes himself when asked how he is as a manager. “It’s not what I’m good at, not what I want to do,” he said.

    ON A TEAM known for its cerebral, even-tempered approach, Gibbs is something of a scrappy populist. “Because he has a Southern accent, I often think that he is underestimated by people,” Dunn said of Gibbs, who tends to be playfully chauvinistic about his Southern heritage.

    Gibbs said he did not grow up in the Alabama of George Wallace — at least the unrepentant Wallace — but he concedes that the state’s checkered racial history was never far away. He was friends with black kids and racists alike. “Did I grow up with friends who used the n-word?” he asked. “Sure.’

    The idea that Obama has benefited from an extended journalistic valentine breeds great impatience from his advisers. They argue that good press follows naturally onto winning campaigns — and that the efforts of Clinton and McCain yielded deservedly bad press.

    The podium job is all-consuming, especially in an age when daily briefings are televised. As Axelrod says, “You can send markets crashing and troops in motion by one slip of the tongue.”

    Obama said he is not at all concerned. “One of the things that is underappreciated about Robert is his discipline,” he said. “He doesn’t color outside the lines.”

    He has gotten resumes sent to his home and supportive notes from friends and from his podium predecessors. Gibbs told me that two of them — Jody Powell and the Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry — wrote essentially the same thing: “Congratulations. And condolences.”

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